Monday, September 6, 2010


Well, I've already had my first plagiarized paper. The student turned it in a week early -- it's due at the end of this week -- and it was copied from (42% according to

So I checked this student's progress in the rest of the class (especially since the name didn't ring any bells, meaning student hasn't been participating in the online discussions the rest of us have been having.) Student took the syllabus quiz 3 times, and failed it every time. Student also took the quiz over the assignment itself (my desperate attempt to get them to read the damned assignment handout I worked so hard on) and failed it, too. Both of these quizzes are set up so they may be retaken as many times as necessary until the students get the grade they like.

Apparently this student likes an F. And I spoke too soon about how much better my students seemed this year.



  1. Wow. That was fast. Must be some sort of record. My condolences. :P

  2. My gut reaction to reading a plagiarized paper from a student is to feel personally insulted. Insulted as in, "I can't believe you actually thought I would be stupid enough to think this was your work." But at least the indignation makes failing them easier for me.

  3. What makes it even worse is that they turned it in early...

  4. Hopefully your uni will let you prosecute something like this. Mine would say, "Oh, the darling little flake didn't know any better. Can you just give him/her a meaningless verbal warning and a chance to rewrite the paper?"

    Forgive me for typing in all caps, but A CHANCE TO REWRITE THE PAPER IS NOT A PUNISHMENT. IT IS AN EXTENSION.

  5. Ruby, the beauty of our Office of Minimal Consequences is that the kid can rewrite the paper, but you can give it an automatic F, no need to reread. In my book it should be a zero, ensuring that they fail the class, especially since F means "wrote something that wasn't good enough," and zero means "didn't write something at all," which is what plagiarism amounts to. But at least it's not an extension.

  6. I had a student this week (my online class, paper due at end of week 3), say that since her TurnItIn showed "only" a 3% match (to!!), that she doesn't see how I can say it's a 35% match. I explained we have a "superior" plagiarism checker (known as "I have read the textbook"), and it's now in the hands of Academic Affairs.

  7. I had that happen once: completely plagiarized paper (only the introduction slightly rewritten to sort of resemble what I'd ask for) turned in during the 3rd week of classes. I gave the student the standard -- and, thank goodness, at my institution, fully enforceable -- "this is going straight to the honor council and I will not talk about it with you again until they have ruled on the matter" line, made it clear, in response to her begging, that a rewrite was not a possibility and a zero on the assignment was a very real one, and prayed that she would drop the class, since I really didn't know how well I'd deal with having to interact with her for another 11+ weeks (but wasn't sure I could actually suggest she do so). She dropped.

    The only equally blatant case I've encountered (male snowflake copying straight from major magazine because his father had promised him a new car if he reached a certain probably unrealistically high GPA) came at the end of the semester. That was equally disappointing, but less stressful.

    Mostly, I have one or two patchwork cut and pasters per semester. If they do it at the draft stage, I call it an honest error and they get a chance to fix it (and I look very, very closely at the final product). If they fail to take advantage of opportunities to have their drafts read, and do the same on the final version, it goes to the honor council, and, assuming it's the first offense, they fail the paper, and the course, and have to retake it.

    I do appreciate our honor council. They have our backs, which is more than it seems many proffies can say. And I try to hold up my end of the bargain, structuring syllabi and assignments in such a way that it's easy for the honor council to tell the students they should have known better.

  8. I have some students who are weak writers, largely because they are weak readers. They honestly do not understand the book, the question, or even how to begin to answer. (And many are in education ... SCARY.) As a result, they patchwrite, hoping that some of what they turn in will hit the mark.

    So, like contingent Cassandra, I am pretty merciful at the draft stage, if I assign a draft. However, I really scrutinize their papers for the final grade! The worst is when you confront them, show them the problem, give them a chance, and they plagiarize, blatantly AGAIN.

    Hence my policy: if I find anything cut and pasted without proper citation AND quotation marks, even so much as a single sentence, or if more than 1/5 of the paper consists of quotations, I assign a failing grade FOR THE COURSE. Not the paper, the COURSE. (Yes, I quietly modify that when there is a real reason to do so.)

    Thankfully the other historian and the adjuncts in our department have the same policy, and our department chair backs us up. As I always print out the paper with the offending language highlighted together with a web printout of the source similarly highlighted, I have never had a grade changed by the chair or the honor council.

    I do not, however, use a plagiarism service--we don't have institutional access, but in any case the questions that I ask are so course-material dependent that students who purchase a paper fail anyway, just because they didn't really answer the question. Usually even those students can be found by typing entire suspect sentences into Mama Google. Mama Google searches book text as well as web pages, after all ... and finding those sentences is easy. If a student's written "tone" changes at all--sentence rhythm, word choice, sentence length--then I type in the sentence just to be sure. I don't think I miss many. (On the other hand, as I warn students every year, I also sing in a vocal ensemble, so I am *very* alert to tone and rhythm. Even so, who needs those when a student who cannot compose a coherent English sentence suddenly breaks into a page of pure Oxbridge, including the use of the word "whilst"?)


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