Re: Grading, Plagiarism, Webbed Writing and ...

J Paul Johnson (johns537@GOLD.TC.UMN.EDU)
Tue, 6 Aug 1996 08:58:36 -0500

I'm a little late to Mick's dilemma, and I don't have any suggestions on the
appropriate credit/fault to dole out. But it paralled another circumstance.

While studying/surfing/assessing one of the "free term papers" sites
mentioned over on ACW-L, I saw a link to "a buncha papers written by some
college class on topics like genre and community." Of course, the link
wasn't condoned and it wasn't invited. The class's instructor was neither
aware of its presence nor pleased to hear about it. He said he'd demand it
be removed. (But I don't know if the linker has any reason, other than an
ethical obligation, to do so, and to me, the fact that he put it there in
the first place ain't no testimonial to his character.)

Not to raise the whole "free paper" issue on this list too--after all, were
such a paper to get passed off we'd need worry about the pedagogy more than
the paper--but Mick's dilemma raises a real question for the digital age,
one Tuman worries about in _Word Perfect_ (as do various postmodernists
elsewhere): Does pastiche itself constitute a kind of critical thinking, one
we want to encourage in the academy?

We don't seem to like it much on paper, properly accredited or not. Maybe
the inherent intertextuality of the Web somehow asks for this... Or maybe
those of us interested in the Web and raised in a digital age are steering
the technology towards a rhetoric we prefer.

I'm really curious to see how this will all shake out, assuming the WWW
remains somewhat as we know it and doesn't dissipate into thousands of
controlled-access, password-authenticated intranets. Does anyone who
publishes anything on a web invite links from others for all rhetorical
purposes--even plagiarism? I don't think the class writing the "genre and
community" papers did. I don't think that I do, with the stuff on my web
page. But the public access nature of the web is one we often tout as
giving a renewed rhetorical purpose to student writing, even while we're
trying to ignore/censure/impede the presence of the "bad subjects" out there
and what ends they will use our students' work to achieve.

Mick's students might feel like their work was ripped off, used for purposes
they didn't intend or imagine, and it's a real dilemma for the teacher (as
mike s. put it, defacto authority, and in a lot of cases one who encourages
web publication). In Mick's case, the student who used the other texts is
in the class; but in other cases, he/she could be "anywhere." I'm really
interested to know what we can do / what responsibilities we have when our
students' work gets misappropriated this way: their feelings are genuine and
their concerns real.

J Paul Johnson
Writing Center Director Department of English
Winona (MN) State University University of Minnesota
Winona, MN 55987 Minneapolis, MN 55455