Saturday, August 8, 2009

A taxonomy of student plagiarism

One of the most frustrating things to deal with as a TA or adjunct instructor is student plagiarism. It's frustrating for many reasons and in many ways, and I'm still not sure what to do about it. One major source of frustration is that it's not as easy to identify as I would have thought, say, when I first started TA'ing back in the late 1990s. One reason is that there are different kinds of plagiarism:

1. Outright plagiarism. This is when a student downloads an entire paper or almost an entire paper, or quotes, for paragraphs at a time, from other sources without giving attribution. This is by far the easiest to identify and deal with. The student almost always knows that it's wrong and almost always accepts the punishment (usually an F for the course....but I hope to write later why I am uneasy with zero-tolerance policies, even for instances as egregious as this).

2. Outright plagiarism of material assigned for the course. This occurs most often when a student quotes from a textbook assigned for class without citing the textbook. It's plagiarism and it's pretty bad, but does it really deserve an F for the course?

3. Taking things from another source--usually wikipedia or encarta or sparknotes or Encyclopedia Briannica online--and paraphrasing slightly, without any citation. These situations are really murky. It's "obviously" plagiarism, but it does represent some effort to understand the material besides merely copying from another source. I'm not convinced all students, or at not all Freshman college students, even realize this is plagiairism.

What to do?

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