Plagiarism

I had several students plagiarize on papers and one student plagiarized not only his paper but two extra credit assignments.

My husband argued with me over the definition of plagiarism (He does not think missing citations are serious.) and was upset enough to not want to continue the discussion.

This article, which came to me via NCTE, appears to agree.

In his essay “Beating the House: How Inadequate Penalties for Cheating
Make Plagiarism an Excellent Gamble,” Matthew Woessner calculates that plagiarism is a strategy likely to pay off: “when expected value functions indicate that engaging in plagiarism will (in all probability) raise a student’s grade and save her time, assuming the risk of misconduct must be described as rational” (314). Students’ and instructors’—and later, employers’—fixation upon grades inhibits understanding and ameliorating the systemic, contextual nature of the problem. But once one acknowledges, as Woessner does, that a context of evaluation invites academic dishonesty, then it cannot follow that the solution is aggressive punishment of that dishonesty. Yet this is exactly what Woessner, and many others, recommend: “all but the most aggressive plagiarism sanctions inadvertently reward students who elect to engage in this type of misconduct” (313).

The author argues that paying attention to grades limits integrity. I do not think this is true. Grades are always important. In my seventh grade social studies class, when the teacher was out, all but one student cheated on the exam. I reported them and I was also penalized. Were those students, most of whom were from the inner city, really worried about their grades? Or did they think that an easy A would be fun?

The article also says:

This belief helps explain the actions of both students and teachers around the issue of academic dishonesty. If this student were to study successfully, he might get an A on the exam; but if he were to cheat successfully, he would have a better chance of getting an A because cheating mitigates the randomness of the outcome—it eliminates the personal factor and puts the student more firmly in control.

Does that make any sense? Cheating is less random. I suppose it somewhat is true for a test, but how is cheating on a paper, which is the topic of the discussion, less random that actually doing the paper?

I totally disagree with this article, but it is an interesting one to look at because it is a different perspective.

2 thoughts on “Plagiarism”

  1. I have taken an extremely strict line on plagiarism and it has greatly cut down on the number of cases I have to deal with. In my own department I have basically eliminated it through draconian measures, i.e. failing students.

    But, in a class I taught for another department this semester I had five cases. One student I caught plagiarizing three times this semester. After I caught her the first time I let her rewrite the paper. She then plagiarized the same paper again in the exact same manner. I let her rewrite it one more time. More recently I caught her plagiarizing on the final paper. So I failed her from the course. She then came to me to complain while I was grading papers and took up two hours of my time. She would not leave my desk even though I told her I would not change her grade. I had the copied parts underlined and a print out of the web page they came from stapled to the back with the same parts underlined. So there was no dispute that this was a clear cut case.

  2. The university where I am employed has a specific policy regarding plagiarism. Last semester, I reported two students; I have had semesters where I’ve reported as many as four students. Sometimes, I don’t think the punishment meets the crime, but, for the most part, our university takes it seriously.

    Many students who plagiarize regularly, in my opinion, become lazy. Instead of relying on their own intelligence and abilities, they take the “easy” approach to their work. My feeling, though I couldn’t substantiate it, is that, when students realize they can get what they want without thinking or working for it, they continue the behavior. They might carry this over into the workplace, relying on the work of others to advance themselves. Their focus becomes what’s best for them, not what’s best for the company. If professors allow them to get away with it in college, they won’t change their behavior or their thinking.

    I spend a great deal of time in my classes trying to get my students to think. That seems to be the most difficult concept; most of my students just want me to “tell” them what a story or poem “means.” They want the answers to the tests, basically. I work hard to avoid presenting them with “the answers” and work hard to make my tests and assignments thought-provoking. Still, no matter how I try, I find that some students still want to take the “easy” way.

    I check every assignment for possible plagiarism, and I report it when I find it. It’s not enough to make a good grade in a class; it’s equally important to earn that grade honestly. Part of my job, I think, is to help them understand that.

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