Saturday, September 27, 2008

The dangers of plagiarism

Last week one of my students turned in a plagiarized book review. After consulting my department chair and one of our vice principals, I decided to give the student an opportunity to redo the review for partial credit.

The student had taken phrases verbatim from an online book review site and used them in the review. Our school's student handbook says instances of plagiarism should result in a zero with no opportunity to redo the work. I chose to be a little lighter in my punishment because: 1) the higher-ups gave me the green light to do so, 2) I wanted the student to do the work the right way, and 3) because I believed in making this a "teachable moment."

I hope the student never plagiarizes again, because in addition to it being dishonest, this student's other teachers might not be as accommodating. I also know that once students get to college, plagiarism is taken VERY seriously.

When I was a M.Ed. graduate student at Plymouth State University, I had an opportunity to teach freshmen composition. When I reported to the head of the PSU English Dept that one of my students had plagiarized an essay, the verdict was swift and decisive. After meeting with the university's academic integrity board, the student automatically failed my course and was placed on academic probation. A subsequent violation would likely result in expulsion from the university.

Education is the business of ideas. Academic honesty is paramount. Over the course of the year I will teach my students that plagiarism is more than copying something word-for-word and not providing attribution. It is copying someone's idea and not giving credit where credit is due.

Almost all of my students told me that taking someone else's idea and putting it in their own words is NOT plagiarism. Wrong. It is! Plagiarism is idea theft. If that idea isn't yours, and you don't attribute it, it doesn't matter if you change some words around so it's phrased in your own language. It's still plagiarism!

By the time students leave my classroom, they should know what plagiarism is, and they should know how to avoid it. Those who plagiarize in the future will do so because they're unscrupulous cheaters, not because they're ignorant.

For more info on plagiarism, check out this link from The University of Maine at Farmington.
Image from, accessed 9/27/08


Mr. Miller said...

Nice blog. I have run into students (middle and high school) who not only cut-and-paste, but don't really see anything wrong with it. To "catch" plagiarizers (sp?), I Google phrases from the suspect paper; and I've noticed that entire articles are identical from site to site--without giving credit to some original author. So I can only conclude that cutting/pasting w/o credit has been modeled to them as an acceptable practice their whole school lives! But copying isn't relegated to academic writing on the web: they have grown up with musicians "sampling" other artists--in fact, I've heard of my students referred to as from "the remix generation." I am now designing some of my lessons with this "remix" philosophy in mind--BUT, like you, I'm stressing and modeling giving credit where it's due.

Bill said...

We actually have an English-department wide policy which is (with admin. approval) stricter than the school's policy. There are school sanctions, and the guidance department and National Honors Society are notified but additionally, the student receives TRIPLE the weight of the grade in zeroes. We begin the year with grade-appropriate lessons on plagiarism and how to avoid it, exercises on citing sources, and discussion of recent articles on plagiarism and academic honesty (never difficult to find). Each student and parent/guardian signs something saying they understand the policy and have received direct instruction in it, and we rarely have an issue.

Julie Carney said...

Thanks for this post. In this day of easy Internet access, plagiarism is a problem that will consistently have to be discussed at great length.

By the way, Mr. B-G's English Blog has given me some great ideas for a site I recently launched with the NIFB Young Entrepreneur Foundation. If you have time, stop by and leave some feedback.



Mr. B-G said...

Mr. Miller - I caught my student the same way. A few sentences just seemed out of context and didn't appear to be from a 9th grade student. Google proved my hunch correct.

Intellectual property in this digital age is a fascinating subject. In many instances, material may be copied if its use falls under fair use.

However, fair use and plagiarism are two related, yet disparate, issues.

Bill - This policy sounds fantastic. It appears, based on your description, to serve as an effective plagiarism deterrent.

Our English Dept does not have an additional plagiarism policy, although perhaps we should. Another member of our department also had an instance of plagiarism earlier this year. He followed the handbook to the letter, awarding a 0 with no chance to redo.

Julie - You're welcome. I checked out your blog. The foundation looks like a great resource. I will need to take a look at some of your curriculum. Thanks for the reference and good luck!

Brent said...

todays technology everyone's a victim , it is really difficult to trace doing cyber plagiarism, I think you've done a good job for posting the plagiarism, it make the user's more aware. having your blog as reference makes my Intern in australia much easier, keep it up. again thanks for sharing.

Mr. B-G said...

Hi Brent,

Glad to hear I have a reader from down under. I agree that without clarification and direct instruction it can be difficult to know what plagiarism is and how to avoid it, especially in a digital age.

The simple rule: When in doubt, attribute!

By always citing the source of ideas that aren't your own, you cover yourself 100 percent.

andri said...

hai, nice blog, love to revisit it

JK said...

I think that's a good phrase to use -- idea theft -- and would even work with younger students to introduce them to the concept... sounds like you handled well also

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