Regardless of how long I teach, I will never understand when students plagiarize papers. While grading a wonderful set of This I Believe papers (see yesterday’s post), I started reading a paper that puzzled me. Since I require students to submit papers to Turnitin.com, a plagiarism detection site, I took a closer look at the student’s paper.
According to Turnitin.com, the paper contained over 20% of matching text from information that appears elsewhere on the Internet. I then checked a book about the student’s topic and found even more sentences that he apparently copied.
In most cases, this would anger me, but today I am just sad. The student is a nice young man and not a student I would normally think would cheat on a paper. I want to believe he would not cheat or copy part of a paper. I just don’t want to believe it.
Did he not realize that he couldn’t copy sentences from another source? I would like to think it’s a mistake, but no student could make it all the way to AP English without knowing about plagiarism.
Did he simply forget to enclose copied material in quotation marks? Again, that would be hard to believe for a seventeen-year-old student in an honors English class.
I gave the student a zero on the assignment, explained the problem, and asked him to see me individually. I’ll return the paper tomorrow.
Just when I was so sad over the idea that a student would plagiarize part of a paper, I picked up another student’s paper about her belief.
America needs to return to the days where people followed through on their promises and tried their hardest, no matter what the circumstances. Once upon a time, cheating was a serious offense, mistakes were acknowledged and rectified, and handshakes were the equivalent of a legal contract. Once upon a time, there were not unlimited opportunities to try again. Once upon a time, people had to work hard to succeed because there were no handouts. These are the values that America needs to return to. This personal responsibility is an important part of society that has been recently lost. This must be found again as America recovers from its recession. This I believe.
At the beginning of the semester, I always tell students how much cheating disappoints me. I emphasize that I can still have respect for students who make a horrible grade but who do not resort to cheating. I then emphasize that I can have little respect for students who take the easy way out and cheat.
I so hope the student can give me an explanation for what happened – some explanation that does not include copying.
If not, I hope he will admit his mistake and apologize. We all make mistakes.