Interesting note on when plagiarism isn’t so bad…

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”?

5 comments on “Interesting note on when plagiarism isn’t so bad…

  1. Though this may bring us back to the original question, I think it is a matter of intent, but in a class, you must assume everybody is going to claim innocence. I would probably have one serious punishment for plagiarism, whether one sentence or whole documents, but temper the enforcement with the balancing judgement of the professor.

  2. I’m a student at UoP, and I became suspicious when one of my fellow students remarked to another student in the online forums, “I see you found the same source that I used.” I looked back in the thread, and both students had the same discussion question response, word for word! I copied and pasted into Google, and discovered that they had lifted an entire Wikipedia entry for their discussion work. Unreal.
    After that, I began checking suspicious-looking posts regularly, and found that this practice was ongoing. I suppose the web-based format makes this a great deal easier, and I also suspect that the students don’t even realize they should be enclosing this material in quotes and citing the source. Often, not a single word in their lead-off answers is original!

  3. Plagiarism is a matter of serious concern, because it is just like content stealth. However, it is possible to put an end to it by seeking the help of a high quality duplicate content checker and there are many online if you search.

  4. A man cannot be said to be guilty of plagiarism if he had taken ample precautions for checking his write-ups by using a duplicate content checker tool.

  5. What nonsense you speak, Jacob! Of course someone can be guilty of plagiarism whether or not they use online tools to check: if they’re copying someone else’s content, materials or even ideas without giving adequate and appropriate credit, I think it’s quite reasonable to accuse them of plagiarism. Do you disagree?

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