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Addressing & Preventing Plagiarism in the Classroom

Instructor: Laura Gray

Laura has taught at the secondary and tertiary levels for 20+ years and has a Ph.D. in Instructional Design for Online Learning.

In this lesson, we will define plagiarism, discuss common reasons for students plagiarizing or being tempted to plagiarizing, writing problems that may lead to plagiarism, and tips for teachers to minimize plagiarism in the classroom.

Defining Plagiarism

Most of us know that plagiarism consists of copying someone else's work directly, but did you know that plagiarism encompasses other things as well? For example, it's not just about copying someone's work. If someone paraphrases, summarizes, or quotes information and fails to properly cite, or give credit for the work, that is also plagiarism. In addition, plagiarism can be either intentional or unintentional, but either way, it's still plagiarism, and the same penalties apply whether the writer is aware of what he's doing or not. Furthermore, even copying just three words in a row from another person's work is considered plagiarism. Yep, just three words. In this lesson, we will discuss the reasons why a student may plagiarize, discuss common writing problems that students have that can lead to plagiarism, and we will also provide tips for you to minimize instances of plagiarism in your class.

Why Would Someone Do That?

Good question. And believe it or not, the most common answer is that the student just doesn't know any better. Many students, even those in a college or university setting, honestly don't know that you can't copy someone else's work. It is very common for students to believe that as long as they cite the work, that using the author's exact words is okay. You wouldn't believe how much this happens.

Another reason that a student might plagiarize is because he or she has never been taught how to paraphrase or summarize somebody else's words. It is easy for teachers to tell students not to copy an author's work, but how many of us actually take the time to teach paraphrasing and summarizing to our students?

Students might also plagiarize because they are desperate and either don't think they can say what they're trying to say any better than the author did or because they have allowed themselves to run out of time before an assignment is due and feel that they must turn something in - copied or not.

Writing Issues & Plagiarism

When thinking about writing issues, we have to remember that many people, even professionals, have problems with their writing. In other words, writing problems are not just common to students. Here is a short list of writing problems that might lead someone to plagiarize:

  1. The student does not know how to paraphrase, or re-write the author's words in her own words.
  2. The student does not know how to summarize what he has read, or write a brief synopsis of a longer passage.
  3. The student has grammar and/or spelling problems that she knows won't show up if she copies a 'famous' person's work (hopefully leading to a better grade).
  4. The student has never been taught exactly what plagiarism consists of and why it is unacceptable.
  5. The student has plagiarized before and has never been caught. He knows what he's doing is wrong, but he's never had to face consequences for it.

Make sense? Of course, there are other writing issues that could lead to someone turning in plagiarized work, but these are the most likely.

Addressing the Problem

So, what can we do to minimize plagiarism in our classrooms? Actually, there are several things that you, as a teacher, can do. Here are some tips that will help these nasty little incidents become far less frequent:

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