How to Stop the Plagiarism Plague
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Plagiarism. It’s more common than you might think. Three out of ten students, at some point in their school career, have risked it all by copying someone else’s work. How can parents and educators help students avoid this error?
The first step is to correct student misconceptions about plagiarism. “In many cases kids don’t even realize what plagiarism is, when it applies, what’s included, says Corinne Gregory, founder and president of the parent resource Social Smarts. “As adults we may make assumptions that kids know information found on the Internet, for example, may be copyrighted and not used, therefore, without permission.”
Copying an entire paper, failing to credit an idea or cite a statistic, quoting without attribution, or even paraphrasing a source too closely are all examples of plagiarism. With a single term encompassing such a wide range of unintentional mistakes and intentional cheating, students desperately need guidance from educators and parents.
An Epidemic of Cheating
Plagiarism is wide-spread, according to a 2009 survey commissioned by Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization. Among students in grades 7-12, 21% have turned in a paper downloaded from the Internet. More than a third (38%) copied text from a website.
Perhaps more troubling, 36% said that downloading a paper from the Internet was not a serious cheating offense and 19% said it is not cheating at all.
A Complex Web of Causes
At the root of at least some instances of plagiarism is confusion about the writing process.
Steve Peha, founder of Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., admitted that, as a young student, he once plagiarized because he had no understanding of the assignment. Peha believes, “We can combat plagiarism by simply teaching kids how to write and how to produce the kinds of writing we're interested in.”
Other students understand that plagiarism is against the rules, but fail to see any real harm in the theft of ideas or phrases. And as “digital natives,” today’s students may be familiar with collaborative or open-source projects. And, they are also accustomed to seeing work copied from website to website without proper attribution.
Even students who fully understand the meaning and consequences of plagiarism may continue to copy papers to remain academically competitive.
“Kids are under pressure to do whatever it takes to make the grade, get into the right college or university, and plagiarism is one of tactics to which they resort,“ explained Gregory. Overwhelmed and up against deadlines, some students succumb to the temptation of shortcuts.
Stolley also suggested that students may be responding to a tone of apathy set by their teachers. “They may sense a lack of interest or investment in the course material on the part of the instructor...Writing is hard, after all. And to pour all kinds of effort into a paper only to get a letter grade with an occasional ‘awk’ or other meaningless comment in the margins is enough to make some students think that what they write doesn't really matter.”
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