In this electronic age, the opportunity—and temptation—for students to cheat is greater than ever. It takes increasingly savvy educators to identify, confront, and penalize plagiarism in the classroom. Particularly in high schools, where instructors have their hands full equipping college-bound students with the basics of research and writing, too little emphasis is often placed on academic accountability. Many students receive a rude awakening when they discover that what passed for acceptable research/citation in high school sometimes amounts to cheating at the collegiate level.
What Constitutes a Violation?
While codes of ethics vary significantly from school to school, generally unaccepted behaviors include:
Plagiarism in research/writing
Quoting or paraphrasing another author without proper quotation marks (where necessary) or source citation; failing to properly cite a borrowed idea or train of thought; failing to properly cite a borrowed sentence structure; using all or portions of a work completed by another student (includes borrowing another student’s outline or research); hiring or soliciting someone to create work on your behalf
- Multiple submissions
Turning in the same paper in two different courses
- Exam dishonesty
Submitting answers gleaned from unauthorized notes, another student’s test, or any other contrived source
- Illegal collaboration
Exceeding the limits or deliberately misconstruing the division of labor outlined by the instructor in a given project
Consequences of Plagiarism
G. Thomas Couser, English professor at Hofstra University and author of the forthcoming Signifying Bodies, discusses academic dishonesty from an instructor’s standpoint in a letter published by InsideHigherEd.com entitled “Dear Plagiarist.” (Read the full letter here.) In no uncertain terms, and speaking directly to the unnamed accused, Couser dispels the arguments most often used by students caught cheating, and goes on to explain how by opting for the dishonest approach, students are not merely circumventing their own intellectual growth, but, in essence, defying the very purpose of higher education pursuit:
“The reason that plagiarism like yours makes professors so sad—and, yes, sometimes mad—is that it entirely defeats our attempts to educate you. We work hard to put you in a position to reach understandings that you would not otherwise be able to attain. (This is what makes a real course a course.) Cannibalizing a source like SparkNotes is not ‘extra research’ for which you should be lauded (as you claim); on the contrary, it’s a substitute for (and the very antithesis of) the intellectual work that you were asked to do, and which your professors see as being at the heart of a liberal arts education. The opposite of academic honesty is not actually academic dishonesty; it’s dishonesty that is decidedly unacademic. To commit it is to suggest that you don’t understand, or don’t value, the kind of education for which you (or your parents) are paying so much. The problem is not so much rule breaking as point missing.”
As Couser points out, the damage done to student-instructor relationships by plagiarizers is often intense and irreversible, but worse is the havoc that the mere accusation can impose on a once-promising student’s academic—and later, perhaps even professional—career. Moreover, unchecked plagiarism penalizes honest, hardworking students and has the power to bring down the overall reputation of a college or university.
Simply put, plagiarism affects every member of the academic community, and it can result in serious consequences for the student, including formal reprimand, academic probation, suspension, expulsion, and, depending on the student’s degree path, malpractice and disbarment proceedings.
As an educator at the high school level, it’s not your job to transmit values or dictate behavior patterns to your college-bound students. Students know right from wrong—but some need a firmer understanding of the latter to serve as motivation for choosing the former. Open a dialogue with your students to gauge their understanding of plagiarism and its implications, as well as the corresponding ramifications. Help each student to embark on their college career with the full knowledge of what’s expected, and point out time management and study habits that will help them avoid the stress and procrastination that can often lead to cheating.