Plagiarism

A few of us have been talking about student plagiarism and how we go about checking for it. Jon Fila and I just use a Google quote search, which works great for catching stuff plagiarized from the Internet. However, another teacher mentioned that students sharing papers has increased a lot in her classes, and that having a service such as Turnitin.com would help cut down on that.

With that in mind, I thought it would be good to have a place to talk about issues and solutions with plagiarism.

Is it a big issue for most teachers?

For reference, here’s a video on how to use Google quote searches to identify plagiarism:

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We see a fair amount of plagiarism from the internet at Epsilon, but it’s fairly easy to catch and do a Google quote search on, since there’s generally such a big discrepancy between our students’ writing skills and the types of materials they are copying.

My husband, who teaches English at a big traditional suburban high school swears by Turnitin.com. He says that in addition to making it easier to catch plagiarism, the interface for grading essays and giving feedback is really good.

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My graduate program used Turnitin. As a student I felt like it was kind of a pain in the butt, and would anticipate high school students also feeling that way. However, the software does work. I did have a big fiasco where Turnitin flagged one of my papers for plagiarism – because it closely matched my own work that I had turned in earlier in the semester. In other words, Turnitin wouldn’t accept a finalized version of work I had submitted earlier. It was a big headache to get it straightened out with the professor and in the software.

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Haha. That’s really funny, and sad, in its own way. :slight_smile:

The thing I run into, especially with students in our AVID program, is no line between collaboration and copying. It is hard to get across that it is OK to talk it out together and work together, but that your papers should not actually look the same if both people’s brains are turned on.

As an offshoot here - not exactly plaigarism, but on cheating and sharing assignments – I have confronted lately in NECA students copying assignments off of cell phone photos, presumably shared on social media or sent directly from student to student via MMS. I’m guessing this is fairly widespread among the students as it’s such an easy/convenient way to cheat. I think the way to stamp that out is making it so that the summative assessment is ultimately the thing that counts, and that summative assessments are designed in such a way that it isn’t something easy to copy or share, and if it is copied or shared it would be very obvious. Worksheets that are easy to fill-in/copy from others probably shouldn’t count for enough have a serious impact on a student’s grade/performance.

On a daily basis I tend to do an exit slip of 3 questions and make it clear that you can use your notes and worksheet but can’t use your neighbor for that part.

Whenever possible I have students create their own example and answer it as a summative assessment so that everyone’s is different.

This kind of connects to the grading discussion, but more and more I’ve been leaning fully towards the Standards Based Grading approach that argues that formative assessments shouldn’t count in the academic grade at all. They might count in an effort or punctuality assessment, but what we should be concerned about as educators is whether the student meets the standards by the end of the course, not along the way.

This is maybe a little off topic, but I’ve recently ended up with some students in Language Arts who are functioning as early elementary students when it comes to their literacy skills. It started to occur to me that copying text word for word may be developmentally appropriate in writing when doing research at this stage of literacy and that it may be developmentally inappropriate for me to ask them to use their own words or be able to re-word a fairly complicated text.
I wondered how much I should fight this “plagiarism” with kids who clearly aren’t going to college, and I pretty much determined that I should fight that fight on a case-by-case basis.
Anyone else thought of this or have thoughts on this?

I would say that I do have some case-by-case judgement of whether a student is taking the easiest possible path / tuning out their brain / avoiding the struggles of learning, or if what they did was really an appropriate amount of sophistication for their current skill level.

Would it be possible to have the student add a short sentence saying where they got the text, followed by the text? I think there is a lot of value in helping kids at any level understand that they can’t give the pretense that something is their own work when it’s not, and that giving someone credit for their work is an act of kindness.

A simple reference as to where they got the text would be enough to take away the plagiarism.

I’m even thinking in the case of reading an article and answering the questions at the end. Sometimes word for word copying from the text above is appropriate and sometimes it is a cop out, depending.

Just ran across this article on the case against TurnItIn. Aside from being prohibitively expensive for many districts. They are actually profiting off of the work of students by increasing the size of their database of student work and then charge us for the privilege of using their software.

I struggle with that article. I mean, how else are they going to cross-check student submitted papers without storing that information?

And their terms of use are pretty clear regarding ownership. (Bolded text is my emphasis.)

"Turnitin does not ever assert or claim copyright ownership of any works submitted to or through our service. Your property is YOUR property. We do not, and will not, use your intellectual property for any purpose other than to deliver, support, and develop our services, which are designed to protect and strengthen your copyright.

This makes an additional point. Inclusion in the database can help authors protect their own work from copyright violations.

The article does make good points on teaching students about plagiarism and being creative instead of simply using the same assignments year after year.

I believe that if part of a business model includes user data then it should be cheap.

Yeah, I’m with you there. This does seem like a monopoly charge whatever we want kind of thing.

I agree with what Mike had said regarding how we should transition into a standards or mastery based grading system where we don’t need to put so much emphasis on the easier fill it in type of worksheets. However, the issue that I see with this approach is that students will not take the initiative to learn the material, let alone practice it to the point of mastery and then we will have entire classes of students that are ill prepared for the summative assessments. So how can we teach skills that require some level of repetition and still avoid the plagiarism? I don’t have any answers but I think that this issue is going to take some innovative thinking to overcome it.

This is a tangent, but from observing our own kids’ transition in a school that switched to Standards Based Grading, I’d say this is a big issue. I constantly heard things like, “I don’t have to do homework because it doesn’t count for my grade.” We worked with our own kids on this for a whole semester before they finally got the importance of doing their daily, formative work. Once they did that, things went much better. But I still talk with parents who are frustrated with the school because “homework doesn’t matter.” Our daughter has been in the school now for three years and I’d say that it took two years for her to finally “get” Standards Based Grading and all its implications.

Things that helped a lot:

1 - Assignments that were connected to learning outcomes and not just busy work. SBG drives home the point that formative work’s importance is its connection to learning outcomes, and kids who “get” SBG start asking questions like, “How does this help me learn?” instead of “How much is this worth?” We want kids asking these questions, but they quickly expose glaring weaknesses in pedagogy.

2 - Grades on report cards for “Effort” and “Behavior” that are included beside but separate from the academic grade.

3 - Good communication that gets at the “why” of SBG. Our kids’ school did a weak job of effectively promoting SBG, and the resultant kickback and confusion slowed things down. The traditional system of grading creates such strong habits, and breaking them takes repeated communication as to why you’re shifting to a better system for learning.

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