Sunday, December 14, 2008

Plagiarism strikes, I strike back!

It happened again: I busted a student for plagiarism this semester. I looked at the essay for the second exam and I thought, "Geez, this is obviously straight out of Wikipedia," so I did a text search and came up with the essay, word-for-word. Yet generosity and magnanimity overtook me, and I merely awarded zero points for that portion of the exam and wrote some straightforward comments to the student on what had happened. You'd think that the student would either drop the class or beg mercy --at which point I would've made the student rewrite the entire entry in the student's own words.

But no, the student did nothing. Worse than nothing: on the very next exam, the student committed even more blatant plagiarism! This time I wrote in the comments, "This is the second time you've plagiarized; didn't you bother reading what I wrote when I caught you the first time?!? Don't bother coming back to class, you've already earned an automatic 'F' for the course." And the student disappeared from sight without even bothering to cause a scene.

My syllabus is quite explicit: cheating (including plagiarism) will result in an automatic course grade of "F" and possible expulsion from school. And I include a rather specific definition of plagiarism as "taking someone else's words and presenting them as your own." (Courtesy of James Madison University.) So there was absolutely no doubt about things. But the sad truth is that the "F" is probably going to be the worst thing. Few colleges (especially two-year programs) willingly expel students for cheating anymore, unless it's part of a widespread plot. It's far more lucrative instructive to the learning community to make the student retake the course.

Obviously, I am not going to identify the specific individual involved, and here is why. But it does give me fresh material for next semester's orientation.

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