Friday, March 13, 2009

On Course: Academic Honesty

In this chapter Lang addresses the important issue of academic honesty and in particular plagiarism.

The most interesting fact in the chapter is the ubiquitousness of cheating - Lang cites that surveys show that 47 percent of graduate students have cheated in the past year.

Having taught a three hour session on scientific integrity followed by a one page assignment where I caught 33 percent of the students subsequently cheating/plagiarizing this is a topic I'm particularly interested in.

There is lots of useful advice here, trying to make assignments unique, use electronic measures to detect plagiarism and of course making it clear to students what you take plagiarism to be.

In particular the advice to not take matters into your own hand and deal with things yourself but instead use the university's procedures for dealing with misconduct is excellent, there is no easier way to get yourself into serious trouble than taking matters into your own hand.

What I would have like more of however is advice about dealing with the system, in particular when people are resistant to admitting plagiarism has been detected because it is a hassle (this happened to me, people thought I was just making a big deal about a small assignment).


  1. This is my first semester teaching, and so far I've already encountered three instances of plagiarism. I've relied heavily on Lang's book for "oh no what do I do?" situations.

    When he says rely on the system to dole out punishment (or something similar), I have interpreted that as simply don't accuse the student personally. I have phrased it in the way, "School policy on plagiarism is X, and you have done X." I have tried not to form it as, "I have caught you cheating" and I think it works out better that way.

    My advisor has told me to allow the students to resubmit the assignments. However, if I catch any of them doing it again I will send them to the dean.

    So, Lang's advice has worked out well for me, but I question whether or not I should have allowed the students to resubmit (I'm not sure it teaches them much). Also, one of my plagiarizers has denied that she has plagiarized, and I had no idea what to do aside from, "According to policy X, you have." So definitely not for her.

  2. As it happens, I just uncovered a case of plagiarism last night. My school allows me to set penalties on plagiarism in my syllabus, as long as I also send a report to the Dean. The fact that a report will be sent is included in the syllabus. Fortunately, I have clear proof.

    I don't think allowing students to resubmit is a good procedure. It gives students an incentive to try plagiarizing one time, to see if they can get away with it. If they do - great! If not, no harm done - just resubmit! I think its important that students be aware that the consequences of plagiarism are worse than the consequences of not submitting an essay at all.

  3. When I was a TA in grad school, I caught two students submitting papers freely available on the web as their own. The prof let them resubmit, but the best that they could do was a C. I have a zero tolerance policy, but it's because I want to both scare them away from it and because of personal preference.

  4. If I see any plagiarism, they get the zero on the assignment. I let them know that if they do it again, they get a zero in the class per rules of the university. I guess I'm more lenient than the university rules.


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