Plagiarism Chronicles

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I've scanned recent threads and haven't found any devoted to the general discussion of plagiarism cases. I hereby declare this thread open for that purpose. Here is my own latest tale.

Here I thought I'd made it all the way through the semester without a plagiarism case,* but that was not to be. It was a short assignment reviewing a book we've read. The student did write some of it herself, but a sentence or two was lifted directly from the blurb on the publisher's website.

My dilemma is, this is a minor assignment that comes out to roughly 2% of the grade for the course. A zero on this assignment might knock her from a C+ to a C (or something like that), or maybe not, depending on how the average works out after the final. That strikes me as a very light penalty for plagiarism. School policy does allow for a sweeping range of possible penalties, but since this offense is relatively minor (first-time offender - as far as I know, of course - and only a portion of a minor assignment) I'm not sure whether I'd have much institutional backing for taking a tougher approach. Any suggestions?

* Actually not true: at the beginning of the semester, on a similar assignment, a student plagiarized from the assigned reading itself. In that case, the mishmash of borrowed passages the culprit concocted was so incoherent that I had already given it an F before I realized it had been lifted. For these reasons, I considered it more a case of mind-blowing stupidity, even though it was technically plagiarism.

Oh, I'm going to be in the minority, but that's okay.  If you have the time, and if you have the inclination based upon this student's other work (which may be seen to be preferable treatment for some reason--only you can determine if that is defensable, if necessary, in the long run), I'd ask the student to come to office hours.  Ask--simply ask--about the sentances that you've marked as plagiarized, and, ultimately, why they chose to use them without using quotation marks or attribution.

Just as I'm arguing elsewhere that foreign students should be held to the standards of the institution  in which they have chosen to study, so should native students.  But, foreign, or native, they come from different backgrounds of previous study, and previous standards.  It seems to me that this is far less egregious than simply cutting and pasting whole paragraphs from Wikipedia or another source.

In this case I'd be interested in knowing why they omitted citation or, at least, quotation marks.  I don't know that a student like this needs to be pilloried, but, neither should they be given a total pass.  Hearing their explanation may say a lot. Seeing how they incorporated their usage, in written format, may also contribute.

At the risk of being ridiculed, I will point out that on a lot of Internet sites--including this one--the idea of "fair use" is emphasized.   Using a link to the source is necessary, quotation of more than a small portion is forbidden without that link or attribution.  But, while people posting to these Internet sites either understand, or are made to understand (I'm a moderator on one such site, enforcing the understanding), not all immedtly "get" the requirement of setting their few sentance "borrows" off in quotation marks, indentations, italics,  or some other way that makes it clear that it is "borrowed".

Neither they, nor the foreign student that has been taught differently, needs to be branded for life, but both need to learn what is proper.  On the web site that I help to moderate those lessons come without a grade, but with the potential shame of being called out and the ultimate penalty of being banned for repeated infractions.  In university I would hope that they would get, at least, the same kind of warnings for a sentance or two type of infraction before the ultimate plagiarism penaly is fully invoked.     

I think this is reasonable. I could see going a bit further, but I think this is a good one for consciousness raising.

If it helps, I had one earlier in the term that I discussed here, also involving a lightly weighted assignment. We had a big encounter session and much CR about the issue and some other consequences -- the U knows about her issue, though she wasn't sanctioned. Since the incident, she has been a model student in every way. Maybe I'm completely naive, but I think that some good learning happened.

OOooooo I'm jealous, TF.  I have a couple who have continued to be the same atrocious students that attempted to skirt around an assignment by cheating on it.  Somehow, I seem to always get more grief from the tiny assignment plagiarizers as opposed to the ones who cut and paste their entire research paper.

I would say give them a zero on the small portion, remind that they can be expelled/suspended/whatever and send them a copy of the student ethics code. 

Do you have any of the student's other work?  If so, then I would check it.  This could be a bad choice made because the assignment was worth so few points, or it could be a habit. 

I once went back through a bunch of small point assignments that I never bothered to check because they were our field's equivalent of the "what did you do last summer" exercise, and those were plagiarized.  One small assignment turned into one large F and major sanctions from the institution. 

Also, these are the cases where I refuse to round final grades, which I usually do.  If you have plagiarized, then your 72.5 remains a 72, and thus a C-. 

Is it part of a larger assignment or series of assignments? In other words, does it get its own line in your assessment scheme?

I had a student cheat on a single homework assignment worth 5%. But homework as a whole was worth 15%. I talked to my chair, and he okayed my plan to give the student a zero for all the homework. During my chat with the student, I mentioned that I could hu for the course, but decided to be lenient and just drop the grade by that 15%.



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