Plagiarism, the academic community's capital crime, undermines the development and transmission of knowledge-- what academia is all about. Many academics may moan about plagiarism, but some, including Edward M. White in "Too Many Campuses Want to Sweep Student Plagiarism Under the Rug," argue that faculty can do more to fight it. To combat plagiarism, White suggests that we need to work on two fronts: "prevention through education, as well as punishment for violations." We can explain the problem, teach tactics to avoid it, design assignments to combat it, and then punish it with consistency when it occurs.
Explain the Seriousness of Plagiarism
Many teachers may confuse listing the consequences of plagiarism with explaining the seriousness of the practice and its ramifications. It is important that students understand the penalty and the consequences to their grade, but they also need to know the potential significance to their careers as students and as professionals, and even to the field of study.
Teach the Role of Research
Well-intentioned students may stumble into plagiarism because they don't understand the need for their own insight and reflection. White explains that students need to learn that "sources should support, not substitute for, their own work." They also need to learn the research process as it operates in a specific discipline.
The tactics to avoid plagiarism are best taught in the individual disciplines. There, students can learn the relation of research to their writing in the particular discipline in which they are working and can be introduced to the conventions that will allow them to credit the origin of their information. White observes that "even when the composition course does a careful job, that instruction must be reinforced by other courses before students will take the message to heart. Further, different disciplines follow different systems for making citations, reflecting not just differences in format, but also in the ways in which disciplines pose and solve problems and what they accept as 'common knowledge'."
Design Assignments that Discourage Cheating
Teachers can educate themselves to recognize and, thus, avoid assignments that promote plagiarism, White suggests. For example, he advocates that "professors should discuss assignments in detail with students and explain why the retelling of knowledge will be insufficient." Other strategies include:
Punish Plagiarism with Consistency
Certainly, we agree that academia is more than a diploma mill, yet White notes that, although many institutions publish strong policy statements, they are often not enforced by either individual teachers or the institution: "We give too much weight to the passive adoption of others' ideas, to the mindless repetition of slogans as if they were thoughts, to the view that education is merely a means to a degree or a certificate, not something important for its own sake." If we regard plagiarism as an affront to our intellectual values and our students' intellectual development, perhaps we will be more cognizant of the need to combat plagiarism through education and consistent enforcement.
Walvoord, Barbara E. "Considering Goals and Options for Writing in Your Course." Helping Students Write Well. New York: Modern Language Association, 1986. 6-32.
White, Edward M. "Too Many Campuses Want to Sweep Student Plagiarism Under the Rug." The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 24, 1993. A44.