It is only a week and a half into the semester, and already my office mate and I are talking about plagiarism. There are hangovers from last semester – cases that never quite got resolved - and our college has a new plagiarism policy that requires, among other things, that we submit any plagiarism accusations to the dean within 15 business days. (This is good to know; sending off those letters often falls to the bottom of my to-do list.) So we’ve been wondering what instances will rear their heads this semester, and what we can do to head them off, beyond the myriad precautions we already take.
In discussing it, an old question from a friend and reader, Gen X, emerged for me: if you asked students, what would they say about plagiarism? Why do they do it? Why do they continue to do it even though they know it a) may get them into trouble, b) does not help them learn, and c) is both cheating and stealing? Do they see it some other way? Are they desperate? Do they (as I suspect) really feel it’s no big deal as long as they don’t get caught (and sometimes even if they do)?
I would be very interested in anyone’s take on this; I’d be especially interested to hear from students, but we’ve all been students at one time or another. Have you ever plagiarized? Why? Did it seem justifiable, or did you not understand the problem, or did you know you wouldn’t get caught, or did you feel it was your last best resort? If you did get caught, what were the consequences?
(I did it on minor assignments in high school all the time. If my biology teacher asked me to answer five short questions about the beluga, I knew he wasn’t asking me to copy information out of the encyclopedia, but I was never, ever reprimanded for doing so. I never plagiarized anything in university, from what I remember, but I had friends who did, shamelessly.)
Why do students plagiarize? What can be done to prevent them from doing so? Is it really such a big problem? Gen X wants to know, and so do I.
Image by Michal Zacharzewski