Thursday, December 8, 2016

Follow Up to Yuri...From Cal. (And a Kind of Quickie Big Thirsty Just For Continuity...)

It may be that some people on Yuri's thread below don't have a lot of experience with what goes on in many typical freshman comp classes.

The sheer amount of outside class cheating is sometimes overwhelming. The first essay I took in this past semester in my 8 am section (always a bad time for this it seems), had 14 of 21 papers that had work copied and pasted from online essays, and these were literacy narratives, stories about how the writer first began to control and love language. Students weren't willing to write about their own experiences and found it easier just to copy and paste from the limitless pool of student essays online. (That they knew they could get caught with the ubiquitous plagiarism-checker Turnitin didn't dissuade this time or on the next essay!)

When I can control the assignment, assigning creative and quite specific topics that I already know will be difficult to find versions of online, my students work a lot on their own.

But, for my students' research paper, I start with the system that Yuri's clever English proffies use. Quite a great thing. The lab days are split up with in-class days where we review things in our normal classroom like MLA or APA citation, work on works cited pages together, pitch annotated bibs to each other, study student research paper models from our text, etc.

For me, once a paper is started and has some shape (opening, some body paragraphs, etc.) I allow work in the outside world, but I'm always tracking their changes in MSWord to make sure no large scale copy and paste bullshit is going on. Really once they commit to a topic and settle on 6-10 sources, it is VERY noticeable if they cheat, because well, their nuclear power disaster paper becomes about NASCAR helmet technology. The temptation to cheat lessens, too, the more time they spend on things.

Of course nothing is foolproof, but I swear by some of the same processes in Yuri's post, and it has been so nice to stop getting those Turnitin reports of 96% and 98% (VERY VERY BAD) that are just so dismaying.

For me, in my own experience, it's first and second semester freshmen MOST in need of a set of parameters to keep them from the allure of free online essays, so a comp class - where their writing is the WHOLE content - is the perfect place to institute this plan.

Q: Other poor English proffies with lots of comp instruction, what methods do you use to keep students from grabbing an essay mill paper and passing it off as their own?


  1. I was writing pretty much the same thing. I'd say great minds think alike, but as it's Cal, well, uh, let me just leave that there... (Hi, you fat bastard.)

  2. One week before essays are due, I have all of my students submit their work to, so they will see the results themselves. If they see they have uncited material, they can fix it to come in line with proper documentation style. They don't always do it, but it eases my mind some.

  3. I have a well-known reputation is someone who loves the flunk cheaters. Problem solved.

    1. The lesson in my comment above is never try to dictate into your phone during a bumpy ferry ride.

  4. Jacksonville JessicaDecember 8, 2016 at 7:58 PM

    The academic cheating is really out of control where I am as well. My colleagues and I did a workshop one summer day to discuss ways in which to address things, and in-class writing was a favorite topic.

    I hate that. I want my students to luxriate in their PJs, or whatever, and be dreamy and artful and write beautiful essays about things they're passionate about.

    But that's not your typical General Educations required comp class student. Most have gamed their high school teachers with Wikipedia papers and they want to game us, too.

    We use SafeAssign for our plagiarism check, and my colleague caught a student this fall who used the SAME PLAGIARIZED PAPER in high school last April. Once was not enough.

    It's an epidemic, and something has to be done. I like the Yuri/College example, but would amend it to my own needs, perhaps doing more of what Cal does on his research paper.

    Here at my college students do some very short papers which can be done in-class, and only 2 MONSTERS. Those need to be formed and constructed and researched under supervision, lest the students go fishing for a free already-written essay.

  5. I didn't see this thread before posting in Yuri's original thread answering just this question. I refuse to plagiarize myself by repeating that response here.

  6. It's been a while since I taught first-year comp, so I'm not completely qualified to answer this question. But judging from my experience with a third-year writing-in-the-disciplines class, and some now-rather-stale experience with first-year comp, I'd say the following:

    --As Cal notes, assigning almost anything but the most familiar assignments (the research paper, the literacy or other first-person narrative) helps. This is too bad, since some genres are common because they work well for the purpose (I'm not a fan of the research paper as commonly assigned, but the literacy narrative, if the students actually do it the way it's supposed to be done, can be a useful exercise on a number of levels), but the range of free papers available is actually pretty narrow, and students who are accustomed to get by through cheating aren't very imaginative/skillful about adapting the available material, though some can be remarkably persistent in lobbing whatever is available at the professor,and expressing surprise when (s)he doesn't accept it (because apparently all "English teachers," from approximately 7th grade through the associates degree, do/should want exactly the same thing).

    --Scaffolding works. Even assigning an annotated bibliography (also a pretty common assignment) can help a bit. Requiring students to retrieve electronic copies of proposed sources (at least those that are available electronically) and share them with classmates in some form of workshop can help. I haven't tried it yet, but I wonder whether some form of source-annotation assignment, in lieu of the annotated bibliography, might work. At the very least, the activities above give them some practice in retrieving sources using available bibliographic information, and might even force them to read at least part of said sources, which, even if they start with an existing paper, are steps in the direction of their learning actual skills. While I haven't tried it, I also like the idea of having them do at least some of the preliminary writing in class (or, as Suzy suggested in the other thread, in a google doc. Of course someone else could still do the writing for them, or they could type in material from a source or an earlier paper, but even small roadblocks to their accustomed shortcuts may nudge them in the direction of actually doing the work, and learning from it).

    1. --Going local works. I build several assignments in my current class off faculty bios and lists of recent faculty work. The students don't interview the proffies involved (that's too overwhelming for the proffies), but they do look up, read, analyze, and sometimes look up references in/to, the first articles they read. And they do a lot of this work in groups. That kind of work is hard to evade. In first-year comp, I used several assignments that asked students to observe and analyze their immediate environment (the campus, the town in which it sits) through a lens suggested by one or more secondary readings: is [x spot on/off campus] an example of a third place? what messages does our campus design send about human beings' relationship to nature? How does the local war memorial fit into national patterns? and so on. If this sort of assignment is widely used on a particular campus, there is a danger of getting recycled papers (though turnitin/SafeAssign can help with that), but there are not going to be a lot of such papers already available on the internet (and they might even be hard to outsource, though I'm sure some enterprising outside contractor would use google street view to try to complete the assignment, and/or a student might try adapting analysis of some far-away coffee shop to their own purposes, just as Cal's student appropriated someone else's experience).

      --If I were teaching first-year comp again, I'd strongly consider decoupling teaching source-finding and source-using skills, asking students to practice using/synthesizing sources that I provided (a la the assignments above), or perhaps that we identified in some sort of whole-class exercise, and practicing source-finding in some other way (e.g. the whole-class exercise). Reading the resulting papers might be a bit more monotonous than reading papers for which the students pick the topics (but reading papers for which the students pick the topics gets pretty monotonous anyway, since the same topics keep recurring, and eliminating the sense of dread followed by adrenaline rush experience of reading a plagiarized paper might be worth a bit of monotony).

      Nothing's going to solve the problem entirely, and I think Cal's introductory remarks point toward a Gordian knot of factors that contribute to the problem: more homogenization of materials/assignments due to adjunctification of the teaching force and increased administrative control of curricula and assignments and overuse of pre-packaged "courses" created by large publishers and over-centralization/management in general all contribute to the ability of students to find responses to many assignments online. (These forces also waste an incredible pool of creativity and willingness to do on-site pedagogical research inherent in the existing pool of teachers, while contributing to burnout and cynicism about student willingness to work and other forces undermining our will to teach, and teach well). I also worry about the possibility that we'll end up spending more time catching/trying to outsmart cheaters than working with the students who are actually trying. Still, it's worth a try, and assuming the administrators, publishers, et al. let us do so, we might come up with some interesting assignments in the process.

  7. I don't teach comp, but I do try to give topics that are sufficiently unique to the student and/or university as to make the cheating difficult to pull off. It's a pain in the patootie, since I have to make individual topics for each student. I also have them workshop topics, sources/evidence and a draft in class. This means less time for content in class, so I do assign and test on some pretty basic readings without using class time to go over them.

  8. Cal, do you use Google Docs? Students can give you access to their papers and I believe that it tracks all revisions.


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