Friday, November 12, 2010

Greenville Tech: Plagiarism and Assignment Design

Addressing Plagiarism: Premise 1 -- Design Assignments That Allow Work to be Seen and Collected in Increments

The argument put forth in this workshop is that visibility makes plagiarism hard to do. And more importantly, the things you can do to make writing visible and collectable in drafts and increments--including keeping a research portfolio--are crucial and necessary writing skills. Consider just these two quotes on their effectiveness:
The only protection as a historian is to institute a process of research and writing that minimizes the possibility of error. And that I have tried to do, aided by modern technology, which enables me, having long since moved beyond longhand, to use a computer for both organizing and taking notes. I now rely on a scanner, which reproduces the passages I want to cite, and then I keep my own comments on those books in a separate file so that I will never confuse the two again. But the real miracle occurred when my college-age son taught me how to use the mysterious footnote key on the computer, which makes it possible to insert the citations directly into the text while the sources are still in front of me, instead of shuffling through hundreds of folders four or five years down the line, trying desperately to remember from where I derived a particular statistic or quote. Still, there is no guarantee against error. Should one occur, all I can do, as I did 14 years ago, is to correct it as soon as I possibly can, for my own sake and the sake of history. In the end, I am still the same fallible person I was before I made the transition to the computer, and the process of building a lengthy work of history remains a complicated but honorable task. 
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Time Magazine, January 27, 2002.

Finally, offering the students an off-line alternative makes their consent absolutely clear. For instance, as an alternative, the student could be required to turn in a photocopy of the first page of all reference sources used, an annotated bibliography, and a one page paper reflecting on their research methodology. Such an option would be unlikely to be chosen by any students, but if they did choose it, the chances of plagiarism would also be vanishingly thin
Paul Wedlake Director of Sales
iParadigms, LLC., developers of
Last paragraph from's "standard statement regarding the Copyright Issue."

Addressing Plagiarism: Premise 2 -- Design Assignments that are Interesting to Read and Where the Papers that Result Cannot be Reused the Next Time You Use the Assignment Again.

What does this mean? In essence it's structuring an assignment so that it inherently offers a fresh perspective, one that gets away from being hackneyed. Doing this means you'll always see something different as an instructor, so you're not reading the same old same old same old same old same old same old thing year after year after year after year after year.

Here are some sources for creative assignment ideas to help you think through this:

Professor Plum's 492 Research Paper Assignment

What is Plagiarism?

One of those terms whose definition seems, ironically enough, to be plagiarized from time to time. Or is it plagiarized? Why isn't it?

Cheating is Easy, but let us look and see how it can be made both harder to do, and not worth doing, all in the context of helping students use the Internet and WWW better for the writing and learning they need to do.

Try Googling your assignment. Go to Google or another search engine, and put in keywords from your writing assignment. See what comes up. Do you need to revise the assignment to make it less plagiarable?

Turn Papermills to Your Advantage
Since these sites exist, let students know that you know about them. Use them in your teaching. For example, you can go to
( and find student papers and use them in class for all sorts of reasons: to teach peer review, for editing practice, as imperfect models.

How Student Papers Sometimes Get Written site's a hoot, and it's funny. And it's also a useful teaching tool, worth showing in class if you can do it, or sending students to look at and write about it for a class discussion on doing one's own
work. to "Adventures in Cheating," by Seth Stevenson, a piece that samples term paper mills, and finds --no surprise-- that you get what you pay for (and even that ain't much). I wrote a response to this piece, which again, I find useful for teaching, that began, "Essentially, the free papers stink, and they're recycled. That is, free papermill sites often carry copies of the same papers." Rest of the note is here:

Teach Students How to Make a Bibliography
The Bedford Bibliographer at

Or, show students what research is really about:

Remember That Writing is Social

Teaching Source Evaluation and Research Skills

Before the Internet and World Wide Web information explosion, most teachers did not spend time teaching students to evaluate sources. Research projects sent students to the library, where it was assumed that sources would be valid. So an essential skill was never taught. But now it needs to be taught.

Fortunately, there are several good WWW sites to help teach those skills. All these sites apply criteria drawn from the types of questions librarians ask when deciding whether a book or other print source will be a good resource to have in the library.

The Bedford Research Room: by Mike Palmquist offers tips and advice on evaluating sources, an avoiding plagiarism tutorial and more.
Evaluating Web Resources : by Janet Alexander and Marcia Tate. This site organizes questions to ask about sites by site type -- informational, advertising, and so on.

Evaluating a Site: interactive forms students can complete and then print out and bring in as part of their homework.

Yahooligans' Teaching Internet Literacy: offers both a tutorial for teachers and activities for students.

Teaching Research, Teaching Writing, Teaching Academic Honesty
Naturally, these are all intertwined, especially now, with the Internet and WWW providing a place where teaching, writing, and research all actually converge. But how to talk about it and work it all into the classroom? My own inclination is to work make the issue discussable. Here's how I do that:

Or, try what Mike Edwards at UMass tried:

Let's Plagiarize

And Plagiarize We Did

Reliable Sources
These are examples of reliable WWW sites -- good starting places for students and instructors to use. The main difference between starting here and finding something on Google? -- human editors made careful choices.

  • Research and Documentation Online at offers a comprehensive collection of research resources, including an overview of research starting places organized by subject matter and sorted by source type: book, WWW sites, and databases.

  • The Internet Public Library at provides an excellent, librarian and library science student collection of resources chosen with the same care and attention librarians bring to the sources they put on their shelves.

  • Links Library at collects "several databases of annotated links for a variety of disciplines. These links lead to resources that Bedford/St. Martin's authors and editors and readers have found to be useful in their own teaching and research. "