The Didactic Pirate is a blog written by a friend of mine from grad school who teaches English at a state university in Southern California (I wouldn’t be so vague except I think he wants to keep his identity somewhat obscure). In this hilarious post, he shares a somewhat facetious perspective on how college instructors experience their students’ plagiarism:
I say “somewhat facetious” because the reality is, for many of us instructors, we get totally ticked when our students plagiarize. We take it personally because we abhor plagiarism, and many of us have worked hard to prevent it! So when a student does it, we’re ready to declare war.
My own philosophy about plagiarism is based on the “teachable moment.” I do what I can to teach students what it is and how to prevent it, and if they slip up, it’s a teachable moment and I re-teach how and why not to do it. This doesn’t mean there are not consequences; it does mean that I believe that my students can learn from their mistakes. (If there is anything that PLA has taught me, it’s that learning from our mistakes is often the best kind of learning we have available to us!)
[An aside as I see an opportunity for a teachable moment right here: The word “plagiarism” comes from the same root word that means “kidnapping.” When you borrow someone else’s words or ideas and you don’t attribute them to the author, you are, in effect, kidnapping them — taking them as your own. And that’s not ok because it is academically dishonest. Period.]
But if it happens again, I find myself like the teacher in the Bargaining stage that the Pirate describes: totally unwilling to discuss alternatives. I also usually get my feelings hurt. I have invested a lot of my time and effort in teaching why and how not to plagiarize, and my best teaching energies were dismissed and blown off. Why? Who knows – there are often myriad reasons, including deadline pressure, pressure for a good grade, continued ignorance, or, in many cases I believe, arrogance and disrespect for others.
I will say, though, that there are LOTS of great resources for students who genuinely do respect others’ ideas and who want to make sure they don’t inadvertently plagiarize. Here are a few:
- Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) : Avoiding Plagiarism
- Plagiarism.Org: Educational Tips
- Diana Hacker: Research and Documentation online
As for the rest of you who do it on purpose and think you will get away with it, I’m with the Pirate: Walk the plank! Oh – and good luck with those sharks; they’re usually not as interested in teachable moments as I am. In fact, they’ll swallow you up whole.