When I first I started teaching, I knew what plagiarism meant and how it related to schoolwork. But student “cheaters” challenged my beliefs. I also assumed graduate students would submit original work. So it took me by surprise when I noticed a mysterious improvement in one student’s writing capacity, well beyond the skill level he’d demonstrated earlier. When a Google search proved more than 20 percent of his paper was copied, he explained it as a computer error—he’d accidentally dropped the footnote when cutting and pasting. I lowered his course grade, but assumed it really was a snafu—not subterfuge. The (now) obvious question went unasked: Why was so much of his assignment based on other people’s insights?
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Almost 800 business, engineering, education, and health services students completed a fairly typical plagiarism survey. They were asked how strongly they agreed with a statement defining plagiarism as copying text and inserting it in a paper without citing the source. They were asked how often they engaged in this specific behavior. As in many other survey studies, 75 percent of these students agreed or strongly agreed that copying text without referencing it was plagiarism. Eighty-one percent said that the behavior should result in strong punishment, and 84 percent said that they never or rarely engaged in this practice. None of those results are new or particularly surprising.
A qualitative study of plagiarism reported that although students know that plagiarism is wrong, most are quite confused about what actually constitutes plagiarism. The availability of so many online resources has exacerbated the problem. Cut-and-paste features expedite using the material of others. Studies are also showing that students do not think the principles of ownership apply to online resources the same way they do to published material. Finally, many faculty are still struggling to master the rules of referencing that apply to Web-based resources, which does not excuse but certainly explains why students find referencing these materials so confusing.
In an effort to make my lessons about plagiarism and the appropriate citation of sources more personal for the students in my rhetoric and research classes, I now use an assignment that forces them into the role of victim rather than thief. The results of my most recent experience with this approach were encouraging.
The Writing Process: Step-by-Step Approach Curbs Plagiarism, Helps Students Build Confidence in Their Writing Ability
I’ve long been an advocate of student-centered learning and approaching material from a variety of perspectives. We hear so many buzzwords describing the ways we should teach or the ways our students learn, and we deal increasingly with issues of plagiarism and academic dishonesty. In a classroom of adult learners who frequently view themselves as consumers, we balance the need to meet their demands with the need for them to meet ours. Getting back to the basics can intrinsically incorporate kinesthetic, collaborative learning and nearly eliminate plagiarism while promoting critical thinking.
For some students, a writing assignment takes weeks of research, writing and revisions. For others, the ingredients are more along the lines of Google, CTRL+C and CTRL+V. And for others still, the assignment is nothing more than a transaction with an online essay mill.
When students need to write a paper, where do they go? A study released last month on plagiarism found that social and user-generated websites are the most popular resources, followed by academic and homework-related sites. Cheat sites and paper mills comprised less than 15 percent of the total resources used and showed the most significant decline over the period examined.
Although we strive to uphold academic integrity, we may unknowingly be committing plagiarism. As we know (and tell our students) plagiarism is copying from a source verbatim, but it is even more than that. According to Reference.com, “plagiarism is the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.”
Cheating is not a new problem for colleges, but the Internet and other technologies have increased opportunities for cheating, making it more tempting to try and easier to pull off than ever before.