Monday, November 4, 2013

Plagiarism 101

Welcome to Plagiarism 101, where the reactions to being busted range from Whatevs to How Dare You?

Shrug-it-off Sharon and Blase Beth:  Your errors  are identical. You get zero on the assignment.

"Okay," you say as you walk away.

Mature Star Student and Flakier Flunkie:  You're in same ethnic group. Your entire assignments are identical, including the same misspelling, despite the correct spelling being printed right on the sheet.

"Okay," you say as you walk away.

Prince Charming, Drama Princess and Princessette: What's this game of telephone in your mistakes?  Mofopithecus?   Give me a break!

"We worked together. I didn't know it was such a big deal."
"If I ask a question, are you going to be mad at me?" 
"This isn't fair. I'm filing a grievance. You've been picking on me all semester."

"Okay," I say as I walk away. Good luck with that grievance, your Drama Highness. 

Best one!  Righteous Religious Reggie:  Dude. It was extra credit in a basic skills class. You were supposed to demonstrate a note-taking technique by summarizing 3 main points from the previous lecture. Your suspiciously flawless prose included details I don't cover in lecture but were easily Googleable to -- OMG, the textbook chapter summary on the publisher's website! With wording tweaked a bit as if -- as if, not that you would EVER do this -- you didn't want to be caught with an exact copy and paste.

But the most delicious part is the summary essay in your portfolio about how the basic skills exercises affected you as a student. In sentence fragments and run-ons with numerous misspellings and random capitalizations, you say these activities will help you in your commitment to Jesus.

Praise be.


  1. I thought committing plagiarism meant appearing before some sort of grievance committee and the possibility of academic censure or expulsion.

    You're not letting them off with a warning, are you?

    1. At my university, a first offense involves whatever course-related penalty the professor decides on, plus a report to the Dean of Students who may, depending on the seriousness of the offense, decide on further action.

      For the most part, after a first offense, the Dean just sits them down and tells them not to do it again. But a key reason for reporting to the Dean is to get that first offense on record with the administration, so the student can't pull the same thing again with a different professor. If there's a second offense, that's when the Dean starts taking more serious action like academic probation, suspension, or expulsion.

      As for my own policies within my classes, a first offense means, at an absolute minimum, failing the paper in question and a sit-down with me in my office. That's if it's a few sentences lifted from the actual scholarly sources they were asked to use. If it's more serious, like whole paragraphs cut-and-pasted from Wikipedia or other internet sites, they'll fail the whole course, even if all the rest of their work is fine.

    2. No, Strelly, I filed the paperwork and the little bxxx dears had to meet with the Dean of Small Consequences before their grades were released.

      The OP describes how the students responded during my sit-down with them, when I poinedt out the evidence and handed them the referral to the dean. I expected some denial and anger. This was the first time my cheaters basically just shrugged. Which means, to me, that it wasn't the first time they were caught. Due to privacy laws, I'll never know what penalty the college gave them.

      Our CC policy is much as Defunct Adjunct describes it, except that professors can dock cheaters only the grade for that assignment, not the entire course, due to legal precedent at the state level. I've tried for years to get our Academic Senate to propose an XF grade, but that, too, is illegal.

    3. They should either lose both pinkies or a thumb for being such lying slackasses.

  2. A little more than a decade ago, as a fresh TA, I was part of a dispute that went to the university committee in charge of such things. It was comprised of students and faculty, and despite overwhelming evidence that the student in question copied their paper from an online course, the committee over-ruled the grade (and the objections of the faculty on the committee!) because copying things that are online isn't plagiarism.


    Fast forward to the present and the same thing happened at my present institution. We have the right to assign any grade we want as the result of academic integrity violations (we might have to go through the review if the student wishes to challenge it) and the process is so terrible that I usually just fail the student rather than report them.

    In fact, the last one I reported ended up with a semester probation and ability to totally erase the F they earned after wholesale cut and pasting all but three paragraphs in a 10 page paper. No XF (or whatever the equivalent grade is), no permanent black mark on their transcript. They retook the course (I wasn't assigned it the next time it was offered) and they passed. Luckily I have another colleague who failed them FOUR times for the same course before the flake figured out that college wasn't for them.

  3. I've used a wide variety of options when coming across a plagiarized paper. My treatment of these cases is based on my own experience with young writers, and vary from an office chat, a hard lesson, and a do-over, to, indeed, going in front of a panel - often student-led - for more formal censure.

    For me it depends on my perception of their intent, the worth of the project, etc. I have no latitude for an upper division student, but a freshman who I think panicked and forgot to cite something, or indeed a freshman who has gotten away in high school with what they consider minor plagiarism (paraphrasing something), well that can be a teaching moment.

  4. What's the math equivalent of plagiarism? Surely it must be student copying solutions to homework problems (from a classmate or an online source.) This semester my TAs are grading homework (large intro class), so if they spot two identical ones I've asked them to grade them, photocopy both and give me the copies and write "identical to another student's work" on the paper, as a warning. This seems to have stopped the attempts.

    Last year in an advanced class there was this guy who was clearly having someone else do the homework for him (perfect homework, weak tests). I decided not to call him on it, mainly since he wasn't completely incompetent, and was clearly learning something. And I must confess in general I'm casual about this sort of thing: I don't feel it is worth the time and aggravation of doing it by the book every time. There is some infinitesimal learning value in even copying solutions. If they just copy, but don't know what they're doing, they'll pay for it on the tests. And it is impossible to pass one of my courses if you fail all the tests.

    As for the "educational value" of calling them on it, well. They shrug it off. So why shouldn't I? "Don't care more about..." goes the motto. End of proof.


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