By Olga Makinina, Contract Instructor, School of Linguistics and Language Studies
It is this time of the term when course papers are due, and most of our students desperately cram through the night for the deadline. It is no wonder that even the best of them tend to be less careful. It might be true that some international students come from countries with different academic cultures and, consequently, different understanding of plagiarism. But Canadian undergraduate and graduate students are also no strangers to heavy “borrowing.”
We tend to blame our students for intentional cheating and not taking time to review the plagiarism policy. However, the reason behind plagiarism cases is more often than not a simple lack of knowledge of how to use sources properly (unskilled citing, paraphrasing, or synthesizing). Additionally, for the generation of digital natives who are used to freely obtaining and sharing information online as if it were common knowledge, it might not be easy to grasp the idea of intellectual property. This makes me think that prevention might indeed be the best cure.
In what follows below, I will share some of non-time-consuming in-class activities and websites that might help your undergraduate students recognize and avoid plagiarism in their own writing.
I begin the discussion about plagiarism by asking students to give a verdict on real-life plagiarism cases. One can find sample situations on the Noreen Reale Falcone Library’s webpage or onlineclasses.org. Students work in a group discussing the case and what the consequences might/should be.
Since it is usually not enough just to give the general definition of plagiarism, I assign my students to find information about different types of plagiarism and identify similarities and differences across them.
Once they have mastered the “theory,” it is time to practice plagiarism recognition. Indiana University and Princeton University provide some excellent examples of word-for-word and paraphrasing plagiarism. Students can even try themselves as “plagiarism checkers” and take a plagiarism-recognition practice test. Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab has a sample of a student essay that clearly demonstrates how incorrect in-text citations might lead to plagiarism. I ask my students not only to identify, but also to correct the passages (in groups, pairs, or individually), which helps them review the basics of citing and paraphrasing.
When students work on their writing assignments, I often organize peer feedback sessions. Students are required to exchange their drafts and sources that they have used, and read each other’s drafts for possible unintentional plagiarism. I always encourage them to run their paper through an online plagiarism checker such as Small Seo Tools.
Raising plagiarism awareness in your classroom will not, of course, eliminate “borrowing” and cheating altogether. However, it will be of great benefit to those majority of students who might be committing this offence without knowing.