In one morning of grading, at the end of this spring semester, I found four instances of plagiarism in my students' essays. My emotional responses were tangled: anger and disappointment, queasiness at the impending confrontations, sadness at what I imagined to be (in several cases at least) my students' desperation, the secret thrill (almost) of having my hunches justified, and the sense of guilt that I had not done more to prevent it in the first place. It was the guilt that set me to thinking and looking for resources.
This site from Central Queensland University (apparently no longer maintained but with lots of refs through 2006) offers many resources and links; a page from Michigan State's Faculty Development site also gives many links.
The wholesale copy-and-paste sort of plagiarism can occur, of course, with almost any writing assignment. (Doug Johnson offers some valuable general tips on "Plagiarism-Proofing Assignments," applicable in a wide variety of courses and grade levels.) But the two FYC assignments I'm concerned with here are the traditional research paper and the writing-about-literature essay (which is where "my" plagiarism cases occurred this semester).
Research paper case.
- One general anti-plagiarism strategy involves restriction either of subject or of sources to be used (perhaps providing one or two sources students must use, to be supplemented by their own research). I have tried restricting subjects, though more to avoid cliched topics than plagiarism, as well as having students self-select into groups based on topics the class brainstormed (followed by collaborative source-gathering). This past semester I was a little more restrictive, asking students to argue the desirability (or not) of urbanization, with info drawn from two out of three sources I provided plus additional, fairly minimal research of their own. The main tension here involves the notion that students need to find topics for themselves, that personal investment is necessary for effective writing. (I remain ambivalent about this issue.)
- The other main approach, in terms of assignment design at least, involves process. Nick Carbone gives here a compelling argument for the use of research portfolios (on grounds beyond just plagiarism-reduction), as well as an interesting comparisonof plagiarism-detection options.
- Unintentional plagiarism is always an issue here, to be combated with lots of discussion and practice of paraphrasing and summarizing. Learning how to take notes is vital, what Bruce Ballenger calls "writing in the middle" in his Curious Reader/Writer/Researcher books; for a more theoretical, though still very readable, discussion, I'd recommend his Beyond Note Cards.
Writing about literature in FYC. (I had not thought as much about plagiarism in this course because I expected students to respond directly to the literature read, without use of secondary sources; I need to think more carefully about how to harness students' natural curiosity to see what others have written about a work that students might not feel that they understand--more explicit discussion about the constructive aspect of reading, the notion that different people might read the same text differently??)
- To start with selection of readings, plagiarism-reduction is one reason I prefer non-canonical (non-sparknoted) choices. (The idealistically titled site Exampleessay.com offers 30 essays on the Updike's ubiquitous "A & P"; there are hundreds of other Updike short stories one might choose.)
- One possible strategy: assignments that ask students to relate several readings (either through comparison/contrast or tracing out some theme or literary device, for example). Thematic readers facilitate these sorts of assignments; this semester I used The Seven Deadly Sins Sampler, to fairly positive student reviews, and Jeffrey Eugenides' anthology My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead seems like another good option.
- In terms of process, I've started experimenting with including electronic annotations as part of students' poetry projects, inspired by Kathleen Blake Yancey, whose Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice is on my reading list for summer.
IHE had an interesting article recently on plagiarism ("Winning Hearts and Minds in War on Plagiarism"), which included discussion of an assignment that asked students to plagiarize on purpose; Mike Edwards of vitia describes a similar assignment here.
The exercises I'm most interested in constructing, though, are very short ones, giving students a short source or two plus an index card to write on, asking them to compose just a few sentences or a paragraph that uses info from the source(s). Lots of these! (In my marathon classes this summer--three hours and forty-five minutes, maybe we should do at least one per class.)
Any other suggestions??
The psychological approach. Finally, I need to think more/read more about how to counteract those student feelings of desperation that can lead to plagiarism: being more explicit about teaching time management skills, setting and enforcing deadlines in a way that helps teach those skills, getting more frequent feedback on student progress through minute-papers or brief conferences, establishing individual relationships and a comfortable atmosphere where students can admit to feeling overwhelmed before panic sets in.