So plagiarism is in the air; the NY Times Easy Chair Millionaire. caught the bug (with a reasonably nuanced nondemonization of the perpetrators) the other day, with an article that’s, at this writing, the most emailed. Or maybe they stole the idea from me — my essay for The Morning News, “Cheater, Cheater,” burned up the tweetosphere (for a summary, go here) in June. The Times did an earlier story about the technology being employed to catch plagiarists. (Just kidding about them stealing the idea.)
The focus of both of those articles is on student writing — but not student computer programming, where the plagiarism of code is also a rampant problem. That’s a tougher situation to think about, I think, because if you’re talking about literary (loosely construed) authorship, you have recourse to a
couple thousand years of authorial traditions, with all its various threads and permutations. You also have recourse to reconsiderations of the postmodern sort, like mine, one result of which is to alter the moral valence of plagiarism as an activity, but also introduce new themes for pedagogy. Instructors of programming have no such recourse.
Another complicating difference is that writers actually do have to come up with their own language and ideas a great portion of the time, depending on appropriation, pastiche, riffing, paraphrasing, etc. as legitimate tools but one that, from a craft perspective, you don’t want to use too often. And if you do use them, you may not want to admit to it. (Naturally, there are some writers who embrace the pastiche as a practice; see David Shields’ <a href="Reality Hunger: A Manifesto as the most recent example.) My point is that the gap between what the classroom ideal is (you do your own work) and the actual practice (you come up with your own language) are very close.
I don’t know much about the coding world, but what I do know suggests that the gap between the pedagogical ideal (you do your own work — some of which means facing the blank screen and making the first steps) and the actual practice is much, much bigger than in the literary/compositional world. the coding world, And yet, in the actual work of writing code, copying/borrowing/appropriating is the only way to get the job done, so the gap between classroom practice (and academic values) and actual practice is much wider than it is in composition. I got an email recently from someone in response to The Morning News essay; the writer (who disagreed with my take) then admitted, “In my line of work, copying code from others is essential to getting my job done and an important skill, but also the worst kind of cheating if done in class to avoid completing an assignment.”
Could someone get back to me and fill this in?