It is that time of year again. Papers and projects, essays and exams. I am finishing up a collection of twenty or so essays and projects for my HONORS Ethics class. HONORS in this case refers to the students' GPAs, not moral character.
Nearly every paper had at least a handful of improperly cited quotations. Some of them were mild (missing quotations marks, improper form) but a large number of them were egregious. I am talking a page and half of direct cut and paste quotation without any citation (unless a citation was already on the website). I am not naive, I know there are numerous resources out there, and that it is very tempting to plagiarize. But I thought I had this one beat. I included some fairly specific recommendations for the paper format:
By the end of the semester you will have a written paper, at least 6 pages long. It will explain the moral issue, and develop the arguments you will present. It will be in proper English and use the proper citations. The format of the written part will be as follows:
1. Introduce the Moral Issue (1 page)
2. Explain your personal intuition about the issue. (½ page)
3. Explain the prima-facie argument for the position you will develop. (½ page)
4. Explain in detail the arguments, using where possible their own words, of proponents of the position. You will use at least two quotations from two sources. (2 pages)
5. You will present objections to those arguments. (1 page)
6. You will respond to those objections with the best counter-arguments. (1 page)
7. You will reflect on the issue with you new found understanding. (1 page)
And I spend some time going over my concerns about plagiarism and proper research, I even scheduled class time to go over outlines, and the like. So, I had high hopes. They've be thoroughly dashed by this year's crop or crap.
There seem to be a number of varieties of this kind of plagiarism.
1. "Dumbass Roulette". This used to be the most common form. It is an entire paper, cut whole from a website, and presented by a student who was already failing, or in danger of failing the class. I imagine, that faced with the inevitable prospect of failing due to lack of work or what have you, they decide to try their luck and just submit something. Maybe they'll get lucky, the instructor might be tired and overworked and not notice anything.
2. The "Filler". Here is a person who may have approached the assignment with some sincere attempt. They thought about it, wrote a handful of sentences, and discovered that the six page paper (or two page essay) was just going to require way more work than they imagined. I am guessing, this is a person who tends to do work at the last
minute. They might check the assignment for any unusual requirements, and include all that (as well as a rewording of the assignment). Then insert page after page of plagiarized material until the required size is met.
3. The "touch up artist". Here we have someone who has learned to download essays in whole, but then fine tune them a little, changing tense, pronouns, cutting sentences in half, maybe even adding some original work. They will likely even cite a source (maybe even the real one, typically wikipedia) in the endnotes, so you know they can't be accused of plagiarizing. At worst case, this can usually buy them an extra week to write a real paper if they are caught.
4. The innocent "touch up artist." Maybe I am a sucker, but I do think that some of my students do the latter bit of plagiarism and honestly think this is what is expected of them. In other words, that"putting it in your words" means something like saying the exact same thing except changing a few letters here or there. I blame their other teachers, peers, and parents for this. I've had plenty of teachers who never read a word I wrote but assigned a grade anyway, I certainly expect some lowerclassmen are schooled in this art by upperclassmen, as well.
5. The "reporters". I am convinced, though I can't prove it, that a style of research in some discipline is literally a string of long quotations from other papers, possibly with some original material scattered here and there. I liken this to the current state of journanimalism where a so called reporter, "reports" exactly what someone tells them (a politician, army officer, corporate executive, etc) as though that was research. I am guessing, that the actual assignments in these disciplines are more rigorous than that, but like me (and everyone I know who teaches) our expectations have dropped to a point that we expect much less. So once students know what little is expected they aim for that, and the bar gets constantly lowered.
I've toyed with the idea of encouraging plagiarism as a part of research, then require the students to fact check their own plagiarized works, and improve them, but the real menace of plagiarism is not that it is stealing, dishonest, and such. For me the problem is that it is a symptom of laziness, and that is really hard to combat with more work.
I am open to suggestions on how to fix this.