As a faculty member at the University of Phoenix Online, I get some very interesting instructional messages from the administrative team at times, and this is one of them. The issue revolves around “when should students get reprimanded for plagiarism” and I can tell you that the widespread adoption of the Web in the educational community has made plagiarism not only rampant, but also easier to detect (not that most students think about that). The problem is: what happens to your institution – particularly if it’s a for-profit company as the University of Phoenix (aka Apollo) is – if you hand out plagiarism-based fails left and right?
So their solution? Here’s the note:
Sometimes, plagiarism is clearly significant, in which case serious action is required. You might find that a student has taken a section of text from a Web site, for example, and submitted it word-for-word as his or her assignment. That is clearly a significant case of academic dishonesty and you should handle it as such. That would include assessing an appropriate grade penalty and reporting the incident to Online Academic Affairs using the Online “Academic Dishonesty” template. There are guidelines for handling academic dishonesty in a note titled Note to Faculty Regarding New Plagiarism Process available in the Online Faculty Bulletins newsgroup.
On the other hand, sometimes you may conclude that a case of plagiarism is less significant and may lend itself more appropriately to education than to reprimand. Such cases might include:
sloppy citations (not including all required parts);
incomplete citations (citations within the body, but not in the reference list); or
citations that are cited in one place in the paper but are missing in other sections.
Certainly, failure to document a source correctly should impact the grade for an assignment, just as failure to fulfill any other requirements for the assignment, related to content, format, style, etc., would impact the grade. However, this might not rise to the level where you conclude that a penalty and formal charge of academic dishonesty is warranted.
Of course, the best way to handle instances of plagiarism is to do our best to prevent them. Faculty are encouraged to take opportunities to educate students about proper academic research and citation, and both students and faculty are encouraged to take the “Avoiding Plagiarism” tutorials.
I find it very interesting because it allows the instructor the freedom to decide what is and isn’t “believable plagiarism” but it’s also interesting that the burden is shifted onto the instructor nonetheless: If I find a student who has wholesale copied even a single sentence (though it’s typically 4+ paragraphs) from an online source without citation, is that “acceptable, but -10” or is it “big trouble, you’re out of my class”?