Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 3 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

When Cheating is Learning – Inadvertent Plagiarism #rhizo14


Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 3 seconds

The challenge in week 1 of #rhizo14 to think about cheating made me think a lot because my work involves helping faculty at my institution deal with plagiarism. I expected to struggle with this idea, but listening to Dave’s intro video and reading his blog reminded me of an anecdote i share early on in a plagiarism workshop i give.

It is a story I read in one of Helen Keller’s books where she recounts a story of being accused of plagiarism when she was very young (eleven!). Imagine a deaf-blind kid being accused of plagiarism! (full story in her own wordsaccessible here). Apparently, she wrote what she thought at the time was her own original story, only to later discover (by being accused of plagiarism) that her story was very similar to something someone had read to her once (that person was not her mom or her regular nurse, so it took a while before they discovered how she had “read” the story before). She had not been aware of plagiarizing, it just happened. This incident made her very careful afterwards with all her writing, including letters, and she stuck to writing non-fiction. What a shame, right? I share this story as a caution to how accusing a person of plagiarism when they do not intend it could kill their spirit and creativity. Keller herself makes a point that reminds me of rhizomatic learning:

It is certain that I cannot always distinguish my own thoughts from those I read, because what I read becomes the very substance and texture of my mind. Consequently, in nearly all that I write, I produce something which very much resembles the crazy patchwork I used to make when I first learned to sew.

Have we not all had similar experiences? We learn something, internalize it, and then we are unsure where someone else’s ideas ended and ours began?

It happens to me all the time, and happened to me during my PhD research. It took me time between finishing my interviews and finalizing the writing up of the analysis and results. There was a particular idea that I had thought was mine, but that I realized (thankfully before i finished the thesis) was actually said in an interview with someone.

I guess what Dave was saying was that the idea of cheating assumes someone else has the answer, and that there is actually one answer that is possible to reach alone. Whereas much learning occurs “in-between” rather than within each of us (sounds like social constructivism but i am sure rhizomatic learning goes beyond that).

In a brainstorming meeting, so many ideas bounce off each other that it is often difficult to attribute the final idea to one particular person… It is a crowd-sourced idea.

I also think Helen Keller’s imagery of how ideas become part of the substance and texture of the mind reminds me of neural networks of our brains… Information gets stored there in ways we cannot imagine in detail, and follows paths that we cannot always predict (at least, that is how computer neural networks work – as I remember from my undergrad years, and I believe they are similar to the human brain in their action).

In that sense, a rhizome is similar to the brain itself… Like the multiple connections between neurons. Or have I got this wrong? (I think I need to go read a bit more about rhizomes, rather than just work with what I understood from reading about them a few times on Dave’s blog and others’) – but i wanted to share this thought right away.

Would love to hear others’ thoughts on this.


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