Plagiarism has been on my mind a lot recently. As I grade, I find that most of my students are plagiarizing, and they don’t even realize they are doing it. Quoting the source isn’t the problem. The problem comes in with paraphrasing, which is hardly discussed in these articles, especially in “Cultural Constructions of Plagiarism in Student Writing” which discusses Chinese teachers’ concepts of plagiarism. All the professors related plagiarism to direct quoting, but they neglected to address the type of plagiarism that occurs when students read an article online (and by “an article,” we all know they’re really reading Wikipedia) and reword what is being said without citing the source. While not stealing the words, the students are stealing the ideas, which is a form of plagiarism, a concept the students (and apparently the majority of these professors writing about student plagiarism) aren’t really acknowledging. Luckily, I am able to know, for the most part, when this is happening in my classes. A student who said they never read a comic before who suddenly becomes an expert on the backstory of Harley Quinn probably had to look it up.
From these articles, I feel like defining plagiarism becomes difficult, and reliant on intention. The WPA definition, for me, is really wonderful because it includes room for plagiarism beyond direct quoting: “Definition: In an instructional setting, plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) material without acknowledging its sources” (“Defining” 1). Including definitions like this on the syllabus would be helpful, but I feel like definitions without examples causes problems. When I first introduced integrating sources, part of the lesson was the three major ways to do so: summary, paraphrasing, or direct quoting. Part of the lesson was giving the source the proper citation. I found that students understood the concept with scholarly sources, citing paraphrasing of articles, but failing to cite online or quickly googled ideas. Granted, the lesson was not directly about paraphrasing. However, I wonder if using a similar exercise when discussing plagiarism initially would have been beneficial. In “Toward a Rational Response to Plagiarism,” Rob Jenkins discusses the importance open dialogues about plagiarism with the students, and I wonder if part of that open dialogue could include explicit examples that coincide with the definition.
Further, I like Jenkins idea of “making plagiarism difficult.” He suggests in-class writing assignments, but he quickly points out that he finds in-class writing problematic, using drafts instead. Taking it a step further, the initial discussion of the papers could include an in-class brainstorming session where the students are forced to pick their texts and begin drafting observations, with the ultimate goal of finding an argument to make in their paper. I suggest this over just drafts for one main reason: my roommate was recently telling me of a friend who would pay someone to write their paper before the initial draft was due and create a really crappy version of it to turn in for a draft. While brainstorming might not completely get rid of plagiarism, it might be a step in some direction.
I guess, my ultimate questions are: can we expand the definition of plagiarism to be more descriptive for students who aren’t from the Western culture to fully grasp the concept? Is there a way to standardized the process of “punishing” plagiarism without biases? Or, is a bias an integral part of dealing with plagiarism because it allows professors to be more lenient, understanding, and willing to accept second chances?