Friday, November 20, 2009

If only I had known

Every writing instructor has to deal with the occasional case of plagiarism. Students wait too late to write a paper, then panic and steal others' online writing. Sometimes they don't cite sources properly. Other times they simply cut and paste whole articles. Either way, it's bad bad bad.

This year I have had almost zero cases of cheating, which is amazing. My students have been doing some darned good writing, and I'm so proud of them. The lack of plagiarism this year also reflects the fact that I completely revised my assignments and essay prompts so that my criteria are more creative. It's virtually impossible for my students to cheat on 3 out of their 4 essay cycles. However, one of the papers was a more traditional research essay, and sure enough, one of the students turned in an essay that was patched together from at least three different websites. Maybe about a page of it--maybe--was his own.

So, I called him out on it and sat him down to talk about the essay. I asked him to tell me what happened with it. What were the first words out of his mouth?

"Well, when I turned this paper in in high school, my teacher gave me a 95 on it, so I thought it would be great for this class."


Oh! Well, that changes everything! If only I had known...

Hmmm. A penny for your thoughts, dear readers? Is there any logical way to respond to this without a) wringing said student's neck, or b) banging my own head against the wall at the same time? What would you do (besides epic fail the paper, of course)?


Sharone said...

I think a lot depends on his attitude. There is obviously a fundamental lack of awareness about academic integrity, but that doesn't necessarily mean willful deception. It might mean he just doesn't understand. If that was the case, I think, I would see what kind of punishment the school could dish out that might not go on his permanent record - something to teach/scare him.

If he just doesn't care that what he did was wrong, then I would say permanent record time. There must be some kind of ethics probation or something like that.

Also, I would say that (in either case) he shouldn't be allowed to drop the class, and that the only way for him to pass is to rewrite the paper in its entirety.

Sharone said...

And if all else fails, I suggest the firing squad. ;)

MamaErin said...

I honestly don't know how I would catch a cheater! I suppose if you're in the field long enough you know what to look for. I was trained to spot first graders sneaking a peek on their desk mate's spelling test... not borrowing an entire essay.

Hmmm you're at a Christian university... I would play the "what would Jesus do?" card big time =)