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English faculty responds to increase of plagiarism

Kara Anderson, Editor

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As the number of reported plagiarism cases continues to rise at CC, English faculty seek to understand and teach students in the digital age.

This year, professors in the English department have seen instances of plagiarism “increase at an alarming rate,” according to Calley Hornbuckle, Ph.D., associate professor of English and first-year writing program coordinator.

Other colleges and universities across the nation have also noticed the problem.

Fifty-five percent of college presidents surveyed claimed that plagiarism in students’ assignments had climbed over the last 10 years; 90 percent of them said they attributed the increase to the Internet, according to a 2011 study by Pew Research Center.

Allan Nail, Ph.D., English education program coordinator and Academic Skills Center director, also thinks the upsurge stems from students’ casual relationship with language because of advances in technology.

“When we’re posting memes and other things, no one cares if we cite it or not. Some do, but for the most part there is no consequence because we’re sharing information with other people,” Nail said.

The average America adult spends 11 hours a day on electronic media, according to a 2014 report by Nielsen, an international media information measurement organization headquartered in New York City.

While students devote their time to reading and writing online, many educators learned to consume and produce information using primarily a print interface, a process that automatically creates separation between the writer’s and the source’s words and ideas.

“I don’t think students realize that where their words come in and where somebody else’s words come in get merged for a reader, unless there’s some kind of signaling,” said Hornbuckle.

As a part of the first-year writing program, all students in ENG 101 and 102 courses, along with some upper-level English and writing classes, are required to sign a statement of academic integrity at the start of the semester. It indicates they will be taught certain aspects of integrating sources, techniques to avoid plagiarism within those courses and ways to find information to help them. This is so they know what to expect and what their responsibilities are once taught properly, according to Hornbuckle.

Violations of academic integrity are handled on a case-by-case basis. The way in which a faculty member addresses plagiarism is at his or her own discretion. So a case might be resolved between the professor and student or reported to the college’s judicial board for a hearing, according to Hornbuckle. The honor code and judicial system are detailed in the student handbook, starting on page 34.

Unintentional plagiarism cases are often learning experiences for students; the student clearly understands and rectifies the situation in some way after being confronted by the faculty person, according to Hornbuckle.

Plagiarism can also result from careless mistakes, such as forgetting to include a works cited page or properly cite their sources in their papers, according to Helen Rapoport, J.D., lecturer of English. For the past seven years, she has been the academic judicial coordinator to whom plagiarism cases are initially reported.

“At the end of the semester, people are in a crunch. They forget, and they could lose out on everything because of the last-minute, stress-induced panic,” Rapoport said.

Many professors in the English department require their classes to use the online program, Turnitin, as a tool to check the grammar and originality of students’ writing.

And as critical readers and teachers, faculty members can also often detect a change in the nuances and voice of students’ writing, which might signal plagiarism, according to Hornbuckle.

The root of the problem with cases that occur because of negligence or blatant disregard for guidelines lies in students not realizing the importance of intellectual property, according to Hornbuckle.

Emphasizing that others’ words and ideas are property, she tries to talk about correctly integrating sources in every class in some way. She assigns in-class writing and aims to create scenarios where students demonstrate their level of understanding. She also tries to generate material that will encourage more questions and conversation among students.

Most importantly, Hornbuckle tries to make the work meaningful for students.

“We read our students’ writing. We too are heavily invested in what they have to say because we want them to have something to say and say it well, and say it in a way that they can be proud,” Hornbuckle said.

Nail believes the solution is not to simply penalize students who plagiarize, but to invite everyone into a dialogue about the issue.

“I think there’s as much value in being able to skillfully integrate other peoples’ ideas into an overview of something as it is to come up with your own brilliant idea. I think, in fact, you come up with those brilliant ideas because you have integrated the thoughts of others,” Nail said.

 

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English faculty responds to increase of plagiarism