Let me spell this out for you,

I’ve been absent from bloggery due to the work load as we near the end of the semester; this past weekend I graded five exams and a bunch of extra-credit assignments.  So far I have two students who have BLATANTLY just copied-pasted stuff from Web sites. This despite my having told them in the assignment handout,

All of the text should be in your own words, a synthesis of the information you have gathered, put into complete sentences.

The Student Code of Conduct explains the kind of misrepresentation that qualifies as plagiarism:  [URL link]

What, like they think I can’t tell this isn’t student writing, or won’t bother to type in a URL they listed in their bibliography?  One student just “re-gifted” an assignment obviously written for another class, which is just tacky as well — it’s one thing to recycle some information you’ve already researched and edit it to fit the requirements of a new report, but this stuff wasn’t even changed to fit what I’d asked for.

So I discussed the issue with the dept dean, and was given the suggestion of explaining the problem with the student, and offering them the opportunity to re-do the assignment correctly, or else take a 10% reduction on the Final Exam grade.  I like this option, because there are still significant consequences, but the student gets to decide what they’re doing.

One student left class before I could talk to him.  The other one I talked to, and his point of view was that:

(1) He didn’t see why using the same assignment for two classes was a problem. (“It needs to match the requirements of what I asked for.  Go back and re-read the assignment page.”)

(2) He didn’t see why copy-pasting information was a problem (“The course syllabus AND the assignment page both describe what plagiarizing is, and the assignment page specifically says it needs to be In Your Own Words.  When you quote something, it has to be offset, or in quote marks or otherwise marked.”)

I had to reiterate that I had talked with the Dean who had seen his paper, and agreed to this plan.

And golly gee if he didn’t go and do what I suspected he would!  He outright said that he’d submitted this same paper to his other prof, and that prof had no problems with the paper. (Somehow in his mind, this was supposed to be a strong argument; because you know, if you get by with cheating once, then it shouldn’t be a problem if you do it again.)  I explained that was between the other prof and him.  I knew this was plagiarism, and I wasn’t going to accept the paper.



  1. Red Jenny said,

    27 February 2011 at 4:50

    I’ve definitely recycled work (my own!) but never without making sure they fit the requirements of the new assignment! Why make it obvious what you’re doing?

  2. Greg said,

    25 November 2008 at 16:37

    It’s just lazy work, and plagiarism. He is lucky you did not fail him. It’s not just undergrads … lol

  3. 25 November 2008 at 13:22

    I once had to flunk three students in the same course for plagiarism. One of them I allowed a chance to re-do her paper so she could pass the class. One of the other two students, though, was an education major. In other words, someone who was very likely going to be a future teacher. Which I consider really, really scary. How can she possibly teach her future students about plagiarism if she either didn’t understand plagiarism or didn’t care herself?

    Where this problem really needs to be addressed is from elementary school onwards — first they should be taught what “paraphrasing” really means (some students, I have found, think they are “paraphrasing” appropriately, ie putting things into their own words, if they copy a text and then tweak a few words here and there, or if they splice together different text from different sources). Then they need to be taught more carefully how and why to cite all their sources, and they need to be hit with that message over and over for each and every paper, all throughtout middle school. Yes, they should be writing research papers in middle school. (I’m sick of meeting students who somehow manage to get all the way into second or third year of college without having ever written a single research paper in their entire lives–what kind of cr*p school lets students away with a high school diploma without even knowing how to do a research paper? No wonder they don’t understand plagiarism if they don’t even have the opportunities they need to learn about it and have teachers check their comprehension) They should know all the basics of how to avoid plagiarism by the time they get to high school, and then simply refine their understanding after that.

    Sometimes I wish I could go back to all the past teachers of some of the students I’ve encountered and point out to them that, when they failed to teach their student about plagiarism (or failed to catch them, or were too nice to students when they were caught), they were putting their students in a position of maybe flunking classes in university where the consequences are more severe and life-altering than it would have been if they had been allowed to flunk things much earlier in their academic career.

    I’ve only taught a few courses at the university level, but plagiarism was such a plague that it still manages to incense me how common it is. Even up through graduate level, sometimes.

    Navi: even if the paper meets the requirement, most teachers prefer that you *ask* before resubmitting the same paper. First of all, requirements may not be as closely matched as you think–talking to the teacher may help you identify differences you overlooked. Second of all, if it really is that exact a match, some teachers may want to revise the assignment requirements for you so that you are still learning and stretching your skills in some way rather than just going through the motions. It’s always better to assume that it’s just automatically tacky to re-submit the same paper unless a teacher has specifically said it is okay. The reason why most course requirements don’t actually *say* all this is because most teachers assume students already *understand* all this. (Though given the commonality of plagiarism, maybe more teachers should re-think that assumption. *sigh*)

  4. Jason R. said,

    25 November 2008 at 9:52

    This is all do to impatience amongst people in this world. Everybody needs to always take their time when doing anything.


  5. navi said,

    25 November 2008 at 7:52

    I don’t necessarily see a problem submitting the same paper to two classes so long as requirements are met, but what your students did is ridiculous. I’ve actually had classes that explicitly state you can’t use material from another course, though.

  6. 25 November 2008 at 5:17

    Undergrads just make me want to beat my head against a wall at times. And by undergrads I mean a significant percentage of the population of the earth.

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