Education Can be Gained from Errors: Why Plagiarism Should Be Used as a Learning Opportunity for College Students

Education Can be Gained from Errors: Why Plagiarism Should Be Used as a Learning Opportunity for College Students

Erin L. Tabor (North Arkansas College, USA)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4249-2.ch043
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Plagiarism seems like a straightforward term that in institutions of higher education identifies an act of stealing ideas, usually in an assigned paper, without citing the author, and this type of incident usually results in the student who committed the infraction receiving a warning or a failing grade, and on the second infraction, the student usually receives a harsher form of punishment such as being dropped from the course or the incident is reported to the administration. These are the general positions that are described in many university policies. However, plagiarism can also be an accidental act on the part of a student because he or she has not learned how to properly cite a source yet and may not understand the importance of citing all information in a paper. For this reason, college students should not be immediately punished for something that may have been unintentional. Instead, when an infraction takes place, faculty members in higher education should facilitate understanding in students about citations so that incidences of plagiarism might decrease.
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Plagiarism is generally considered to be a term that means that a person has stolen ideas from someone else and claimed those ideas as his or her own, through including them in a paper without proper citation. However, in order to determine whether a student has plagiarized, an assigned paper is usually scrutinized by the instructor or through detection software such as to search for information that was included without proper citation. The issue with this type of detective work in order to uncover occurrences of plagiarism is that the educator takes as an assumption that the student knows and understands the academic views on citation and that the student knows how to use the ideas of others in a critical argument; when in actuality, many college students, when entering their first basic composition course, do not have the basic writing skills needed in order to effectively produce a complete and accurate college level essay yet, let alone understand voice, audience, and citation rules. Micheal, Dickson, Ryan, and Koefer discussed that in separate studies conducted in California and Pennsylvania, instructors in higher education indicated concerns with the significant amount of students who were not prepared for college level work. Among other issues, the faculty members felt that students coming into higher education lacked comprehension, writing, and analysis skills (2010).

If students are entering college with a lack of education in writing skills, then a policy that lists punishments is not going to be effective in facilitating the accumulation of knowledge that students need in order to increase their writing abilities. Dee and Jacob (2012) carried out a study that involved giving students a tutorial on plagiarism before they completed a writing assignment. After the study was over, the researchers surveyed the students to assess their attitude and knowledge about plagiarism. The student responses showed that their knowledge about plagiarism increased as a result of the tutorial, but that their perception about detection by their professors had not changed. The researchers discussed that “students do not understand plagiarism or ethical writing strategies particularly well and that this equilibrium can persist because college instructors often view policing plagiarism and teaching students about it as outside their responsibilities” (2012, p. 427). If students are entering higher education institutions without adequate preparation, then faculty members need to be working to help students succeed, and this includes considering each student’s position with regard to the understanding of writing skills and citations before drawing attention to the academic integrity policy.

Conversely, students may be struggling with writing in post-secondary environments because they feel intimidated after transitioning from high school. According to Power, Students may have trouble with higher education because they are exposed to new ideas that shake their long-held beliefs, and they are newly placed in a classroom that is taught by a faculty member who is highly knowledgeable in that particular subject area. On top of this, the students are required to turn in papers that include a blend of personal voice, which may be a new concept to them, and the possibly gray area of borrowed intellectual property. Because professors in a student’s chosen subject area have more of an influence on a future career than any high school teachers previously did, the student may feel intimidated about approaching the professor about misunderstandings or confusion on citing sources. Students may also have an unrealistic fear of plagiarizing because of these factors, and not because of personal morals (2009). For these reasons, students should be allowed to be learners before they are given the label of plagiarist when an infraction is discovered.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Unintentional Plagiarism: Also called accidental plagiarism. This refers to an instance in which it appears that a piece of work has been plagiarized when in fact the person who wrote the piece of work did not intentionally set out to commit an infraction. This could occur because the writer did not understand that everything that comes from an outside source must be cited, that paraphrases must be rewritten in the writer’s own words, or did not understand the concept of common knowledge and thought a piece did not need to be cited, or thought that what was cited was sufficient when more information about the original author needed to be included.

Plagiarism: The term comes from a Latin root word for the kidnapping of ideas. This is an effective definition for plagiarism because some may not consider that ideas can be stolen. The crime of plagiarism occurs when someone, be it an academic or a learner, steals an idea or piece of information from a source and then uses it in his or her own work without citing the original author.

Paraphrasing: This seems like a straightforward concept, but paraphrasing thwarts many students because they believe that paraphrasing only requires copying information and using a thesaurus to change the major words. To paraphrase properly without plagiarizing however, the passage must be written in the student’s own words and writing style, and the source must still be cited. Paraphrasing is an essential part of writing a good paper, but it must be done correctly in order to be effective and so that the student is not charged with plagiarism.

Common Knowledge: When students use information from sources in their papers, they are required to cite them, unless the information is considered to be common knowledge. Common knowledge is a set of facts that are assumed to be known by everyone. The issue is that everyone has a different background and a different amount of knowledge, so what a student considers to be common knowledge might be something that a professor does not, possibly causing an accusation of plagiarism to occur.

Field Knowledge: This term is similar to common knowledge but relates directly to a specific area of study. When a student studies all of the theories within a certain major, he or she begins to acquire an extensive knowledge of that field, and when that knowledge is used in a paper without citations, it might look like plagiarism.

Patch-Writing: This term was invented by Rebecca Moore Howard, and is the concept that students should be able to pull passages from different sources and put them together to learn about new ideas. Some faculty members would consider this to be plagiarism and others would consider this to be an integral part of the learning process. These differing views could cause students to be accused of plagiarism in one class for doing something that they were encouraged to do in another class.

Policies: In this case, policies refer to the sections of university handbooks and course syllabi that discuss what academic integrity is, what constitutes cheating, and what punishments will be carried out for various levels of infractions. Sometimes these policies have to be signed by students to show that they understand and will abide by them. Sometimes these policies are called honor codes, which students must sign to show that they will have integrity in their college classes and will not cheat.

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