As a college English Composition instructor, part of my job is to watch for student plagiarism. The fact is that I must teach students the definition of plagiarism and how to avoid it. One student related to me that she “copied and pasted” all of her high school papers! Other students are somewhat aware of plagiarism, but they do not know any details about the subject. Some students claim to never have heard of plagiarism. Why had these students not learned about plagiarism in high school?
My student population is varied; the learners come from all cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. Because of this fact, I tend to see this problem as pervasive and not limited to certain groups. So, I have developed plagiarism lessons for my classes. I also tutor students who have to write papers for other classes.
Recently, a student brought me a five-page paper that she had created for a pathology class. The paper consisted of a series of paragraphs that were encased in quotation marks. Astonished, I asked her if her entire paper was created with quotes. The student confirmed my fears, and then added that she did not understand why she had to reword something that someone else had already said well! I explained to the girl that she was, in fact, stealing the words through plagiarism. I also explained that, through the process of paraphrasing, she would come to an understanding of her topic. I then instructed the student on how to paraphrase, quote, cite, and reference properly. She seemed annoyed, but agreed to take on the task. This example demonstrates the problem faced by educators at colleges and universities across the country.
Plagiarism must be addressed by public and private schools across this country. As soon as students learn to write their first research papers in elementary or middle school, they should have a clear understanding of how to effectively summarize, paraphrase, cite, quote, and reference material used in their papers. By the time students reach high school, they should know how to avoid plagiarism and write a well-developed paper using others’ and their own ideas.
Perhaps if the ethics of good writing is established early in a student’s education, college and university instructors would not be faced with so many plagiarism issues.
Written by Beth Calvano, a college English composition instructor at Instructor at Newport Business Institute who regularly uses Turnitin; also pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership.