By Jack Brazel, Head of Business Partnerships, Southeast Asia, Turnitin
Setting strict guidelines against cheating and plagiarism shapes students’ mindset and creates a culture of integrity. Plagiarism is not just an issue in the classroom. It is increasingly becoming a major topic in the news cycle.
Presenting a copy and paste culture can often feel very frustrating for teachers. Not only do many of these stories make plagiarism seem acceptable as the rich and powerful do it, but also so few cases seem to carry repercussions which can give the impression that plagiarism is common and a minor issue.
It can feel like a losing battle, talking about plagiarism to students when they routinely see many examples of plagiarism without serious consequences. As frustrating as these realizations can be, news stories on plagiarism are still an excellent opportunity to talk with students about academic integrity. They can be especially useful in making the issue of plagiarism more real to the students and can start a great dialogue about why it is wrong. The key is in how to approach the story.
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Discuss how the plagiarism was discovered
A common thread in all these news stories is that the plagiarism ended up being detected. Though it was often weeks, months, or even decades later, the copying was spotted.
Students often think that avoiding plagiarism is as simple as turning it in and bypassing any checks the instructor may have in place. However, this illustrates the point that plagiarism can be caught at almost any time. History is littered with examples of student plagiarism being discovered which has resulted in degrees being revoked and, in many cases, lost jobs. In worse cases, if it constitutes copyright infringement, then it is a criminal act, punishable by imprisonment and fines under the Philippines’ Cybercrime Prevention Act.
Many times, the most important part of a plagiarism story isn’t the outcome, but that it happened at all. Reminding students that plagiarism is forever can be a powerful reminder to those tempted to take unethical shortcuts.
Talk about the plagiarism itself
Most handbooks and manuals give good hypothetical examples of text that is and is not plagiarism. However, hypotheticals can only get you so far.
News stories present an opportunity to explore real cases of plagiarism. Educators and students can look over the examples in the case themselves. It is a great opportunity to talk with students about questions like, “Is this an example of plagiarism? Why or why not?” and “What are the odds that this similarity is a coincidence?”
Having students break down and investigate a case of suspected plagiarism can be extremely useful in helping them think about the issue in depth. Doing so removes them from the mindset of someone wanting to avoid plagiarism and places them into the minds of those investigating it.
This might seem minor, but many students report that they are unclear on what their instructors want when it comes to plagiarism. Giving them the chance to play an investigator in an environment with no consequences may help them grasp the other side of the issue better.
Talk about the ideal consequences
Students, even at an early age, are already aware that real-world consequences don’t always line up with what they should be in a perfect world. That said, a real-world case of plagiarism is an excellent opportunity to discuss hypothetical repercussions.
For example, if a novelist is accused of plagiarism, what action should the publisher take? Recall the book? Cancel the publishing contract? Correct the plagiarism in later editions? The answer depends heavily on one’s views on plagiarism and the nature of the case itself.
This kind of conversation not only gets students thinking about the complexities of responding to plagiarism but also helps instructors understand just how seriously (or not seriously) their students are taking it.
It can also be great to ask questions such as “What would you expect to happen if this took place in a classroom?” or “How would this be treated differently if X was different?” Getting students to think about multiple hypotheticals can help frame plagiarism more broadly.
If desired, this is also a great time to discuss the difference between copyright and plagiarism. That’s because, outside of the classroom, plagiarism often raises issues of copyright infringement that students may need to be aware of. This is especially true in fields such as art, film, literature, and music, where plagiarism carries not just profound consequences for one’s career but potential legal repercussions.
To demonstrate long-term consequences, instructors can also ask their students to imagine if they began a job but couldn’t do it properly because they had relied on other people’s work during their studies. How would they cope? This will help students see how avoiding plagiarism gives them the best chance of being competent and confident in their careers.
Developing citizens of integrity
It can be very tempting for educators to shy away from plagiarism news stories. While this is understandable, since it can involve celebrities that are divisive or situations that seem to trivialize the act of plagiarism itself, they can be a useful tool in helping students understand plagiarism and why it’s essential. Real-world examples of plagiarism are a great opportunity to not only get students interested in plagiarism but to understand it more broadly.
The simple truth is that plagiarism is something that they will likely have to deal with in one way or another their entire lives. By developing students of integrity, societies invest in developing citizens of integrity who perform a variety of roles, including medical, healthcare workers, engineers, technology professionals, and other vital positions in business, commerce, and public service.
It is essential to shape the students’ mindset on upholding integrity by acknowledging the work of others and not passing it off as original content. It ensures that students are equipped with the moral code to use, cite, and acknowledge academic sources, write original work, and develop critical thinking skills. After all, addressing plagiarism isn’t just about preventing “cheating,” it is about giving students the skills and understanding they need to excel in whatever career they choose.
Turnitin provides instructors with the software tools to engage students in the writing process, provide personalized feedback, and assess student progress over time. Turnitin is used by more than 30 million students at 15,000 institutions in 140 countries.