Tag Archives: cheating

Nabbed a Cheater!

My cyber-friend, fellow blogger and educator, Clay Morgan, recently wrote a very funny blog about how we teachers notice when our students cheat. And I laughed because it was true: There are “peekers” and “sneakers” and “giraffers” and folks who try to write everything they can on their pencils and their shoes and their arms.

And then yesterday, I busted one of my students for some crazy, overt plagiarism, and suddenly it isn’t so very funny anymore. Well, it’s a little funny because the person copied from Wikipedia and left in the hyperlinks. But still, when you get down to it, it’s not that funny.

I hate this part. I hate this part. I hate this part. I hate this part of being an educator.

Let’s assume for the sake of ease that the cheater is male. Then I can avoid all the he/she stuff.

My thought is to have The Despicable One take a look at his paper along with a copy of the Plagiarism Contract which he signed earlier in the semester and ask him to respond in writing to three questions: 1) Why did he choose to copy directly from the source rather than paraphrase or summarize it? 2) Why didn’t he use in-text citation and include a Works Cited page at the end of his paper? 3) What does he think the most appropriate course of action would be in this situation?

When he is done writing (read: documenting the offense in his own handwriting), I will listen to what he has to say, explain to him how serious an offense this is, (because it is serious), and then I will think about it for a while.

So today I’m feeling a little snarky. A little annoyed, even.

Why? I guess because I feel plagiarism is just so dang silly. It is the laziest of all academic infractions. I can predict The Plagiarizer will say something like: “I didn’t know how do to it the right way, so I just didn’t do it.” That is what lazy people say. I guess I’m noting something of a character flaw in plagiarizers (as if other flaws aren’t obvious enough). I keep thinking, if I didn’t know how to do something, I would do my damndest to figure it out.

In this specific instance, for example, if I didn’t know how to cite properly, I would have called a classmate for assistance. I would have stopped playing BeJewelled on Facebook and looked online for tips of how to cite a paper. (There are a zillion free websites offering advice.) I might have looked in the style book which I was assigned to purchase at the beginning of the semester. If all that failed, I would have tried to indicate that I knew I was taking information from an outside source. I could have written:

Dear Professor-In-Charge-Of-My-Grade:

I am getting this information from reallycoolandfakewebsite.com, but I’m not sure how to cite it properly. (*hangs head in shame*)

When you get a chance, can you show me? I hope you won’t deduct too many points. (*lame attempt at humor*)

So so so sincerely,

Ashamed One

If I knew in advance that I were going to be in trouble with citation, I would have made at least one appointment with the folks at the college’s Writing Center (where one can schedule a free 30-minute tutoring session to really get some help on a paper). I might have even asked my teacher to meet with me. Because teachers want to help their students. Some will even skip lunch or blow off grocery shopping to help their students.

So I can tell this student started really, really late on this paper.

Like eleven o’clock at night: too late for phone calls or in-person tutoring sessions.

And, frankly, because of his procrastination and poor decision-making, I now have to make difficult moral decisions. And now, depending on how far I want to go with this, I will have a boatload of extra paperwork to handle. And copies to be made in triplicate. Because my Department Chair will need a copy. And so will Student Services. And I’ll probably have to hold on to this paper for the rest of my life. (Hubby, I have another important document for the fire safe…)

I guess you can tell that I have strong beliefs about integrity and honor and honesty. Basic values which everyone agrees seem to be on the decline. Interestingly enough, judging from the reaction that I’m getting from some of my students, they don’t see plagiarism as a big deal. I’ve tried to explain that it is a big deal. A very big deal. Because when you turn in something with your name on it, you are claiming to have authored those words and, when you haven’t, it is a lie.

In my eyes, The Despicable One is a liar and a cheater. Does he understand that I think of him as a person who steals ideas? That I can’t trust him or anything that he says? Ever? That I would never vouch for him for anything? How could I? He signed a banana-yellow piece of paper promising not to plagiarize, but he did.

I’m worried about this generation. So maybe my tone is annoyance with a side order of panic.

There have to be consequences for this transgression. This is not kindergarten, folks. I teach at the college level. This is where people learn life lessons. And sometimes people have to learn the hard way; after all, you don’t always get a second chance when you screw up.

So I have options.

Put on your thinking caps for a moment and consider this.

If you were me, would you:

a) Allow the aforementioned student to write a new paper with proper citation by a certain date for a maximum grade of D. (If the paper doesn’t come in, or there is evidence of future plagiarism, the student would be failed.)

b) Not allow the student to rewrite the paper. Give him a zero, but allow him to stay in the class with the warning that if this happens again, he will be failed.

c) Tell the student that he has done irreparable damage to the student-teacher relationship and fail him from the course as well as report him to Student Services. (This could impact his entire financial aid package, but he might learn a lesson.)

d) Make him babysit my child every Saturday for free from now until the end of the semester.

e) Ask him what he thinks should happen.

I’m definitely leaning in a particular direction, but I’m open to suggestions.

What would you do if you were in my shoes? Can anyone think of other options?

10/17/2010: ***Note: Read the  interesting, varied and intelligent comments to learn the difficult decision that I had to make, and the thought processes that teachers have to have to consider every day above and beyond our course material!***

Notes For Twits?

Cliffs Notes, originally uploaded by Purple_man.

I stumbled into a local Barnes & Noble yesterday and happened to enjoy watching a small group of high school students studying together. One student had a laptop and was tapping away and the others were reading. It was at that point I realized these students were reading those insipid CliffsNotes. You know the ones: Those skinny little yellow pamphlets designed to help English students better understand literature. For those of you who just landed on the planet, a well-intentioned guy named Cliff Hilegass started the company in his basement with a few Shakespeare titles; the company (no longer owned by Hilgrass) now offers notes on hundreds of titles. Detractors of the guides claim they allow students to bypass reading the assigned literature. The company, of course, claims to promote the reading of the original work, and views its material as a supplement, not as a substitute to the assigned reading.

I can only tell you what I saw: Several high school students sitting in the café sipping expensive coffee drinks not reading the primary text. They did not even actually appear to have the original text with them, and in between reading the CliffsNotes, they alternately texted friends, took phone calls, listened to music on their iPod Touches, and chatted it up with other friends who entered the café area.

Here’s my feeling on this topic. Ick. While these were high school students, I have no doubt that this is a similar process with regard to the way my college students approach reading and, later, writing. These days I feel a little hesitant about praising the work of students whose work I think is interesting or fresh, as I worry I may be positively reinforcing the habit of some students of picking up critical information from an outside source – a practice commonly called plagiarism.

I know that there are a million other sources available to students today besides CliffsNotes. Hell, they can purchase entire papers right off the Internet. Last year, a student actually listed a posting on Craigslist requesting someone to write his final English paper because he just didn’t have the energy to do it. He was willing to pay $150. I believe someone from the Monroe Community College English Department responded to the post and nailed the lazy, little twit. But I do wonder what has happened to personal pride and the hard work ethic. I wonder how many parents actually sit down to discuss cheating with their children. Do students understand that taking someone else’s ideas and presenting them as their own (without giving citation) is actually unethical? Do their parents?

For me, the person who uses CliffsNotes is a type of person who is afraid to think critically. Reading literature gives students practice in making their own connections, drawing their own conclusions, which can be supported by the facts with which they have been presented. I want my students to practice critical thinking so that they recognize that their voices and opinions are vital, and have power, not only inside the classroom but outside the classroom as well. The fact that students would trust a person that they do not even know just because he/she has a few extra letters after his/her name (PhD, M.S., D.D.S., M.D., J.D., etc..) represents another problem we have today; namely, people are too willing to take it from “the experts” before considering things thoroughly themselves. Students who use “Notes” of any form are not only cheating themselves, but they are cheating the world of their ideas. The best students are ones who are willing to take risks, engage in a dialogue about the literature: They are the ones who will be prepared to deal critically and creatively with opposing views, and recognize they need not feel threatened by ideas or beliefs which are different from their own.

I know great students exist. It just seems so dang easy to cut corners these days, like we have made it too easy for students to not do all that hard work that must occur inside their brains long before the pen ever hits the paper, or fingertips ever touch the keypad.

What do you say to your children to encourage them to think independently and express their own ideas, especially if they are struggling with the material?