Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Self-Plagiarism

I remember an event in my young life, in middle school, we had to make some kind of art project relating to the Oregon trail. Well back in elementary school for an art project the whole class made a little rocking chair made out of clothes pins. It was perfect I thought. A perfect hand made miniature rocking chair, the kind an old-time carpenter would make for the setters of the time. So I handed that in and got an A. The teacher thought I did a great job, until some pompous cunt decided to tattle on me and tell the teacher that I made that in an art class two or three years ago. The teacher confronted me about it, and I didn't lie, I said yes I made it some years ago. However I was never graded on it, and after all I DID make it. Although I vaguely understood that I had broken a rule and did feel somewhat guilty about it, I had some doubt and some questions. Was this really wrong?

I don't know why I have been thinking about it today, but I keep adjusting the scenario a little bit to see exactly where it becomes "wrong" to hand in your own work. Here are some scenarios.

Scenario 1: I made the chair in art class three years ago, took it home, and turned it in as an art project at a later time. (What actually happened.) This is against the rules, and can be considered academic dishonesty. Pretty serious crime.

Scenario 2: I made the chair in art class three years ago. I lost it, but remembered how to make it. I remade the same chair for the Oregon Trail project. Now this is interesting. As a matter of fact I could have simply lied and adopted this story and no one would know any better. I made the chair, absorbed the skills, and remade the same chair but for a new project. I am not sure what would have happened if I took this stance but thinking about it, it seems totally legitimate. The idea remains the same, but the labor was put in just like everyone else.

Scenario 3: I read how to make the chair in some book, and simply made the chair. Obviously this is fine, and this is what the teacher would like me to do.

It seems like so much grey area. What is it exactly that we are being graded on in this case? The creative process? The time, labor and attention to detail? I think those who paradigm should be changed and students should be allowed to plagiarize their own work anytime they want. I think it will create work of a much higher quality and encourage students to keep detailed bibliographies and source lists of all the work they have ever done because it WILL come in handy. Imagine how nice it would be if you put 15 hours into a paper, but you knew it would probably work for you at least two or three times? Not to mention these papers would go through years of refining, which would bring the quality up.

I don't know I haven't made up my mind about this. Just some food for thought.

1 comment:

Smaran...Sam said...

well at least you were honest.
But, really- the fact that you turned in something that was made by YOU ..only that it was some years ago---dunno why the teacher thought that as offending enough to cancel your grade man.
the last para about what is it you were being graded is an interesting thought.