For one assignment, she gives her students a short writing passage and then a prompt for a standard student short essay. She asks her students to turn in two versions. In one they are told that they must plagiarize. In the second, they are told not to. The prior night, the students were given an online tutorial on plagiarism and Hagopian said she has become skeptical that having the students “parrot back what we’ve told them” accomplishes anything. Her hope is that this unusual assignment might change that.
After the students turn in their two responses to the essay prompt, Hagopian shares some with the class. Not surprisingly, the students do know how to plagiarize — but were uncomfortable admitting as much. Hagopian said that the assignment is always greeted with “uncomfortable laughter” as the students must pretend that they never would have thought of plagiarizing on their own. Given the right to do so, they turn in essays with many direct quotes without attribution. Of course in their essays that are supposed to be done without plagiarism, she still finds problems — not so much with passages repeated verbatim, but with paraphrasing or using syntax in ways that were so similar to the original that they required attribution.
When she started giving the assignment, she sort of hoped, Hagopian said, to see students turn in “nuanced tricky demonstrations” of plagiarism, but she mostly gets garden variety copying. But what she is doing is having detailed conversations with her students about what is and isn’t plagiarism — and by turning everyone into a plagiarist (at least temporarily), she makes the conversation something that can take place openly
.Has anyone tried this? Might it work in a philosophy course?