Let’s Revisit This Plagiarism Thing…

*Student names and identities have been thoroughly changed*

I know what you’re thinking: Another post about plagiarism. We get it. We’re using Turnitin. Let’s move on already.

But here’s the thing. I’ve been teaching in academia for over ten years and last semester, I had a case unlike any I had ever seen before. Without getting into too much detail, I will say that it was blatant and that the student had many creative excuses and spent a good amount of time fighting my decision. The story itself could be its own blog post, a cautionary tale about what happens when you choose to spend your time trying to get out of a situation caused by you not managing your time intelligently in the first place, but I digress…

The reason I really want to talk about this is because I didn’t “officially” report this student to the conduct office the first time. I did what, I think, many of us do: sat down with the student, instructed him on the correct way to cite the source, gave him the benefit of the doubt and required a rewrite of the assignment in question. In my mind, I had emailed him regarding all of this and I had proof of the match, so I figured that doing this was enough and if something came up later, I had what I needed.

I didn’t report him officially because I didn’t want him to get in trouble with someone outside of our class. I work hard to make sure my students know that our writing classroom, be it physical or virtual, is a safe space, a place where they can be free to make mistakes and learn from them. In a sense, I was afraid for him, felt protective of him. But I should have reported him.

Why? Well, if we report a student for something like this, unless we recommend it, the punishment for a first offense will be pretty similar to what we would do on our own, actually identical. The only difference is that someone in the conduct office sits down with the student as well and I have to think that doing so must be really effective in essentially scaring the student into not doing it again.

But I still find myself reluctant. I want to use these moments as teaching moments, but the student in question later showed himself to lack any motivation for improvement or movement toward an understanding of what he did wrong. The ethics of the situation were lost on him. He was more worried about getting out of it than she was about comprehension of the “crime” and possibly learning from it. If I had reported him the first time, perhaps he would have been more likely to understand the seriousness of the situation, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to betray him.

This loyalty is possibly misplaced, but I like to have this connection to my students. It’s just that even now, I recently discovered that a student copied small sections from a website into an early assignment. I am going to give her a chance to revise with citations and hope that she just didn’t know she had to formally cite a source in an early assignment. But do I report it? What would you do?

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