Wikipedia and Homework Plagiarism

I feel bad. Bad mother… bad, bad mother.

My daughter is working on a history project called “The Chronical Project”. My son had to do it last year – see the post I did about his project here. To recap – the project is a chronicle of the years of her lifetime – so 1991 – 2006. During those years, she has to pick 12 historical events that happened in her lifetime, and 12 personal events. She has to write about those events, in her own words. She also has to interview an adult (she chose me) about what life was like when they were a kid, and how they percieve things have changed in the world since then. (I feel so… OLD). She needs to write a 2 page introduction and a 2 page conclusion. Then package it all up… scrapbook style with pictures, images, headlines from newpapers, etc in a bound book.

It’s due Friday.

This past Saturday her and I made a visit to the local scrapbook store and picked up some neat supplies that we thought would be fun.

But it’s the conversation I had with her last night that makes me feel so bad now.

One of the topics in the historical event section she chose to write about was the end of the Cold War. She shared her write up with me. And she asked me to critique it – – she really did ask! So, I read it. And then proceeded to tell her the following:

Ok. If you hand it in like this – the only thing your teacher is going to know is that you do a nice job of copying and pasting off the internet. What you need to do is a summary on it that lets your teacher know that YOU understand the topic. You’re writing about the the end of The Cold War – yet you don’t mention any of the following: Nuclear Weapons, The Nuclear Arms Race, Ronald Reagan, Mikal Gorbachev, the Soviet economy, Margaret Thatcher, the Soviet coup attempt, the fall of the Berlin Wall…. All and any of those things included in your summary will give a good indication that you at least understand the topic.

To which she started crying and told me that I made her feel stupid. I felt bad. I still do – even though her and I researched the topic together, I answered some of her questions, explained some things she didn’t quite understand and she wrote a very nice summary that showed her understanding of it now, and she feels so much better for it.

I still feel bad.

I don’t really expect my daughter to have a rich understanding of the topic off the top of her head, but I do expect her to research it and ask questions about it if she doesn’t understand it. Copying and pasting off the internet just isn’t the answer for homework, at all!

I showed her why. I took the statement from her summary and pasted it into Google’s search engine. Here was her statement:

The Cold War was the protracted geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle that emerged after World War II between a worldwide military alliance of capitalist states led by the United States and a rival alliance of communist states led by the Soviet Union. It lasted from about 1947 to the period leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991. Between 1985 and 1991, Cold War rivalries first eased and then ended.

Now – I know for a fact that my 15 year old daughter doesn’t know what protracted geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle means. I don’t even have to ask her to explain it. But I did put it into Google and got these results

Yes, sweetie – I like Wikipedia, too. If you don’t think your teachers know how to use Google, or know what Wikipedia is – you’re sadly mistaken. They do know. And they will catch you. And you will fail. All the rest of her summaries on historical events were good… and in her own words. But with this one – she said she didn’t really understand the why’s of the Cold War and she felt pressured by the Friday deadline.

She learned a very valuable lesson. She knows that now. So why do my motherly heartstrings still feel sore after having been told that I made her feel stupid? *sob*

13 thoughts on “Wikipedia and Homework Plagiarism”

  1. Yes, Charlie, you are correct about that. She did learn a good lesson and now realizes that Wikipedia is a research TOOL – not a homework writer. 😉

  2. Lisa,
    I found your page while searching blogs for mentions of plagiarism. I am a college-level writing teacher, working with first year students. Tonight, I find myself utterly aching for ‘my kids,’ that is, my students– because two of them never had a parent as firm and ethical as you. I just encountered the first two cases of plagiarism in my (brief) teaching career, and I feel awful for these kids. They’re young, and under a lot of pressure, and my assignment was difficult. The students who struggled, and worked hard, and produced mediocre but original work, are getting B’s and C’s. The two who copied from the internet… they’re failing, and facing disciplinary hearings.

    This is something that needs to be more firmly stressed, and understood as a moral value (honesty) rather than just a tricky rule. You did the right thing by your daughter. The world needs more moms like you. I hope I can be one, someday.

  3. InkandPen – thanks for stopping by. My daughter reads my site once in awhile and I pointed her to your response here to show her an explaination from a teachers point of view. I know she’s learned a lesson.. and understands why it was wrong and dishonest.

    Really, students do themselves NO favors by plagiarising homework, research projects, or anything else. Even if they don’t get caught (and in todays world of technology, getting away with it is much hard then it used to be!) – they are doing two things to themselves:

    1. Getting by dishonestly
    2. Not really learning anything at all

    Thank you for your comments. I feel better about this than I did the other night when I wrote it. I don’t want to make her feel stupid – but on the other hand, she needs to know how crucial my point was on it. :)>-

  4. Look on the bright side, maybe this is the start of a successful life in politics for her. If so, you’re only standing in her way by teaching her things like “ethics” and “responsibility”…:-?

  5. One of the first things that ALL my undergrad professors mentioned was that Wikipedia was not considered a valid source. It always amazes me that people get to college and don’t know how to do proper research. I guess they didn’t all have someone teaching them how to do it right in the first place. Hard lesson to learn, but better from you than from the teacher!

  6. I came across this post while googling “plagiarizing Wikipedia”, because I was curious to find out how plagiarism changes when you’re not stealing from one author, but instead stealing from a collaborative, open source work like Wikipedia. I haven’t yet found my answer, but this is a great blog post, so I’ll throw in my two cents:

    This last year I finished a ridiculous high school ‘health’ class, which had a focus on research. The class itself was a joke, and I feel confident saying that as someone who considers himself an intellectual in training, because the teacher wasn’t able to practice what she preached. She ranted almost daily about how plagiarism would end in severe consequences, but was never able to spot it. Meanwhile, I was able to. For example, the class had to work on different research projects and distribute their findings to the rest of the class. I found it odd when many student’s documents used different fonts throughout, and had underlined hyperlinks. I kid you not, there were hyperlinks _everywhere_, a sure sign of very sloppy copying and pasting.

    Furthermore, the teacher’s PowerPoint presentations were taken straight from Wikipedia! How could I tell? She had underlined hyperlinks in her presentations. I even wrote down a sentence and googled it in quote to see where it came from. Low and behold, Wikipedia.

    One day, I was sick of it and stayed after class to discuss this with her. I pointed out half a dozen examples of plagiarism from the latest round of research projects and how you can spot it, and all she simply said was, “I didn’t know that.”

    Today, none of the plagiarizing students were punished for their crimes. Now, that teacher has since taken a job at a great college, where she’s sure to be making a great sum of money. I can’t figure some things out.

    Relevance to your daughter? Very little. But, I hope she and you are doing well.

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