I had a new personal record in plagiarism cases this semester: eight. With ninety-seven students total on my rolls at the end of the semester, that makes a little over 8%. To be absolutely clear, I am talking about open-and-shut cases. The burden of proof is on the professor, as it should be, so I never report any honor system violations based merely on my suspicions, no matter how strong they might be.
Some of the cases stem from this semester’s new bibliography project. In the past I had tried to craft integrative essay assignments that made plagiarism impossible or very difficult, but I had wanted to move beyond text analysis and writing to also cover research skills, which have proven to be a major deficit among many of my students. I had thought a bibliography project would invite less plagiarism than a straight research paper, since I have not seen bibliography essays for sale on the internet. I was right about buying a finished product, but not about preventing plagiarism. Feeling overwhelmed, a few students panicked and opted to copy and paste material they found on the internet. These examples were the clumsiest. I also saw some examples where students worked harder to integrate internet material than they would have had to work, had they simply opened some books and summarized their contents. I saw both types of behavior on the other essay assignments too.
What happens to these students depends on whether it is their first or second offense. The first offenses that I have seen have led to a zero for the assignment in question. Since these are often worth 25% of the course grade, students found guilty of their first honor system violation have to work hard just to earn a “D” in the course. Second offenses have led to failure of the course. Perhaps there were also other sanctions for second-time offenders that I do not know about.
The high number of plagiarism cases has made me wonder what I could change about assignments and assessment in future. Since I am not slated to teach this spring, I have some time to mull this over. Meanwhile, what are your thoughts and experiences?