Sandra Jamieson and The Citation Project

Sandra Jamieson visited WIU last week to give our Magliocco lecture, a series endowed for English & Journalism. Her talk was fantastic, highlighting the interesting research of The Citation Project by presenting selected results of their empirical work complemented by surveys conducted in two classes at Western. A few things stand out:

  1. Common definitions of plagiarism always include intention. That’s true for professional organizations like CWPA, and for Western, like most universities. But intent is very hard to prove, making enforcement processes cumbersome and time-consuming.
  2. Definitions of plagiarism also focus on acknowledgment and citation. Western’s policy repeats “without acknowledgment” four times in its definition. Does this mean any use with a citation is okay? Certainly, policies give that impression. We focus too much on “Is it cited?” without asking about the quality of the citation itself.
  3. Though policies often differentiate between plagiarism and resubmission, most weigh both as academic integrity offenses. Students, on the other hand, are far less likely to see resubmission as wrong. In a class Jamieson visited, one student said something like, “It’s my paper. I can do what I want with it.” Little wonder students have this attitude, given much of the “it’s mine” orientation of intellectual property discourse in and out of the academy.
  4. Rebecca Moore Howard‘s concept of “patchwriting” drives much of the Project’s work. Jamieson shared student writing which fit the definition (quantified given their approach), comparing it to sources to show that while patchwriting might not fit the definition of plagiarism, it isn’t good writing. The most obvious implication: writing courses need to spend far more time working with the nuts and bolts of quotation, paraphrase, and summary. Since students work across disciplines, their exposure to norms is wildly inconsistent: what’s okay for the humanities is too much quotation for the social sciences, etc. This makes using others’ texts even more difficult to learn.
  5. We don’t talk enough about reading in writing courses, and we don’t read enough different kinds of texts. The (overstated) literature/composition divide serves us quite poorly in this regard.
  6. Faculty present reacted audibly when she showed that 91% of student citations come from the first four pages of their sources–and 78% from the first two pages. Jamieson suggested many students rarely go past the abstract or introduction of an article, which would certainly cause problems if they tried to summarize or paraphrase: it’s hard to write summaries, but even harder to write summaries of summaries.
  7. Jamieson noted the Citation Project exists, at least in part, to address the dearth of empirical work being done in English studies. At a time data is driving education more and more, we continue to ignore data-centered research or even look down upon those who perform it.

One implication, besides the need to address reading and use of texts more forwardly in courses. Because I am thinking a lot about standards, I have spent a lot of time recently looking at the CWPA Outcomes Statement for FYC. The Citation Project’s work provides another reminder that standards and policies always have impacts which are not intended and poorly understood. Should making citation the focus of policies mean we obsess over documentation styles but neglect other areas, and suggest, even implicitly, that students should follow? Standards, then, have a didactic role whether or not we’d like them to. That doesn’t mean everything we’d like to be taught will be; recall the gap on resubmission Jamieson’s surveys pointed out. Nor does it mean standards and policies must be engaged directly to have tremendous impact. All students must deal with the impact of policies on course design. File all of these reminders under “obvious,” sure, but do file them lest standards be developed ineffectively.

Sandra Jamieson and Maurine Magliocco

Sandra Jamieson and Maurine Magliocco

That’s just content. From a delivery perspective, Jamieson was also quite good, structuring her talk around a central question, using local examples to make her argument, explaining her assumptions, pacing nicely, and pausing only a moment when her PowerPoint didn’t cooperate. She spoke equally well to both students and faculty, judging by the number of students who stayed for the whole talk then asked questions afterward. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so pleased about good delivery, but given the number of poor talks I’ve seen at conferences and otherwise, I’m always happy when speakers perform well and I can tell students, “Do what she did!”

As I believe she has done every year, Maurine Magliocco attended the lecture and participated in the discussion afterward. I’m thankful for her engagement and generosity. Her gift targets a need the university is increasingly pressured to address. Even (or especially!) at a teaching-oriented institution like Western, conversations about research are necessary, particularly when they articulate deeply with all levels of English studies. Certainly, this is true for The Citation Project’s research, and for everything Jamieson shared with us.

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