Whether you’re a teacher in a high school or a university professor, you are on the front lines of the battle against plagiarism. But when you’ve got a stacks and stacks of essays or research papers, all of which have to be graded within a certain timeframe, going the extra mile to thoroughly check each one for plagiarism can feel like an overwhelming task for which you simply do not have enough time. This is when you have to remind yourself of all the different reasons why is essential that you maintain vigilance against plagiarism among your students.
The Value of Hard, Honest Work
Yes, we all get a bit lazy from time to time, and plagiarism is one way that many students choose to indulge in that laziness. After all, why come up with a new way of saying something when someone else has probably already said it better? The reason, of course, is that it’s wrong! Students need to be called out on each and every instance of plagiarism, and disciplined for it as well. However, I also believe in second chances (maybe even third chances in some cases).
There are many reasons why do students plagiarize. What I would do with a “first time offender” who commits plagiarism is sit down with the student and have a serious conversation about all the really negative consequences that could result in terms of grades, suspension, expulsion, etc. And then I would offer that student the opportunity to do the hard, honest work of the assignment and experience the joy and satisfaction of producing original new work that receives good marks. With any luck, that will be one student who won’t ever plagiarize again, and who will also hopefully be eternally grateful that they received a second chance.
Avoiding the Ethical Slippery Slope
I believe strongly that educators should ferret out even the smallest or seemingly insignificant instances of plagiarism and do something about them. When students get the impression that they can get away with small instances of plagiarism, it can act like a “gateway drug” for more of the same, growing in its extent and frequency of occurrence. If they feel like they can “get away with it,” who knows what other kinds of unethical or even illegal behavior it could lead to.
In any given case of minor plagiarism, you may feel like you’re being a “stickler” or being too hard on your students, but remind yourself that you’re trying to set them up for success, not just now or for this particular assignment, but long into the future for school, work, and life in general.
When you’re sitting there looking at an instance of plagiarism that is maybe only half a sentence, remind yourself what is at stake here – a person’s success as a student, worker, and person. Yes, the stakes really are that high!
Replacing Bad Habits with Good Habits
We all need a nudge from time to time, a helping hand that pushes us in the right direction. This is especially so when it comes to breaking bad habits and forming good habits. What many people fail to realize is that it is harder to break a bad habit when you don’t specifically replace it with a good one. In other words, eliminating a bad habit is not enough to make the change stick. You need to displace it with a different behavior that replaces the old behavior.
That’s why I’m a firm believer in second chances – you have to give someone the opportunity to make amends and show a change in both attitude and behavior. Your role as an educator is to give the student enough space and time to make this positive change while still being firm and resolute in your stance against plagiarism, which is why you have to have that serious talk I mentioned in the previous point.
Maintaining Academic Standards
This one is a no-brainer. For the educational system to produce graduates who will be successful in life, it is essential to maintain high, rigorous academic standards, both in the quality of the work produced as well as the means by which that work is produced.
When educators take a pass on enforcing their own institution’s high academic standards by allowing plagiarism of any type to occur, it not only sends the wrong message to students, but also to their parents and the public at large. And make no mistake, word will get out (usually through the students) that academic standards are not being enforced. Students have a tendency to brag about what they’ve gotten away with.
Creating a Shift in Culture
Depending on the culture at your particular educational institution, you may have to take a hardline approach that doesn’t involve second chances. If plagiarism is known to be rampant at your institution, spend your first class talking about plagiarism, how it’s wrong, how to avoid it, and what the penalty will be for offenders.
Some teachers have clearly stated that the penalty will be a zero grade on that assignment. Be sure to have students sign a statement in that first class acknowledging that they understand what plagiarism is and what the penalty will be for committing it. In one teacher’s experience, it took four years of maintaining this strict policy before she experienced a plagiarism-free year of student work. Because of the culture of plagiarism that existed, she had to draw her battle line in the sand and stick to it. It wasn’t easy, but the resulting shift in culture was worth it.
The good news in all of this is that you don’t have to waste huge amounts of your precious time manually checking every essay and paper for plagiarism. That’s the beauty of plagiarism-checking services such as Unicheck. You can check a student’s work against millions of documents online in seconds. It makes good common sense to leverage these kinds of tools in your frontline battle against plagiarism.