Avoiding The Plagiarism Epidemic in Your Classroom

PlagiarismPlagiarism is a rising issue in today’s schools. According to the Huffington Post, the Pew Research Center recently conducted a poll of college professors and found that plagiarism is “at an all time high among college students.” It’s more important than ever that we educate students on the matters of plagiarism in order to understand how to avoid it.

Defining Plagiarism

Students need to understand exactly what plagiarism is before they are given strategies to avoid it. According to Pearson Prentice Hall, plagiarism is defined as: “…using someone else's words and ideas in a paper and acting as though they were your own."

Examples of plagiarism include copying another student’s paper, not giving the sources for quotations, and/or purchasing a paper and putting your name on it. Any information that is obtained from another source must include a citation or it is considered plagiarism.

The Current Epidemic

In order to tackle plagiarism, it is important to understand why students plagiarize in the first place. The University of Illinois at Chicago's infographic "The Reality and Solution of College Plagiarism" identified a number of reasons, including:

  • Students simply are unsure how to cite sources.
  • Students are unclear on the research process.
  • Students do not understand how to paraphrase or avoid plagiarizing.
  • The student culture promotes cheating or students believe that buying papers is appropriate.

Plagiarism hinders real learning, damages students’ work when they enter the workforce and has serious legal consequences at the college and professional levels. In extreme cases, students can be expelled or even sued for plagiarizing at the collegiate level.

Preparing Students for Success

The University of Illinois offers five suggestions on how teachers can enforce best writing practices in their classrooms while teaching students the value of academic honesty and how to avoid plagiarizing.

  • Utilize technology. Teachers need to regularly check for plagiarism and communicate to students that plagiarized work is absolutely unacceptable. Some schools purchase subscriptions to sites like Turnitin.com, which scans work for originality. There are also a number of free plagiarism checkers that teachers can use.
  • Allow students to practice citing sources. As the old adage goes, “practice makes perfect.” Students need multiple opportunities to practice citing sources until it becomes automatic. Norton offers MLA Practice Drills.
  • Set the rules early on. Your policies on plagiarism must be communicated at the very beginning of the year. Whether students will be given one chance of a rewrite or an automatic zero, these policies must be clear, offered in writing and consistently enforced.
  • Show them how it’s done. Model, model, model! You can follow up this modeling with practice exercises, videos and even online tutorials.
  • Collaborate with colleagues. Eliminating plagiarism should be a school-wide effort. Build a teacher community where you all share how to best tackle plagiarism in the classroom. Teachers should also root for training to learn about how to teach plagiarism during such a digital age.