It’s been a day, kids. Mrs. Chili got to deal with her first ever case of blatant plagiarism at TCC.

The student in question – we’ll call her Jane – has been a problem for me all semester, not because she’s a troublemaker or because she doesn’t hand in work, but because she doesn’t interact in ANY way. She is completely blank – her eyes are dead, she can’t carry a conversation, she doesn’t seem capable of expressing an opinion. She doesn’t participate in class at all – and I’m not exaggerating here, People; I have, literally, never heard her voice in class.

At the very beginning of the semester – immediately after the first class, in fact – I went to her advisor for, you know, advice. What I got was profoundly dissatisfying: essentially, I was told to hold her hand and get her through. Um. Okay. Except, I don’t work like that. I’ve already DONE this work – I’m not here to do it again for someone else’s grade. Doing so serves neither my student nor me. I spoke with a few more of my colleagues, and we all suspect that there’s something developmentally wrong with Jane, but she’s not coded or otherwise identified as special needs, so there’s really little, beyond tutoring and a little extra attention, that we can do for her. I took Jane aside and told her that she needed to step up and do the work, and that I’d be happy to help her or to recommend her to a tutor in the resource center. A few weeks later, I sent her an email warning her that, because we’re a seminar class, participation is a significant portion of the grade. The fact of her conspicuous LACK of participation was going to negatively affect her overall grade for the course. She protested a bit but, to her credit, she approached me later to ask if she could do extra written work to count toward her nonexistent class participation grade. That seemed a fair compromise to me, so I agreed.

Last week, she turned in three papers: one each about Tim O’Brien’s stories, The Things They Carried and Ambush, and one about Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

What is it about (some) students’ minds that they think we’re not going to notice when their writing suddenly changes? Do they think we’re not going to come up short when they use words in their papers that we’ve never seen them use before? Do they think we’ll not see when their sentences suddenly become complex and their punctuation miraculously improves? Do they think we don’t recognize their writing voices, and that we’ll not notice when those voices drastically change?

Jane lifted most of her Rue Morgue paper from this site. A lot of her Ambush paper came from here, and the paper she “wrote” about The Things They Carried was essentially cut-and-pasted from this site. All I had to do was Google a few words of a suspect sentence, and the sites came right up for me. She never cited any of the sources; she didn’t even bother to change the wording. Every once in a while, she’d leave out a sentence here or there, but when I was finished highlighting the pilfered lines, the paper was buckling under the damp of the yellow ink.

The real kicker of this whole story? Jane is a Paralegal student.

I confronted her with her neon papers this afternoon – along with the copies I’d made of the websites from which she’d stolen. I started by asking her if she understood what plagiarism is, and she said she did (“yes” was the only answer I got). Then I showed her the “work” and told her that this is completely unacceptable. She’s in college to learn, not to copy other people’s ideas and thinking and claim them as her own. She asked if she could have an opportunity to rewrite the papers, and I said no. I told her that she’d receive zeros for the three papers and that, from now until the end of the semester, all of her work must be her own and no one else’s; this is to serve as a warning – the next time she plagiarizes in my class, she fails the course and I recommend her for administrative action.


I’m in the middle of writing an email to one of my colleagues about the standards (or lack thereof) that we hold for TCC students. I think that Jane’s behavior is a symptom of TCC culture in that we, as a faculty, don’t expect our students to behave professionally and ethically. I’m standing my ground on this, and Joe has by back 100%. There are a lot of things about which I will negotiate; plagiarism is not one of them.

(photo credit)



Filed under colleagues, concerns, frustrations, I love my boss, student chutzpah, Yikes!

13 responses to “Plagiarism

  1. Maybe because I was an English major, but I don’t know, I never understood the whole plagiarism thing. It is so much easier for me to find a source, quote it, cite it, and refute or support it.

    But then again, I never had much trouble filling the required word count on my own. By my senior year, I would do the research, find the sources I would eventually cite, write my paper completely without them, puzzle them in where they fit best, and comment on them. This method typically took me well over my minimum.

    Boggles my mind. Yet another reason why I did not become an educator.

  2. LEAH, that’s exactly what *I* did toward the end of my last round of education! I’m grinning from ear to ear to read your comment – I thought I was the only one who did that. I remember thinking – “oh, GOD – I need some quotes? What can I stick where?”

  3. AAAAAAAARRRRGH! You make me dread the upcoming term paper season, first with 30 seniors and then again with 23 sophomores.

  4. Three zeroes would even be considered a lenient punishment here; if you’re caught having plagiarised someone else’s work and claiming it as your own, you automatically receive a fail for the course, irrespective of how well you’d done up until that point.

    I don’t know if I’ve told you this, but I certainly have told someone on the bloggosphere, but I learned my plagiarism lesson the easy way, and quite early in my academic career; year 11 (or, the second-last year of high school). I needed to flesh out an essay with probably as many words as I’d written again. It was late on the night before it was due, so I copied a fair bit off the internet from a few varied sources, changed the wording and some of the sentences around, integrated it with my own writing as best I could, and handed it in.

    I was absolutely unconcerned about being caught, because first, I’d done it rather well, and second, it was the embryonic stage of the internet and no one cross-checked essays with google back then.

    But the lesson I learned was this: every paragraph that had been plagiarised, or that contained plagiarised sections received feedback consisting of one tick while everything I wrote myself received a minimum of two, sometimes three ticks, such was this particular teacher’s style. So after that I thought, bugger it, I’m gonna get better marks if I rely on myself.

    In hindsight, the teacher may have known, but thought to encourage me away from plagiarism by marking in that way. If so, then it really worked; everything I’ve written since has been entirely my own work.

  5. My worst situation involving plagiarism was on group project in a Graduate level course. I allowed the students to choose their own teams to write a paper and do a presentation on it. I also explained what plagiarism was and that it would not be tolerated.

    So one group decided that each person would write a third of the paper. (I hate that.) Suddenly in the middle of the paper, it was obvious the text was lifted somewhere. So I looked up their refs, and voila, word for word. The guy cut and pasted from a website, then GAVE me the link as a reference.

    The worst part of it was I had to report them. Grad school rules. And if you were reported, you could lose your school/visa/assistanceship to be here. I hated doing it. Fortunately, the one student who did it fessed up so the others would not get in real trouble. But I hope they learned not to put their name on something without double checking it first.

  6. M-Dawg

    I had a HUGE issue with plagarism the end of last school year with my freshman honors World History class. I have the kids sign a plagarism contract (their parents need to sign it too). It just states that they understand what the definition of plagarism means (I go over it with them at the beginning of the school year) and what the school policy states and that there are consequences for their actions if they make a choice to plagarize. That contract has saved my butt many times! 🙂

    Google is my best friend in catching my students plagarizing! 🙂

    Three students in the Honors class plagarized their research papers. Now, it’s the end of the school year. Did they not think that I would catch it? Or that I don’t know their writing styles by the end of the year?

    The best part: One of the kids – his Mom is an English teacher at my school. So, I went to her classroom after school to discuss the problem and she had the nerve to ask me to “cut him a break” because that’s what she does with her Junior Honors classes! Her son copied the ENTIRE PAPER from World Book encylopedia! Which I need to point out that I told them (my students) they were NOT allowed to use!

    I hold all my students accountable and I refuse to “cut them a break” on plagarizing! They need to learn NOW that plagarizing will not be tolerated! Better to learn now than when they are in college and actually paying for their education and they get kicked out!

  7. sphyrnatude

    Bravo for standing up to standards (and to your boss for supporting you).

    My rule has always been that any plagarisms will result in an “F” for the course, regardless of performance to date.

    The good news is that word tends to get out, and students that are likely to plagarize will tend to wait until someone else is teaching the course. I was teaching in the sciences, and academic integrity is a major issue, so I made a big deal about it. I also tended to have the attitude that I was not teaching to make friends, but to make scientists. I had a reputation as a hard-ass, but everone knew that if you took my course, you’d know your stuff….

    I’ve occasionally had students challenge me on failing them after getting caught, and (once) actually had my dean try and get me to simply give an “F” on the assignment instead of the course (the student was the child of a faculty member). I explained to the dean that if he *really* wanted the grade changed, he could simply over ride-my grade, but that it would be the last course I taught at the University, and that I would move to another University (with my grant money, of course), as I felt that any University that would allow plagarism among its students can’t possibly have the academic integrity to properly discipline its faculty if/when they are caught cooking data.
    Of course, at the time, I was pulling in pretty large research grants….

  8. I recognize what you say about the non-existing student in your class. I have been teaching this one student for three months now, and I promise I have never heard his voice, except for a faint ‘don’t know’ when I ask him something. When I was grading his paper three weeks ago, it was as if for the first time I heard his voice, he was speaking to me. It’s bizarre, but it comforts me somehow to know that in the other classes he is the same.

    About the plagiarism. First of all, I love the sentence ‘the paper was buckling under the damp of the yellow ink’. It’s brilliant. It’s the funniest and most beautiful image I’ve recently read. I had a severe case of plagiarism last year. A student has to write his thesis for graduation, and he copied the entire thing from wikipedia (of all places). Only, he didn’t manage to get rid of the slightly tinted background of wikipedia, and he didn’t take the hyperlinks out of the Word-document. So I could just click on the paper and be transferred to the source from which he took his stuff. I mean… who else thinks such a student does NOT deserve to graduate? Nowadays, when I see hints of plagiarism I first hint the student about the severity. I just write the url of the source on the paper, and hand it back. I don’t bother to write anything more until the student does the work properly.

  9. I, too, am surprised that there’s a warning phase where plagiarism is involved. I remember there being a case of plagiarism in the year ahead of me in Jr. High and having lessons taught for a week on how immediate and unrelenting the punishment would be for that infraction.

    Bad enough she plagiarized, stupid that she plagiarized BADLY. I mean, from wiki? That’s simple to find!

  10. Fortunately, I have not had this problem in my class–because my students don’t write! What little writing they have done has been so bad, that I avoid having them write as much as I possibly can. I know, I know: They need to write and I’m trying to figure out ways I can have them write without my having to suffer through their insufferable work! But so far, avoidance is standing me in good stead! 🙂

  11. Pingback: Done! « A Teacher’s Education

  12. Pingback: Assignment 2B – Lesson Plan on Plagiarism

  13. Pingback: Plagiarism | Aulia Tamara Girisha

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