SIP 13.7 Teaching about Plagiarism and Source Use

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

When talking about plagiarism among students, faculty members often express the idea that they “don’t want to be a cop.” The good news is that you don’t have to. You can head off many plagiarism issues by focusing on teaching students about how to use sources and why to use them that way.

Take a SIP of This: Teaching about Plagiarism and Source Use

Approach plagiarism the same way you do any other complex topic you are teaching about: Identify the behavioral outcomes you want to see, scaffold learning activities so that students have low-stakes opportunities to build their skills, and make sure the methods you are using are consistent with your teaching philosophy.

It is common to assume that the concepts and terminology in our syllabus statements about plagiarism and our University code of conduct are straightforward and easy to understand. We may assume students have already learned these concepts in high school or previous classes. We may consider these things to be common sense. However, the standards for what constitutes plagiarism are vague and not consistent from genre to genre, discipline to discipline, department to department and class to class. In fact, research indicates that students often have a limited understanding of what constitutes plagiarism (Dawson & Overfield, 2006; Marshall & Garry, 2005).

Telling students what not to do assumes that they already understand what they should do. Because many don’t, it is much more effective to deliberately teach students about plagiarism and source use rather than waiting for problems to turn up and then reacting to those. Here are some ideas for teaching about plagiarism:

  1. Especially in lower-division classes, where students may not have had experience using sources in sophisticated ways, talk about how sources get used in your discipline. Give multiple examples of source use and explain what makes that source use appropriate by your discipline’s standards. You could also give an example or two of source use that is not appropriate by your discipline’s standards and discuss them. In reading-heavy courses, you could simply use examples from the readings you are assigning. Using readings from the course as examples, guide students to understand why responsible source use is important to ongoing disciplinary conversations. For example, giving proper credit to other scholars is one way to network in the discipline.
  2. Frame source-use questions as normal parts of the writing-and-learning process. Share a few stories of times you struggled with getting a paraphrase just right or worried that your own source use was a little too close to plagiarism for comfort. Let students know you are happy to discuss source use during office hours. You can also let students know that Writing Center consultants are well-versed in source use and can help them.
  3. Consider scaffolding source-use activities and lessons throughout the semester. Perhaps talk about what responsible source use is at the beginning of the semester, offer some practice summarizing sources a few weeks later, offer some practice paraphrasing sources a few weeks after that, etc.
  4. Create class activities or online activities that allow students to talk about different examples of source use and whether or not they constitute plagiarism. Some good examples are here. While these examples assume face-to-face class experiences, they can be modified for an online environment using discussion boards or Teams channels. You might ask students to plagiarize something and post it to the discussion board. Then have their classmates explain why it is plagiarism.
  5. Reflect on how you typically empower students to be curious and ask questions about other concepts you cover in your courses. How can you use similar methods to engender curiosity about source use?
  6. Give students low-stakes opportunities to practice using sources and give them plenty of feedback before expecting them to do it really well.

 Still thirsty? Take a SIP of this:

  • Learn about Unicheck, the new originality checker built into Canvas, here.
  • Keep your eyes open for a future SIP, which will address ways to help students understand the formatting conventions associated with source citation.
  • Review SIP 4.13 on creating a culture of academic integrity.
  • Find the University’s definitions of terms related to source use here.

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