Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.3

October 9, 2003


CSU takes issue of plagiarism and penalties to the classroom

by Jason Gonziola

An effort by the Concordia Student Union Student Advocacy Centre to educate students on the consequences of plagiarism is winning approval from students and faculty alike.

Jean Marc Bouchard, co-ordinator of the Student Advocacy Centre, is heading the initiative and hopes to address what he perceives to be a problem rooted in ignorance, especially among international students.

“This has been my thing for about two years now, and I think, first off, it was due to the number of cases I had,” Bouchard said. “I noticed a trend immediately that students who seemed to have received their secondary education outside of North America were getting nailed with plagiarism.”

Specific problem areas outlined by Bouchard include the Middle East, parts of Asia and former Eastern Bloc countries, depending on the kind of secondary schools they attended.

Bouchard said the reason for this is that the idea of plagiarism may not be understood by international students from these areas. In parts of Asia, for example, where memorization of texts and academic works is prevalent, the idea of citing an author is unheard of, as is paraphrasing.

Students coming from this kind of academic environment are ill-prepared to understand citations and bibliographies as used by North American universities, a fact that Bouchard claims is supported by what he has seen in his work.

“Eighty-five per cent of these cases are not students who ran out of time, who went on the Internet and took whatever they could get,” he said. “Most of them are students who have no clue what they’re supposed to be doing. None at all. And we’re not teaching them.”

Bouchard decided to address the problem using the resources available in the Student Advocacy Centre. Ten-minute presentations are currently being given to students and professors in classrooms.

“It’s basically a talk about what plagiarism is, what citation is, and if you don’t know what these are, this is where you go, and if you get caught this is what happens,” he said, adding that he has a no-fail closing statement to drive his point home: “They can get you after you graduate.”

Thus far, the initiative has been well received by students, faculty and members of the administration. Rose Fedorak, Code Administrator for the Faculty of Arts and Science, spoke highly of the work.

“I think their initiatives are great,” she said. “It’s one way of getting the information out to students, and I think there’s a lot of merit to students presenting the information to students.”

Bouchard’s next step is to create a web site, hopefully with the help of the faculties. Following that, he hopes institutionalize the work and get the faculties and administration directly involved, perhaps creating a pre-requisite course for all students.

“The University of Manitoba has an impressive model,” he said. “It’s like a university survival course.” The course, he said, covers a number of topics for beginning students, from plagiarism to note-taking, and has more than 100 sections.

Fedorak agreed with the idea of plagiarism education in a course format, but noted the difficulty of implementing it.

“Courses like that, I think, are very valuable,” she said. “I think it’s more effective if it’s a mandatory course, but that’s a tough one to implement, because basically you’re adding another requirement to a student’s program,”

She added that, for a start, the university could look into implementing the school-survival course as an optional, non-credit course.

For now, Bouchard is hoping that the presentations will at least force people to rethink their ideas about plagiarism.

“One of the things I wanted to do was to pull people away from this law and order attitude about plagiarism,” he said. “Students aren’t doing this out of spite, they’re not doing it because they’re cutting corners or trying to cheat their way through. The majority are doing it because they just don’t know what they’re doing.”

The program should help change that.