Academic Dishonesty

Dan wrote a good post on Academic Dishonesty a while back. Mine doesn’t address the administrative side at all so I’d recommend reading his for that.

My planned post for this week is delayed because this distracted me:

Yesterday I began grading my first big writing assignment of the year. I got about 20 papers in and hit one that was completely plagiarized. This student blatantly copied an article she found online. Entire sentences were pasted verbatim, and the most changes she made were to substitute a couple words (ex. replacing “positive” with “good”) and swap the order of a few words.

I was shocked, because I had a whole lesson dedicated to plagiarism, and I made an entire page about it on the class website. On the assignment instructions, it explicitly says that students need to write only their own words. In this assignment, they are not supposed to research or quote anything. (Because I don’t have time to teach about using good sources or doing citations properly, my writing class is purely about things they do not need to research or cite.)

In class, I showed students an example of an online plagiarism checker, as well as what plagiarism looks like to teachers (sudden shifts in style are obvious to us). And yet she thought this was an okay thing to do.

The usual excuses don’t add up: being pressed for time, not being able to do the assignment, or not taking the class seriously. My school is specialized and this is the special subject. Students really need to develop their English writing skills and they know it. Time was more than enough and the difficultly level was appropriate.

The day before, I had been looking for good plagiarism checkers online and found an uncountable number of businesses based on writing academic essays for students. When I added “ethics” or “academic dishonesty” to the search I found offers to pay for papers about ethics and academic dishonesty. I guess the irony was lost on them.

I was literally baffled by it, just as I was baffled by my student. What is the purpose of school if not to learn? Do they not consider why teachers would assign essays in the first place? And how, in any way, is this an ethical thing? Perhaps it might get an assignment done on time and have a passing grade, but at what cost? Who is really being served by this?

Shooting yourself in the foot may be the fastest way to untie your shoes, but you’ll be limping in the long run.

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Jay teaches English in Asia and loves skepticism and teaching above all else.


  1. April 14, 2016 at 4:18 pm —

    I just had a very similar case. I recently started a new job and “inherited” a bunch of class tests from my predecessor. Now, there was no chance of plagiarism in the class test, that’s why the 9th grade written assignments were all crap. Most people didn’t get half the possible points, so I decided to do a remedial summary writing course: Revision of the “how to”, two non-graded but corrected assignments and then next Monday a graded one, due on Wednesday, so they can even check spelling and grammar at home (not that they’ll do).

    The first text was the children’s book “The Gruffalo”. After I’d collected their assignments I handed out a “model summary” of the text, adapted from Wikipedia (with attribution, of course). One kid turned red as a beet. She’d simply copied the very entry from the web.

    First of all: why did she think she’d be getting away with this? They are a 9th grade EFL class and not a strong one. Even one copied sentence would stand out like an elephant trying to hide in a flock of sheep. Does she think me stupid?

    Second: Who did she think she was cheating? It was an ungraded assignment. She didn’t save time and she simply cheated herself out of the opportunity to get some feedback. Now all the others have two texts they can work with but she has only one….

    • September 18, 2016 at 12:37 am —

      To piggyback on your first rhetorical question, I wonder, why do students think I won’t notice when they plagiarize me? I write examples for them for each assignment, and recently several students have copied what I wrote in their own. Despite my repeated warnings, they still think they can get away with it, yet it is the easiest kind for me to find and prove.

      (I apologize for not replying sooner. I back-burnered replying to SoD comments because of my schedule, then remained busy for months.)

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