No-fail policies leading to cheating & Turnitin.com?

Note: Taking a short break. Visitors will notice that I have combined “The Retired Educator” and “Crux of the Matter” once again and am now approaching commentary from a non-partisan point of view.

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So, the Ontario government is purchasing access to turnitin.com because plagiarism — cheating — has become a problem in Ontario schools. Well, hello! What did officials in Ontario’s ministry of education and other provincial education departments across Canada think would happen if they encouraged or implemented no-fail policies?

It’s called natural consequences.  I mean, if you promote or “transfer” students who don’t have the skills to move ahead or enact policies that force teachers to not deduct marks for lateness, incompleteness or lack of sources, what do you think will happen?

They will have to cheat, that’s what, by writing words and sentences that are someone else’s? It’s called plagiarism or, for want of a better word, cheating.

So, by implementing “turnitin.com” in Ontario’s public schools, is the McGuinty Liberal government not admitting that its policies are ill preparing our children and youth for real life? I mean, how many employers will put up with plagiarism in the work place? None that I know of.

As a result, we can only hope that the need to use Turnitin.com is the impetus provincial governments need to re-examine no-fail policies. I am not holding my breath, however, because all too often officials don’t stand back and question why cheating has become such a problem in the first place.

10 thoughts on “No-fail policies leading to cheating & Turnitin.com?

  1. Yes Sandy but there is the ‘other cause’ which I have mentioned in your pages before. It is the non-promotion of excellence I am talking about. When the corporate world decides to start preferring grads with higher grades and actual academic talent then performing will have value but NOT until then. All that matters is the ‘piece of paper’ they all shill. You know that you were a teacher for years. Make it pay to do well and watch them dance.

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    • Real Conservative — I had hoped to hear from teachers as to why they now needed such a program and what the implications are. So, although I know educators read this site, they rarely comment which would give us the other side of the story.

      In any event, its not just about non-promotion of excellence. No-fail is simply the opposite of excellence. Meaning, that if you want to promote or teach excellence, you need to provide children with opportunities to succeed. If they don’t do well, then you teach them how to learn from their mistakes. Then, once they have the skills they need, they will have no need to cheat. In other words, no promotion is necessary. Excellence just happens if provided with opportunity to succeed. Not everyone will get A’s but they will do the best they can as opposed to the least possible.

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  2. Well, Sandy, since you ask …

    I honestly can’t think of any reason any teacher worth their salt would need it. By that I mean that most teachers like myself work through projects like this with the students. When you notice that some students do nothing, then magically this beautifully written paper appears – you cannot help but be a little suspicious. As a former teacher, you know that we also use other clues such as the student’s writing style. Whenever I have become suspicious of the authorship of a paper, I have simply typed the first sentence of the paper into Google and found the source within 5.6 seconds.

    Therefore, let me posit a couple of possible reasons for you:

    1) Window Dressing: the Ministry wants to make it appear that they are doing something.
    2) Deterrence: perhaps if students know that their papers will be checked, they will stop and think twice.

    To put this in perspective, let me tell a little story from my first year of teaching, some 23 years ago:

    I had a student that hadn’t done much at all the whole year. I assigned a 500 word paper (Grade 10 class) and got this wonderful essay. Being naive, I was thrilled – the student had a thesis; the first sentence of the second paragraph backed up the thesis; the rest of the paragraph clearly explained the point; next paragraph the same – this was going well. Middle of page 2 (5 page paper remember), beginning of new paragraph, “In the previous chapter we saw that …”

    Today’s students are not much better – their sources more accessible and sophisticated – but the students are not any more sophisticated. I have had students hand in a paper printed off the internet – web page address header and all – they didn’t even bother to paste it into Word – they just printed the essay directly from Windows Explorer.

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    • Wayne, I hear you.

      I agree that some plagiarism is immediately recognizable. But, there were times when I was marking undergrad papers that I knew something was not right but couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was wrong. Turnitin would have been helpful in those cases. However, as you note with the “In the previous chapter…” some things are more obvious.

      For example, I remember marking an essay on “Piaget and his theory of development” and thinking that I had read something similar before. When I was finished all the papers I had to mark I went back and re-read the first dozen or so. And, sure enough two students had submitted a very similar paper. And, in fact, used entire identical paragraphs. What could they have been thinking? I mean, they were in either second or third year.

      In any event, the resulting hassle with the two of them went on for months. Eventually it was found that they had done something similar in other departments and they were subsequently asked to leave the university with a permanent black mark on their transcripts.

      However, that said, in university its tough to find things that are as obvious as you got. “In the previous chapter?” Shows the student sure didn’t pay attention to what they typed.

      Cheating is not new. However, the extent of it seems to be more widespread because of the Internet. My husband teaches English in H.S. as well (part-time in a private high school as he is officially retired from the public system) and says the problem today is kids don’t know how to paraphrase, not necessarily that they are determined to cheat. They get their “study notes” and then take entire phrases and paragraphs out of them — word for word. So he goes through the study notes highlighting single words and then asks them to verbally summarize the notes just using those words and they are always amazed at the result.

      Anyway, thanks for telling us the other side of the story. I am a retired teacher. This site is not meant to be a “condemn the teachers” site. However, I am now in a position to be a voice for political influences, a voice I could never have used while in the system or involved in the system through pre-service students. So, I depend on hearing from practising educators. Even if we disagree, that’s okay. You are on the front lines and know what is really going on, at least in your context.

      Turnitin is, however, the canary in the mine. All is not well and it is long past time that the bureaucrats and politicians started listening to teachers that making credits easy is not the answer in the long run. Speaking of listening to teachers, I have written a number of posts on what “professionalism” and “ethics” means to teachers, that they are not free to speak out. Non-teachers do not understand that it is drilled into us, that we can never do that. In fact, we would either be shunned by our colleagues or fired outright. So, even for me, several years into retirement, sometimes it is difficult to tell it like it is.

      mended.ca did but unfortunately, their site is now shut down.

      Anyway, thanks.

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  3. Hello Sandy,

    I appreciate your insight and I wasn’t implying that all teachers should have an easy time finding plagiarism. At high school it is fairly obvious – university much more difficult. I’m sorry, I might have misread the synopsis. I thought this purchase was for schools, not universities. I believe many universities have already used turitin before.

    As for your thesis, I did mention that cheating has always been a problem. However, maybe I should clarify what I meant. I didn’t intend to say that it is the same as always. What has changed is the scope and frequency. Where a teacher might have one or two a year, or every other year a couple of decades ago; I would think it is closer to three or four every class every year.

    Is it a result of the ‘no fail’ policies? Boy, I sure would like to agree with you there. They have just about ruined Ontario’s school system (and most other systems in North America). However, I don’t think it is as simple as that. We always have to take basic human nature into account. Let’s say someone is on a diet and craving a chocolate bar. They could decide to go into the kitchen and have a healthy snack. However, they would be much more likely to choose the chocolate bar if it is sitting on the desk in front of them (the computer), than if they had to walk a mile or two to go to the store (library). Students today have a world of information at their fingertips. Where you or I would see a glorious opportunity to access writers and sources to glean from and quote in our work – they see an easy way out. Why work when you can cut and paste?

    Here, perhaps, is where the ‘no fail’ policies come into the picture. They have lead our young people to totally devalue work and effort. When there is no link between effort and reward, basic human nature (laziness) will choose the path of least resistance. Students today are not interested in work – but they are very interested in marks. Since they don’t see the connect, teachers see the over-inflated sense of entitlement that students have today; especially at university I hear.

    Thanks for providing this website. I appreciate the chance to speak up (OK, vent ;-))

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    • Actually Wayne, it is me who went off topic. The post is meant to be about high school. I simply brought in my example of university to show that the trend simply moves from one level to the next. Re the high marks dilemma. You’ve got that right. I’ve had univ. aged students “cry” in my office because they didn’t get an “A” — when they did “C” work. They would continually say how “hard” they worked. Sure, I always gave some marks for effort, but I had to explain what an “A” meant, almost perfect, a really good argument, primary and secondary sources and no spelling and grammar mistakes. They would be shocked! However, having been an elementary and secondary teacher before, I usually gave them a chance to redo the work. That was when they learned what an “A” really entailed!!!!

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  4. Sandy, universities and now colleges and a few high schools are implementing peer help systems. I did this in university and it was most gratifying. Have the talented students help the entering class and those with problems, it works! But if the corporate world does not show respect to high achieving students and does not put their intellect to work to grow our economy then it is all a waste of time. The culture of ‘get the piece of paper only’ has to end, I like the american corporate model a lot better than the socialistic one up here. In the US they care about your grades and it matters.

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  5. I would be interested to find out what happened to MendEd as well. No one has ever approached me to shut down or tone down, so I doubt there was union or similar influences. But, if any teachers on the site were still teaching, well, all bets are off as to what pressures came to bear to stop the open debate. And, remember, sometimes it may be nothing specific, just that someone feels shunned at a retirement party or whatever.

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  6. Hello All,

    I’m really more like in the thin of it here. Through colleagues, I’m lead to understand that the moderator found it too much of a time commitment attempting to teach full time and reading and approving all the comments.

    Sandy, your remarks about the subtle disapproval of some members has me thinking, and wondering. There have been some interesting questions along those lines in our ‘Ask the Director’ section of our employee BBS.

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    • Thanks for replying Wayne. Appreciate it. I just put up a post that I am going on hiatus. I have been blogging here and at Crux of the Matter before this, for well over four years and am now very tired of having to keep track of all the news and issues, etc.

      In other words, like the MendEd moderator just found it too much, I too am finding that freelance consulting and writing plus this is proving to be too much. The reality is that people who don’t have a blog have no idea how time consuming the process is.

      So, nothing more to my indefinite break than what I say.

      Take care everyone.

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