I remember being seven years old and dancing around with all the other uncoordinated students in music class. Our teacher had put a disk in her CD player and told us to dance as the track played. As I made my trip through the crowded space, my eyes fell on the most beautiful candy cane I had ever seen. There were a bunch of them, just sitting so delicately in a cup on her desk, and before I knew it, I found myself inching closer to the red and white peppermint sticks. I waited until the teacher turned her head, and then I carefully slipped one candy cane out of her jar and into the pocket of my uniform khaki pants. Even though I returned it only thirty seconds later, it didn’t change the fact that I had stolen from my music teacher, and it didn’t change the fact that she confronted me after class. Now, this may not seem like a big deal—I was a child, and it was a candy cane. I wasn’t suspended or fined. The worst punishment I received was the humiliation of knowing I had been caught. Though college teachers across America do not have to handle their Christmas treats being snatched by little hands, they are dealing with a much more serious, and much harder to punish, form of stealing: plagiarism.
Despite the instances of students being expelled over plagiarism, others still find a way, often through a form of technology. So, professors have to learn the correct way to deal with it. Some colleges make the mistake of not doing enough, while others may take it too far. There has to be a balance, a middle ground. And that is what I am proposing, something I like to call the ‘calm before the storm’ method.
I believe in a second chance. I believe in grace because we are human, and because humans make mistakes. That is ‘the calm’. ‘The calm’ is for first offenders that made the error of thinking they could get away with claiming someone else’s work. My method for dealing with them is to change their behavior. Upon discovery that the student has been taking credit for unoriginal work, the teacher should award him a zero and report him to the administration. The Board will then suspend the student for an allotted amount of time. Also, if he plagiarized from the internet, he will be required to only use hardcopy sources for future papers.
Next, is “the storm.” The storm is for second offenders who have not changed their behavior. When it is revealed that the student has continued to take credit for another’s work, he will be expelled from the college campus, receive a zero for the class in which he plagiarized, and ‘incompletes’ for all other classes he was taking at the institute.
Now that there are rules, schools have the much harder and much more complicated task of enforcing the rules. The first step I would take as a college is to require all my students, regardless of their intended major, to sit through a one-week course on how to properly use citations, the importance of citing their sources, and the consequences they will face should they ever attempt to plagiarize. This is the first line of defense, creating an atmosphere where students realize that plagiarism is a serious thing, and it will be treated accordingly. This class gives everyone the equal opportunity to choose to be honorable in their work. However, this does not settle the problem of students who know the rules, and are determined to find a way around them. That is much more difficult.
The Board of Education can’t require teachers not to assign essays, and it is nearly impossible to ban all electronic sources. So, how do they know for sure that a paper is original work? For one, there are multiple internet websites (like plagiarismchecker.com) designed for a professor to enter any phrases in an essay, and the engine immediately searches all published electronic books and articles to see if there are overlaps in the wording.
While this method covers all verbatim replicas of published material, there is the problem of paraphrasing, which still requires a citation. The first step is to require a bibliography page. All teachers do this, and it takes care of a large majority of students who would plagiarize by making them have to submit something as a reference page. Also, what I would do is provide incentive for students to cite as many sources as they can. I would give more grade points the more sources one cited. After all, the more sources someone has, the more work put into that essay. This system would make the benefit of citing all their sources greater that the benefit of copying and pasting. Though there are multiple ways to prevent, catch, and punish plagiarism, it will always be a complication. However, just educating people on the severity of this form of stealing can make its activity greatly diminish. Because while inserting a few lines from an article here and there may not seem like a front-line issue, taking someone’s life’s work is a much bigger deal, and a much greater crime, than a stolen candy cane.
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