Monday, April 20, 2009

(One of) My least favorite things about teaching...

I ressurected my paper assignment in my big freshman course this year after a one-year break. You may recall that this happened two years ago. Go ahead and read it.... 

I found myself retelling that story to a colleague the other day and it got me thinking about the whole issue of plagiarism again. This time, I have not reported any students, but have had two students rewrite their papers because the content was too similar to web content (based on Turn It In reports). The papers were not wholly plagiarized, but there was quite a bit of word-for-word copying in each one. 

Am I wrong to not report it? Can these students really be that ignorant that they are committing plagiarism? By backing off from the hard stance of reporting all cases, am I just letting serial plagiarists cheat their way through college, since any instances are not being reported? I have mixed feelings about it, but given my last experience, it was hardly worth the trouble- especially since I don't think the student learned anything from it. 

Even aside from the cases where I've had students rewrite their papers, I still find smaller segments of text that match other sources- if it's less than 15%, I don't worry about it, but I sometimes question that, too. It's no wonder people don't like to assign papers in their big first-year courses. I have encountered plagiarism in upper level classes, too, though. One semester (before Turn It In), I googled a passage of text from a student paper and found the whole thing on the web. I reported her to the chair, and in the meeting, she admitted everything and took a zero for the assignment. In another class, I deducted a large portion of a grade for one student paper, because a lot of it was not original and started checking their first drafts the next year (when I had to have a student- one of our majors- rewrite his paper). The problem is so widespread, that I have to wonder how much of it is truly ignorance and how much is cheating. Either way, it's an aspect of teaching that I loathe to deal with. 

What experiences have you had with plagiarism in your teaching (or other fields)? Does anyone feel like they have a good handle on it or have university policies that are favorable to the instructor?


Seeking Solace said...

My policy is that it is an automatic "F" for the assignment and failure of the course. I do report it to the powers that be and let them handle it according to policy.

That being said, I spend a significant amount of time explaining what is and is not plagiarism.I given them examples from my own background where students have done some crazy things, like you suggested. The best one was where a student bought a research paper on line and tried to pass it off as her own. I guess I use the "don't even try it with me" scared straight method. Does it work all the time? No, I still nail someone every semester.

I don't know what the complete answer is. My classes are small enough that I can monitor what goes on. I can't imagine in a large first year course how to deal with it.

I am not sure what causes it. Is it laziness? Is it that they just don't care? Is it that they just don't know any better?

Sorry, I am rambling. I'll wait for others to share.

Arbitrista said...

I used to give people zeroes on the assignment with no do-overs for the first offense. Usually they dropped the course at that point.

It's funny you mention this - a coworker just told me about a plagiarism incident this morning.

Amanda said...

As a student at a large state college, I can tell you that it is not ignorance that is causing the problem.

All of the students I have met know that copying is a big no no, but so many still do it. The problem is, when you have a first year class and there is only one topic assigned, it is hard not to get many many similarities. For example, in my bio class (300+ people per semester) there was no such thing as below a 10% on TurnItIn because of (a) how structured the lab report had to be and (b) the sheer number of people on the same level who had taken the same classes from the same teachers who ending up writing the same way.

The best way that I have seen this dealt with so far was one teacher who required an online test about plagiarism. She posted a 20 page document about plagiarism, university policy, etc. and then gave a ten question quiz that we had to take until we passed (had to pass before passing in the first assignment). That way, everyone knew what plagiarism was and that they wouldn't get away with it. That plus TurnItIn is the best combo I have seen so far.

P.S. Here Plagiarism goes straight to Student Honor Court.