Monday, July 25, 2011

Panagiotis G. Ipeirotis's Experience with Plagiarism

Many of you will by now have heard the controversy stirred by Panagiotis G. Ipeirotis's post Why I Will Never Pursue Cheating Again. The original post has been removed. Inside Higher Ed describes the post, why it was removed and some of the reactions it garnered.

But something seems to have been lost in the mix. According to IHE, Professor Ipeirotis intended to generate a discussion about how to best deal with cheating. His experience called into question what he calls the "arms race," response in which we devise cheating detection mechanisms and students (or those who sell to students) devise cheating mechanisms. His suggested alternative? Using pedagogical techniques that are relatively immune to cheating (e.g., alternative assessment techniques, group work, public work, etc.).

So let's talk about that. Do any of you design your assignments, grading schemes, etc. with an eye towards a classroom in which cheating is either difficult or impossible? Should we do so? Are there pedagogical goods independent of avoiding cheating that these alternative techniques and assignments offer? Can designing a cheating-immune assignment work against good pedagogy? Can doing so be yet another instance of the "arms race" approach to combatting plagiarism?


  1. I too am interested in answers to this question, both as a teacher, and as a former student who was tempted to cheat on take-home exams, and gave in to that temptation.

    Generally speaking, it seems to me that assessment of student work should be structured so as to reward excellence while helping to cultivate self-respect and respect for the work of others. Making cheating impossible is good, making it unthinkable even when presented with the opportunity even better.

    Sorry I do not have any concrete ideas for my general proposal. But one ideal project seems to me a mandatory ethics course for 1st year students tied in with plagiarism issues, that enables the students to work out for themselves why cheating is wrong. The kind of harm to others involved in cheating is indirect, often invisible and avoids targetting any specific victim, which is why I believe so many students think it's ok to cheat ("no one is harmed and I profit").

    I envision that such a course will be interdisciplinary (drawing on philosophers, economists working on game theory, psychologists, etc.) and collaborative (students reasoning together in groups).

    Some more ideas for the course:
    (1) Each student group will collaborate to grade the work of students in other groups. This will give them an opportunity to take up an impartial point of view from which only fairness considerations matter.
    (2) Each student will be given a chance to develop a practical regimen for themselves, on diet, TV or internet or phone usage, drug addiction, study habit, or whatever. So there will be a practical dimension as well. Contrary to what motivation internalists say, there is weakness of will and recognizing what I ought to do more than anything else is not the same thing as being moved all the way to do it instead of anything else.

  2. A technique I have used successfully in Intro Philosophy classes is to avoid a traditional research paper all together. I typically assigned readings from the text – perhaps a selection from Paley, one from Dawkins, and a third from Aquinas. From there the students must write a paper discussing the arguments for and against the existence of God with an emphasis on argumentative approaches. Students are forbidden from using any other sources. An occasional student still plagiarizes and receives a 0 for the paper.

    After 22 years of teaching everything from English to Humanities to Philosophy, I have never had a semester without a plagiarized paper. I tell the students the consequences at the beginning of the semester, and then drop it.

  3. Thanks for this. Anon., I like your idea, but I'd like to get some input from the many folks at this blog who regularly teach ethics. My suspicion is that ethics courses are not designed to change people's behaviors and, perhaps as a result, aren't very effective at doing so. I coud be wrong, however.

    I agree that for many the motivation to cheat is desperation. Now, many can be held responsible for same desperate state (procrastination, poor attendance, not doing the reading, etc.). Whatever approach we take to reducing plagiarism has to involve locating why so many students find themselves in such desperate straits. My own opinion is that a large percentage of students in college are radically under-prepared for college level work. They know it, their professors know it, but their parents rarely know it. That is a terrible, painful, high-pressure situation to be in.

  4. Becko, I agree that ethics courses rarely change many people's behavior, and that cheating often arises from desperation, some of which results from being unprepared for college-level work.

    I sometimes use "small stakes" assignments that build up to a full paper: the first assignment might be coming up with a thesis, the second writing an argument for that thesis, the third writing an objection, etc. The temptation to cheat on these is much reduced, and once they're done, the temptation and opportunity to cheat on the full paper is much reduced. For exams, having students apply ideas in new contexts makes cheating difficult. Both have other benefits, too.

    In upper level courses, I usually have lots of short writing assignments along the way--reading responses and that sort of thing. A side effect is that I get a sense for students' writing styles, which makes it easier to spot papers that aren't theirs.

  5. I'd like help with this. I try to get students to do the reading, and so ask for summaries on the readings, but these are often plagiarized. If I ask merely for "reactions" I will just get unthoughtful thoughts on the broad topic, not the readings.
    I assign fairly conventional paper topics and these too often are plagiarized.
    :( HELP!

  6. Agreed with everyone so far. I've got a long post on this very issue and rather than try to port it over here's the link. Basically I do think we have to make plagiarism both practically forbidding and morally distasteful (good suggestions by David in both respects). I've had some success, but as Gail said perfect engagement is unlikely, especially in larger classes.

  7. One thing I've found helpful is to have idiosyncratic course material to begin with (unusual readings not often covered in other classes) and to have assignments in an unusual format. I use dialogues. A colleague of mine has his students write in the format used by the medievals (e.g. in the Summa Theologica), where the thesis is stated, then the objections, then the explication of the view with argumentation, then the responses to objections. It's pretty hard to plagiarize without much work using either format.


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