Cheating wiped out by a bit of fake fur

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
There's a computer program now called "Turnitin" that can find out if your pupils have been cheating. It power-snoops through their work and through 4.5 billion pages of the internet, then shows you how much they've copied.

Heh, heh!

As I write, the Sage centre in Gateshead is holding a conference on student plagiarism. Exam boards want "to understand plagiarism better", said someone from Edexcel. Hmm. I wonder if they'll talk about how to discourage it as well as detect it with a big scary computer?

I had this idea, see: pride. Pride versus plagiarism. If it's your name on your book, it has to be your work inside it. If you're proud because it's your own work, then why would you want to pollute it with someone else's?

So I started them off in Year 7 by letting them cover their own exercise books. When they asked me if there was anything they weren't allowed to use, all I could think of was chocolate and fire. I came back on Monday to a toppling pile of bumpy plastic, moulting sequins and fake fur. It was like marking a set of cushions. The care that went into them was matched by the shouty name labels. KELLY'S ENGLISH BOOK! yelled the top one, melting slightly as the sickly mauve gel started to leak. Oh, well. They don't get much chance to express themselves, so if my briefcase is a bit sticky for a while, who cares?

Then I let the idea loose on my Year 10s. I thought they might be too cool for it, so I wasn't prepared for the carnival of skulls, chains, jewels, cowboy boots and pet rabbits that danced across the cheap cardboard folders. Looking at them reminded me of how these pupils were just a couple of years out of childhood.

Yet here they were, becoming themselves, and whether they were good at English or not, they wrote their names with pride: "This is the work of the Great Steve." "I, Sam, did this all on my lonesome." It did seem to make them feel that cheating was beneath them.

Am I really claiming, then, that a bit of fake fur and some nice labels can cut cheating by encouraging young people to be themselves in the face of crushing conformity? Yeah, I am. I think I might tell the Gateshead people.

They can have my idea for nothing. And it was all my own work, honest.

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