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Responding to Plagiarism

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Last week, I wrote a short post about preventing plagiarism. This week, I’d like to say a few things about how I respond to plagiarism.

No matter what steps we take to try to prevent it, odds are that we’ll all encounter some instances of plagiarism (hopefully rarely!).

Here’s a brief summary of the policy I use for all my courses:

  • In the spirit of trying to draw out the best in my students, I point out that plagiarism is a form of theft (something I assume they wouldn’t want to be guilty of) and that engaging in plagiarism shows a lack of self-respect (i.e., plagiarism is beneath them). I also note that it’s not only students who sometimes plagiarize; faculty can be guilty, too.
  • I go on to spell out consequences. If I discover plagiarism, the minimum consequence will be that the student fails the assignment. If the offense is serious enough, the student may fail the course even for a first offense. Repeat offenders will fail the course.
  • I conclude by stressing that I don’t intend to go after students for formatting issues; what I’m looking for is honesty. As long as students make a good-faith effort to tell me what words and ideas they borrowed, and where they borrowed them from, I’m satisfied. Yes, they need to learn how to format citations and bibliographies properly, but I don’t consider that an honesty issue. (In some of my courses, citation format is something I explicitly work on with students.)

I’ve had relatively few problems since I implemented this policy a few years ago, and I like the fact that it allows me to stress the importance of academic integrity while leaving me some flexibility. I don’t have to fail a student for the course for plagiarizing on an assignment that’s worth a mere five percent of the semester grade if it’s a first offense. I’ve also found it helpful, since implementing this policy, to grade each assignment on a 100-point scale rather than using letter grades. Again, that allows me some flexibility, should there be some good reason to show a little leniency (since a letter grade of “F” is simple a zero, but on a 100-point scale, a failing mark is anything less than 60).

This policy has worked well for me. What policies have you implemented, and how have they worked for you? Let’s hear from you in the comments.

[Image by Flickr user Digirebelle / Creative Commons licensed]

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