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March 06, 2009

Plagiarism…the good kind

Just as I'm beginning to get into a solid routine I realize I'm in the last week of tutorials! One expects 8 weeks of school to go by very slowly. But when you're busy, time seems to get away. Not to mention that when one is used to a 15-week semester system, 8 weeks is a sprint.

The quality of my tutorial meetings has grown better. Initially, I thought it was hard to 'overcome' the knowledge gap between the don and me. I haven't become an expert in 7 weeks, but I can certainly have a conversation now. That has been encouraging.

The tutorial system has been eye-opening. I'm sure I'll look back on it in the coming months and years and see it with new perspective, but even now I can sense lasting effects. For instance, I never fully appreciated the degree to which education is an individual pursuit. With any education, there is certainly a great deal of privilege involved, and having great teachers and great libraries is of inestimable value. But to a great extent, the quality of my education will be determined by me. As Richard Mitchell hinted at in The Gift of Fire, we can't learn something, only I can! Oxford forces you to seek out the information on your own. And, of course, you get helped and corrected by your tutor, but this comes along the way, not beforehand.

If nothing else, it can change your level of academic discipline. This town is an academic culture. If you're not working hard, doing the work, you don't fit in, so to speak. For anyone who plays sports, it's like the first time you see professionals play up-close. Their discipline, their speed and efficiency, their techniques, change the way you play the game. The influence is inevitable. I routinely spend long hours in the libraries, and yet, I see many students who were there before me, and are there long after I leave! When I sit close to someone else in a library, I love to spy and see their ways of taking notes. It's plagiarism--the good kind.

Colin Johnson
Fellow, Hilary Term '09


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