by Elizabeth Dobler
I recently had a student commit irrefutable plagiarism on an assignment. Based on the report from the anti-plagiarism software used by our university, the source of the work was a student in the course during the previous semester. My initial reaction was one of anger and frustration– anger at the student’s blatant attempt to “pull one over on me,” and frustration that now I would have to devote time to taking action.
Turn-It In, a publisher of anti-plagiarism software, hosted Plagiarism Education Week in April. One of the week’s webinars included a presentation by Michael Goodwin, who advocates a student-centered approach to plagiarism cases in college classes. Goodwin’s message emphasized that consequences should be educational rather than punitive. The instructive approach should begin on the first day of class. Give students information on why sources need to be documented and how citing helps them support their points. Let students know that plagiarism isn’t just breaking rules, but also disappoints you. Faculty can help prevent plagiarism by designing assignments that require drafts and instructor checks along the way. When student misconduct does occur, consequences should balance both justice and mercy. We must keep in mind that students make mistakes for many different reasons, and that appropriate, thoughtful consequences can guide students toward making better decisions.
The challenge in dealing with plagiarism is deciding how to best serve the student while also holding the student accountable. This idea ran through my mind as I crafted a plan for dealing with the plagiarism case I encountered in my course. The original goal of the assignment was to have the student demonstrate what she had learned. While I was disappointed in the student’s first attempt, I decided to keep my focus on the learning. I gave her the option to redo the assignment for partial credit. I emphasized to her that I hoped she would demonstrate her own abilities, to convince me of her knowledge level. I also recorded the incident in a cumulative record kept by our department. While this was a first-documented occurrence for this student, a second incident would draw consequences of more severity, including stepping out of our course and involving the department or university.
We as instructors can make an impact with students by looking at plagiarism as a teachable moment. As Goodwin said, “You are not just selling rules and policy, you are selling ideas.”