This semester I was pleased to have only two cases of plagiarism. In one case a student turned in a copy of the sample paper I wrote as an aid to the class. I do include the warning “copying this sample paper would be plagiarism”, but perhaps I need to use a bigger font size next time.
This one tops the previous winner: some years ago a student turned in a paper and was upset when the grade was a zero. When she called, it went something like this:
Student: “I don’t understand why I failed. Wasn’t the paper a good paper?”
Me: “The paper is excellent. Brilliant, even.”
Student: “Then why do I have a zero?!”
Me: ‘Well, you didn’t write it.”
Student: “What…how did you know?”
Me: “Because I wrote it.”
Student: “Oh, sh*t!”
Interestingly enough, I have fewer cases with each passing year. I think this is due to the fact that I am blunt and honest about plagiarism and I regularly give my plagiarism speech. It involves pointing out that the web is a two-edged sword: It makes plagiarism easier (just Google the subject and then copy & paste into the paper). But, it makes plagiarism wicked easy to catch (just type in a line or two and Google serves up the source). I think the most effective part is where I mention that a big F will be dropped upon the plagiarized work (now that is an F-bomb that does some damage). I also try to stress that a paper will get some points even if it is horrific. And, of course, some points are better than no points.
Oddly enough, I have often had students plagiarize who would have easily passed the class even if they had done a horrific job on the paper they decided to plagiarize (by horrific, I mean as low as 30 points out of 100). I don’t quite get that-it just seems too irrational.
Fortunately, most of my students are honest and work hard in the class. That helps make teaching very worthwhile.
Oh, in case you might be wondering, I get the most cases of plagiarism in my ethics courses. The most ironic case was a student who copied a paper on the ethics of plagiarism from a web site.