Friday, 2 October 2020

There aint no such thing as a free lunch

I had a situation on a course where several students recycled work, which had already been submitted in on a concurrent course for credit, on the course that I was teaching. 

While I had struck this in isolated, individual occasions in the past, I had never had this happen with a number of students. I had to have a good, long think about "what was wrong with this picture", because I wanted to explain to my students WHY this was a problem: what the philosophical issues were, so they didn't run into this problem again. I felt that there were three issues at play, as follows: 

  1. Firstly, our audience - the lecturer in this instance - is expecting the work we turn in to be our own, original, and created to answer the question at hand, to demonstrate understanding and application of the learning outcomes being assessed. We have a psychological contract to uphold with our reader (more on that here), along with our personal reputation for honesty, and trust. If the work we are turning in for credit has not been created specifically for this purpose, then we need to explicitly tell our reader.

  2. Secondly, if it is unacknowledged, recycling is 'self-plagiarism'. We avoid plagiarism aspect by citing, and, in this case, self-citing (TurnItIn, 2016; TurnItIn, 2019). We can clearly mark that our work has been repurposed, by following all of the usual APA citation and referencing rules: i.e. no more than 50 words per citation; use double quote marks; and provide the reader with a map back to the source. If we submitted the original work online, we simply provide the URL where the work was uploaded to.

  3. Thirdly, there is the issue of double-dipping, in 'recycling' credit. If we have turned in work for credit on one course, we cannot recycle it to get credit on another course. Otherwise we could pirate our own work again and again and do - warning: over-exaggeration coming here! - 180 credits instead of 360 to earn our degree.
I told my students that they were welcome to reuse ideas developed in previous work, but that they had to rewrite those original ideas, and bend them to suit this new use. If they had particularly good elements that really suited the current assessment, then they could quote those ideas, using the normal APA limitations and processes mentioned in point 2 above.

It surprised me that my students were in the last year of their degrees and has not realised that they could not resubmit work. Most institutions specifically mention that students cannot recycle work. For example, my current institution here says under the Definitions section on the second page, that the following is considered to be academic misconduct "(d) Submitting work for summative assessment which has previously been submitted elsewhere, without the prior permission of the Curriculum Manager or delegate" (2019, p. 2). 

To quote the immortal words of Robert Anson Heinlein: "There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch" (1966, p. 122). We probably need to spell that out more. 



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