As a high school English teacher, I have to spend a significant amount of time teaching my students about academic integrity and how to avoid plagiarism.
This school year, teaching these skills became all the more important because my students learned to rely heavily on the internet while they were on distance learning. Because of this, I spent a big chunk of time at the beginning of the year teaching them things like how to cite sources, how to paraphrase, and how to understand programs like Turnitin, an online tool designed to detect plagiarism.
Still, I found myself facing an onslaught of papers that were copied from the internet, were from former students, or paraphrased websites. To address this issue, I emailed home, issued detentions, and changed classroom policies. But it seemed like the more I lectured about academic integrity, the more my students tuned me out. Despite these problems, I found that most students simply misunderstood how to cite sources and/or how to properly paraphrase something they had read.
A New Approach
It was then that I realized that I was simply fighting with students and parents, and I wasn’t addressing the problem, and I decided to change my approach by creating an online course about plagiarism. This course was designed to remind students of the ideas and concepts they learned about in class.
I enroll my students in the 45-minute course if they are caught with any academic integrity violations. I do not grade any classroom assignments until the assignments in this class are completed—a major incentive for the student to get the assignments done.
To get ideas for the course, it was important for me to have a frank and honest conversation with my students. I told them about my frustrations and how I needed their help in understanding why plagiarism was such an issue in my class.
After I set the tone for the conversation, I asked them questions designed to get to the bottom of what confused them most about academic honesty. One of my main goals was to see if they understood why plagiarism was such a big problem. I also wanted to find out what led them to make mistakes in this area. Were they just looking for a shortcut, or were they simply confused about how to properly cite sources?
Designing the Course
Based on the answers to these questions, I structured the course and tailored the assignments to fit the needs of my students. Assignments focused on defining academic integrity, how to avoid plagiarism, and the problems with paraphrasing websites. The course also covered how to rebuild trust with me and how to move forward.
The assignments can be adapted or modified to fit the needs of an individual student and class. The assignments I created asked for the following:
- Students will take Cornell notes on videos and articles that teach about specific academic integrity violations.
- Students will go to a popular paraphrasing website and put in a sample paragraph. Students are then instructed to compare and contrast the original paragraph with the paraphrased one. They are asked to examine things like grammar, spelling, content, and sentence structure.
- Students will turn in a piece of writing to the Turnitin website. Once their score is generated, students are then taught through pictures and videos how to interpret the website’s findings.
- Students will go to OWL Purdue and learn how to properly cite sources. Students then have to practice this skill using a set of resources given to them.
- Students will learn how to write a professional email and then practice writing one to their teacher asking the teacher for help on a particular subject or skill.
- Students will read a variety of well-known plagiarism cases and answer questions at the end of the article.
- Students will take a deep dive into the school’s academic integrity policies and answer questions at the end to check for understanding.
- Students will read and sign an academic pledge. Moving forward, this pledge will act as a sort of contract between the student and the teacher.
While students don’t like having to do extra work, this course helps them to finally understand that there are genuine consequences to their actions. When the course first launched, I overheard one of my students remarking to his group of friends that because he had more work to complete, cheating “isn’t worth it anymore.”
Another benefit to going through the class is that excuses like “I didn’t know” or “I was too scared to ask” are no longer valid. Students are given the opportunity to relearn the material and clear up any misconceptions that they may have. They are also taught what to do if they are too intimidated to go up to the teacher and directly ask for help.
While I am constantly making improvements to my class, I have not had any academic integrity issues with any of the students who have gone through the course. In fact, I have had an influx of students coming up to me and directly asking for help. While they are primarily asking me for feedback on their writing, they are also asking me questions related to the plagiarism course.
I have learned through this process that most students have genuine misunderstandings about academic integrity, and this course is a perfect opportunity to address them. While consequences like a zero are sometimes necessary, I have learned that by giving students the benefit of the doubt, I am allowing them to be successful and hopefully avoid a bigger problem in the future.