Plagiarism

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Rock and hard place ...:
I am encountering monumental amounts of plagiarism in my classes from students who cut and paste paragraphs and sentences into a garbled patchwork on the subject, to those who take entire essays and use them "as is".  It takes me less than a minute to run a search using a phrase typed into a search engine -- which should seem somewhat evident to students, since if they can look up material this way, so can I. Although students seem shocked that they have been found out.  

I believe, if I really took the time and trouble to check every student's work, I would find that an overwhelming majority are using the Internet as a shopping mall (hey, it is faster than typing from a book), and many students would fail. I would probably get fired as a result.

I am interested in what other instructors have done to counteract this tendency, and how they deal with the students who do this. Am I behind the times? Is this the new face of education, and must I simply grade whatever work gets turned in?

New faculty:
It sounds to me as if you didn't make your expectations clear at the beginning of the course, and didn't explain what constitutes plagiarism. Some of the guilty students sincerely do not understand that what they have done is wrong, and why, while others are just trying to get by without doing their own work.  

In my class, I spent several minutes on the first day going over the portion of the syllabus that discusses this issue. I explained to them that they have to write using their own wording, and that it is just as easy for me to find out that they have lifted material as it is for them to find it in the first place (if not easier, with the plagiarism search service my school has). I then spelled out the consequences of cheating in this manner.  

If you weren't completely clear with your students, you should take the time to address the issue. After that, if they continue to plagiarize, they should fail the assignment/course.

Tcesek:
If you would probably get fired as a result of failing students who are essentially cheating, lying, and dishonestly acquiring their "success," then you must ask yourself some hard questions.

Assuming that you have 20 students per class per semester for 5 years, that is 200 people sent out into the world that find that the way to get ahead is by cheating. That goes for the ones who are not cheating along with the ones who are. They have all learned the same thing.

You also would not be the only educator out there. One in every university across the country would be enough to make a parade from coast to coast. What we learn carries us through the rest of our life.

The new face of education? Perhaps. Education as a business. One need only to look at the fudging of numbers, the illusion of windfall profits, the reliance on "perceived" value in major corporations this past year and you might find your answers to a questionable future. A perceived value in education is related to how many students enter, how many remain to take more classes and how many actually graduate. Lowering standards is just one way to keep the machine going.  Raising standards would exclude all but the brightest or hardest working, and if money is the only issue, then only the wealthiest would attend. This is a dilemma for the institution, but it is not mutually exclusive from the practice of teaching or what happens outside of academe.

Education cannot simply rely on the outside world to correct the "infidelities" of the students who exit with diploma in hand. I seem to think that the real world places a trust in the institutions of learning that the degree-carrying student has achieved a certain distinction in knowledge, practice, etc.
 
I might be a dinosaur here, but I have seen some of these things as both a grad student (1997), and an educator. My ivory tower has collapsed, and the administrators where I taught recently just reinforced my lowered opinion of the state of education today. I had something to fall back on so I quit. I am very unhappy to have come to that conclusion just as I was beginning.

One might do what one needs to do to keep one's job. But is the position really worth keeping?

One suggestion that was given to me, which I am still debating for myself: Why not teach younger children?  
University students arrive with certain attitudes gleaned over a number of years.

Recall the young teacher in Kansas who failed students for plagiarizing. The parents complained and the school board stepped in to allow the cheating students to pass. The teacher quit. Plagiarism is suddenly not that serious of an offense.  Those kids will be in college in about four years.  

From everything that I have been reading, students are also woefully unprepared for the rigors of college life. I don't necessarily see this generation of university students as a lost cause, but what goes on in the administration office suggests that upholding certain standards is. One might be able to make a difference with the next generation. Either way, it's a sad situation, and your choices are equally so.

Rock and hard place ...:
I am teaching students who are not freshmen -- they are nearing graduation -- and I made some assumptions about their understanding of academic honesty based on their advanced standing and on my own experiences at university. I did not ever have a professor instruct the class on the consequences of plagiarism. It was implicitly understood. And if there were instances of students caught cheating, it was incredibly rare and strongly frowned upon by fellow students.

So, when "New Faculty" says that is seems like I did not explain the consequences of plagiarism to my class, he/she is absolutely correct. I did not. I was completely surprised to encounter this epidemic and I am slightly insulted to have to go over issues of moral character and fair play when there are so many other areas that need my attention. But, I will. I am going to go a step further than merely explaining it, I am going to make future students sign a contract saying that they understand the practical application and consequences of cheating.

I  have a background in industry, and, actually, I look back on my experiences within that world as, in some ways, slightly less termite-riddled than present-day academe -- though I most certainly high-five the previous posters' corporate-scandal analogy.

Ramen noodles:
One thing that might help is to give writing assignments that are related to their personal experiences, centered around a theme related to, say, a famous novel and the like. Or give assignments that are so offbeat, yet still tie into what information you are covering in the class. If you assign a paper in parts, rather than all in one lump at the due date, you can actively monitor writing styles.  Trying to control for cheating is a huge hassle, and I've just found it easier to come up with creative assignments rather than fall back on the usual standbys.

I also believe that students do know what cheating is. Those sites that sell papers even broadcast proudly how even you, too, can "beat the system." Another strategy is to have students work on large papers in class. Then they have no access to the Internet, only to their books and themselves. You also have to analyze just what you are trying to accomplish with a writing assignment. If you are wanting them to convey basic information, just use testing, not involved papers that invite visits to the buy-a-paper site. Just some thoughts on what has worked for me.

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