Why Students Plagiarize and How You Can Help

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Thanks to the internet plagiarism is all too easy these days. And with all the pressure students are under – their demanding schedules and an unprecedented fear of failure – it’s not unexpected that they would be tempted t take the easy way out.

But do students fully understand plagiarism and its cost to them? Can we help them see that it’s wrong, despite the fact that it’s not plagiarism 1as blatantly harmful as other crimes? Can they come to care about original thought and demonstrating it in their writing?

To answer those questions and others, I invited Laura DeSena, author of Preventing Plagiarism: Tips and Techniques, and Barry Gilmore, author of Plagiarism: Why It Happens and How to Prevent It, along with middle school principal Nancy Blair, to Studentcentricity. You can hear the full discussion here.

Following the conversation, Barry contributed this takeaway:

When students plagiarize, teachers and school need to know how to react with both developmentally appropriate consequences and lessons in how and why to avoid plagiarizing in the future. Being proactive, however, is even more important. Are we discussing the importance of citation and original thinking with students in advance? Are we designing lessons and assignments that encourage creativity and originality? Have we clearly communicated expectations?

Plagiarism occurs for many reasons, but the majority of cases I see originate when students are disengaged, when pressure is high, when learning is under-emphasized and grades are over-emphasized, and when assignments provoke no motivation to be original. Students have a responsibility to produce work with academic integrity, but teachers and schools bear an equal responsibility: to create assignments and a school culture assist students where possible in taking ownership of their learning.

Laura added:

Authentic writing is rewarding and students need to be encouraged by their teachers to have a voice and a point of view. Plagiarism needs to be explained to students as allowing someone else to do their thinking for them. It is a passive act, a disengaged act and in many ways it is disrespectful to self as well as unethical in a cultural context. It also is a dangerous practice in that it allows you to be manipulated by passively accepting the ideas of others. It is a type of sleepwalking through learning. Writing should be a journey: an exploration of one’s own thoughts and a conversation with other sources that need to be properly acknowledged. As I note in my book, “If research is productive, [students] are finally confronted with themselves — their innermost thoughts, their belief systems, their moral values, their aesthetic values. Through research students learn content: it is, after all, a journey through unfamiliar territories: the subject matter and the subjective eye. Research is not successful unless students receive knowledge about both.

In today’s education climate, with so much pressure on students to get it right – where fear of failure is too often the overriding emotion in classrooms – it’s no wonder plagiarism is alive and well. Despite this, as my guests pointed out, it is possible to help students value original thinking and to demonstrate that thinking in their writing. They just need confidence, and the assurance that their thinking is valued…and you are in the perfect position to offer that.

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