It’s a virus that spreads with availability of technology and sources. It slows down teachers’ progress while they are grading. Despite the alarming number of occurrences and recurrences, its discovery is always unsettling.
Its name is Plagiarism, a term referring to claiming as one’s own the ideas and even sentence structure of someone else by not acknowledging that source as the original. While plagiarism can be unintentional through, for example, an innocent mistake in documentation of a source, it is too often intentional and the offenders’ explanations, almost comical.
” I just got in a hurry and didn’t know what else to do” is one alibi I hear from some students I confront with the evidence: Exhibit A — the highlighted portions of their essays that line up with Exhibit B, the exact but unacknowledged highlighted words of the original source.
Another misinformed excuse? “Yes, I did paraphrase in places.”
My favorite? “Aw, man! How did that happen?” (Here, insert a bewildered glaze over the eyes, a frenzied scratching of the scalp.)
In the Dinosaur Days, I typed into Google suspect words and phrases sounding a bit too erudite for their authors — students who struggled with stringing subjects to verbs to create the simplest simple sentences. With the click of a mouse — BINGO! — up popped the exact phrase on multiple links.
Then, Turn It In rode in on its white horse. A plagiarism detector, Turn It In helps teachers by searching Internet sources, student repositories, and database articles for “similarities” (a delicate phrase) between students’ essays and original sources and even rates them by percentage, using a color chart. Red and orange flag the essays with the greater “similarity indices”, while yellow and green mark the lower percentages. Since I began requiring my students to upload their own essays to Turn It In, I have not only saved myself valuable time in the grading process but also returned the essays to my classes sooner.
Then, last week, while discussing with colleagues the benefits of sites such as Turn It In, I heard an undisclosed source say that some bleeding-hearts group [my words, not his] have alleged those sites as “detrimental to student success”.
Say what? Somebody, please help me understand this convoluted reasoning. Should our students be allowed to copy the hard-won words of unsuspecting writers and, by failing to recognize them as the original sources, claim those words without penalty?
This morning, while I was setting up my new classes on Turn It In, I caught an article listed among on the site’s “White Papers.” The author pointed to some commonly-plagiarized sources. The first three were no surprise: essay mills, the Internet, Wikipedia. The shocker? Some were copied and pasted from articles found on teacher-sanctioned subscription databases such as Ebsco Host.
As a rule, Composition I instructors include the concept of plagiarism within the first weeks of their coursework and, often, require each student to read, sign, and date a scholastic dishonesty document. Besides for teaching students the proper techniques for citing the original source , they also cover ways of recognizing and preventing plagiarism.
But what about remedial students and second-language learners? Why has someone not come up with a basic way to teach them how to give credit to whom it is due?
In what way is not teaching a student of any level how to prevent plagiarism or, even worse, allowing him or her to cheat furthering that student’s academic success?
In conclusion, plagiarism, simply worded, is scholastic dishonesty. For those who still do not understand the meaning of those words, plagiarism or scholastic dishonesty, then let’s sum it up in one basic word: stealing.