Putting The Blame For Plagiarism On Faculty

The Chronicle Wired Blog points to an article in which the author takes faculty to task for plagiarism. She claims that “indulgent lecturers” fan the flames of plagiarism by spoonfeeding students too many handouts and powerpoint slides that condition them to just take whatever information they have available and integrate that into their writing with little critical thought or analysis – not to mention actual notetaking, reading of texts or the use of research techniques that go beyond mere cutting and pasting of internet content (including library database articles).

I would agree that faculty do bear some of the burden for the increase in plagiarism, but I don’t think it has as much to do with their teaching methods as it does with the way in which research assignments are designed and conducted throughout a course. Handouts and slides have their places as teaching tools, although as academic librarians we often see some serious cases of “death by powerpoint” (I refer primarily to students printing out the massive slide sets that typically come with textbooks or course cartridges). As with all other teaching techniques it comes down to whether it’s being used appropriately or plain old abused.

If there is any one area in which faculty complacency is apt to lead students to plagiarize, most academic librarians, I think, would more likely to point to assignments that lack the appropriate guidelines (pointing students to acceptable resources), statements of expectations (or rubrics that make it clear that more than cut and paste research is needed to achieve a good grade) or a research plan for the course that creates review points, the submission of bibliographies and drafts, and other steps to keep students from simply cutting and pasting together the standard ten page paper the night before the assignment is due. Many of us offer faculty development workshops to help our instructors create more plagiarism-proof assignments, but far too few take us up on them. Perhaps the continuing flood of articles that indicate how pervasive plagiarism is becoming will cause more faculty to take action, but I fear that many more will just continue to assume the institution’s plagiarism detection software will take care of the problem.

3 thoughts on “Putting The Blame For Plagiarism On Faculty”

  1. Many faculty assume that students already know this stuff (or should already know it) and so fail to teach them. When I was a student, I continually got the feeling that teachers thought I should know something by the time I got to their class, and it wasn’t their place to teach me. I went to three high schools and three colleges, and so I managed to miss some basic stuff. I could grasp it easily once explained, but no one ever thought it necessary to take the time. This combined with several teachers that were far too permissive in their assignments (I look back at some old “B” papers and wonder how I ever did that well) kept me using poor research methods for far too long.

    What I found frustrating as a student, and part of the reason I’m in library school, is that everyone seemed to want to pass this part of teaching on to someone else, and I would like to help change that. I was often referred to a writing center that had odd hours, and when I finally managed to get there, they were not much better at explaining what I was doing wrong.

    It was a well written syllabus in a 400 level art history class that changed everything for me- the teacher not only took the time to explain the extra steps I needed to research properly, but things about proper citations I never knew. All of this took less than an hour of class time, but changed my world. All through school I thought I hated writing and research, but, as it turns out, I enjoy both.

    All of this is a long winded way of saying that I believe you’re right. A properly written assignment really changes the quality of work you get, and with increasingly mobile students, you can’t assume they know exactly how to do research, even in high level classes. You don’t have to be completely remedial, but a little explanation goes a long way.

  2. Steven,

    I said much the same thing in a post on my blog earlier this month. I was responding to an article on Inside HigherEd that included a great quote by Laurence Musgrove from Saint Xavier University in Chicago. http://rhondagonzales.wordpress.com/2006/10/02/jobs-news-and-views-for-all-of-higher-education-inside-higher-ed-just-ask-the-students/
    I would be interested in the strategies that have worked for others in educating faculty about assignment design.

    Rhonda Gonzales

  3. Once again I got a question about Turnitin. I think it is an easy answer that is NOT an easy answer to the problem of plagarism. I agree with Steven. There are ways to make assignments and provide directions that help to prevent plagarism.

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