Monday, August 22, 2011

Kinder to Plagiarism? WTF

My Uni has announced they are taking a kinder stance on plagiarism, meaning when students plagiarize it is because they don't know they are doing it, not because they are lying little cheaters. We are now expected to contact the students to let them know what they did wrong, explain what they did and how to prevent it and then offer them the opportunity to redo the assignment.

I am of the mindset that this is crap. I am all for telling them what they did wrong and how to prevent it but I think they will learn more for getting a big fat zero than from a kid glove approach. I have a sneaking suspicion that I am right as I am seeing more repeat offenders.

I am not tenured, what can I do to help stop this madness from taking over my class?


  1. Will there be any kind of warning system...we caught you once--redo assignment, twice--redo, third time--nets them a zero?

    FML, if you aren't going to have an ounce of institutional support to bust people for plagiarizing, I really don't know what can be done. And if so, then I second Wombat's suggestion.

  2. So, if I am in a class at this school and I have an assignment due tomorrow, I have two options: (1) Do the assignment honestly and take a normal grade or (2) Cheat and get a chance to re-do the assignment in a few weeks when I have had more time. During that additional time, perhaps I can even look at the papers of one or two friends in the class and see what they did and what kinds of grades they got. So with option (2) I get more time and perhaps some help doing the assignment. Fantastic!

  3. I've seen the same thing at my new SLAC where I start teaching in early September. I asked my chair, "What if I explain plagiarism in all of its forms first? What if I get them to sign a document acknowledging that they understand the consequences."

    My chair said, "Unless a Dean signs off on it, it won't matter. This is a campus wide initiative designed to show students and parents that we understand developing writers are ignorant about many things and that we're prepared to help them."

    That's bullshit, right?

  4. If there is no "three strikes" policy, or something similar, this opens up the door to unlimited plagiarism without consequence to students, ala AdjunctSlave's suggestion.

    The only long-term solution, if you really really care and want to stay at this institution forever, is to get involved in governance post-tenure and try to initiate a policy change. Drinking is much less work (and faster and more rewarding).

    My uni gives us the option to specify what specific consequences we think are most appropriate for any given student. I typically give a 0 on the assignment and recommend 1-year probation plus a mandatory course on plagiarism. It's essentially a slap on the wrist, but if they are caught plagiarizing again within the probationary period, they can be expelled. Gets the message across without being too heavy-handed in case they really did do it innocently.

  5. What Slave says is totally correct. I am of the mind that the vast majority of wikipedia hander-iners are students who have left the assignment to the last possible second and now have few options. Your uni has just given them another. It's bull, it's crap, but you are not going to be able to fix it unless you're willing to go to the cross for it. So Wombat, as usual, is right.

  6. Submit an anonymous complaint to your Accreditation Board. It's time we took back our educational system.

  7. Most plagiarists simply left it to the last minute and don't have time to think for themselves. This is not news. It doesn't make them less dishonest; it does acquit them of malice aforethought - most of them. I don't care. I went easy on a plagiarist I found this year and I've regretted it all summer. Never again.

    I have, however, become increasingly keen on unplagiarizable assignments; in-class hand-written papers work surprisingly well. I don't enjoy reading student handwriting, but at least I know they'll have to stick to the clumsy old methods of cheating - writing on their cuffs, looking at the next student's paper ...

  8. Suggestion: offer substantial bonus points for doing it right the first time. If a paper is late or has to be redone, it doesn't get the bonus. It's not really satisfying, because of course they should not plagiarize the first time, but at least the result is a penalty for cheating.

    But really, I agree with everyone that this is bullshit.

  9. I concur with Merely Academic. I teach an ESL comp course, and the first draft is always done in class. Students bring in printed copies of their support, along with an outline, and paperclip it together with their work. Lazy students fail to show up with any evidence (or a bluebook, or a pen), and then they are screwed. Plagiarism is limited to the sweet "citation error" varieties. These I display, elicit corrections, and shame the anonymous offenders.

    The subsequent draft is typed, but rarely strays too far out of the boundaries of their first (and slightly more heavily-weighted) draft.

  10. Everything everybody else said (including yes, it's B.S., and drink). I'd also consider talking less about plagiarism and more about "inadequate citation," and constructing grading rubrics that make it impossible to pass an assignment unless citation is adequate (and impossible to get anything above a D unless it's competently done). I'd then look to more general policies about revision, and institute the strictest version possible: early and firm deadlines for revisions, a restriction on the number of revisions that can be attempted, averaging the grades on new and revised versions to come up with the final grade for the assignment, etc., etc. If anybody objects, point out that bosses are not fond of having to hand written products back for correction multiple times (instrumentalist, I know, but so it goes).

  11. Darla, you're right. That's bullshit. Cassandra has a nice twist. But we need to realize that there are worse things out there than plagiarism, and those are the ghostwriters offering custom term papers. I have no idea how we can battle against them, other than locking the students in a room with no internet and making them write?

    I insist that my professors come firmly down on plagiarists, but then I'm weird, I suppose.

  12. Okay, not actually arguing with anything anyone's said here, but...

    Where exactly do students learn correct citation, how to research, and how not to plagiarize? I mean, yeah, it seems like a no-brainer to those of us with brains, but...

    Does any high school English class, or freshman college course, ever effing TEACH RESEARCH? How to paraphrase? How to gather lots of information together and redact it down into a couple of manageable paragraphs? At least when I went to college, it was something I encountered the first time on a sophomore year syllabus, with a fairly vague explanation of what plagiarism was and not to do it, and an instruction to buy Turabian, as though the prof assumed I would have learned this stuff before. I'm smart and I'm a fairly good writer, and I had no trouble figuring it out, and I was pre-internet, but if no one actually teaches the snowflake brigade HOW to transmute someone else's info into their own writing, I don't know how we expect them to learn. I suspect many think that if they retype the words they got from the website rather than using cut and paste, it doesn't count as plagiarism, because they actually typed out the words. Ridiculous, but let's face it, college students think dumber things on a regular basis. This crap needs a course of its own, required of every student. I took a lot of useless shit in school; this would have been VERY useful.

    A "kinder" approach to plagiarism? Not a chance. But an approach that heads it off before it happens? That I could get behind. I think the idea of early draft due early, or done in class, is a really good one.

    The ghostwriting thing is horrific. I still can't quite believe it's real, despite all evidence to the contrary.

    Jenn (doctoral student)

    1. *raises hand*
      Mine does. I am also a doctoral student and I teach freshman comp (both halves--expository and argument/research). I teach all the necessary stuff for correctly using other people's words/ideas in both classes.

  13. Does any high school English class, or freshman college course, ever effing TEACH RESEARCH?

    Maybe not any more. But when I was in elementary school in the 1970s, we learned the basic idea of getting ideas from books and putting them together in a "report". In the 10th grade (that's sophmore in HIGH SCHOOL, not college), we did a research paper in our history/English combo class. I did at least one research paper after that before graduating, senior year. I don't remember whether I did one junior year or not. So the first research paper I wrote in college in the mid 1980s was the third or fourth time I had to do a typed 10+ page paper with sources and a bibliography. That was a public school, but it had a reputation for having an aging faculty. So maybe I caught the very tail end of the jurassic term paper era.

  14. One more note: What baffles me is that almost half of my graduate students think that citations are only for direct quotations. They think so even when they have submitted their third or fourth paper in the semester, despite my comments on each paper. So do any teachers "teach" this? Yes. We start in high school, or even earlier, and say it over and over and over and over and by grad school, most get it.


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