Exploring Teachers' Attitudes towards Plagiarism
Academic dishonesty has, unfortunately, become a part of school reality. Students are not capable of getting high grades and they plagiarize and cheat instead of exerting more effort. It is really easy for them to get the information from online sources as everyone has a wireless device and a smartphone. The students often ask ‘How do teachers know if you plagiarize?’ because they want to invent new techniques of cheating. Can a teacher actually control such cases? Is it important to discover every instance of plagiarizing?
We decided that it is vital to get to know what real teachers think about the practice of plagiarizing and the measures taken by academic institutions to combat cheating. Our survey united the teachers from different countries and it was interesting to see the difference in their attitudes. So, we asked some questions to Ranza, a high school English/Drama teacher from Oakville, Canada; Jennifer Ruilova, an English/History coordinator and teacher from Unidad Educativa Particular Alborada in Cuenca, Ecuador; Rawad Nassif, an online marketing trainer from Kassel, Germany; and Justen Manasa, a PhD senior lecturer on Virology and Molecular Diagnostics from the University of Zimbabwe in Harare, Zimbabwe. The backgrounds of the teachers are absolutely different, but the virus of plagiarism has penetrated all spheres and all levels of education, so we were trying to get answer to the question “how do professors check for plagiarism?” and “how do teachers check for plagiarism?” to analyze the attitude to this kind of offence in Africa, Europe, Canada, and South America.
What is the attitude towards plagiarism in your educational establishment? Is every assignment checked for originality? How?
We were interested in the scope of checking for plagiarism and tolerance for plagiarism in the selected schools. A Canadian teacher referred to zero tolerance and mentioned that every teacher checks the students’ assignments individually, but most of them do checks only if they are suspicious of a particular paper. There are no standard universal tools of plagiarism detection and teachers make their own choice in selecting them. Ranza prefers to copy-paste sections of the students’ papers into PlagiarismSearch and other similar plagiarism search engines. She believes that it is not logistically possible to undergo detection of plagiarism in every assignment.
Ecuador schools do not place much emphasis on originality of papers in all subjects. Jennifer teaches History and English, and she personally believes that it is important to detect plagiarism in students’ assignments, but she does not use any special software. The only thing she does is copying the parts of written texts online to check for possible matches.
A teacher from Germany says about no tolerating plagiarism and no standard rules at the same time. Schools rely on free tools, like PlagiarismSearch, and they use them only if a teacher is triggered by suspicion.
Addressing the question on ‘how should educators deal with plagiarism?,’ a teacher from Zimbabwe tells that their university considers plagiarism academic fraud as an important problem and there are serious consequences for that. This is properly articulated in the ordinances of the students. All final year theses for honors, masters and doctoral degrees are checked for plagiarism, but common papers are checked on a selective basis.
Are teachers required to report cheating? Is there a punishment for academic dishonesty?
Ranza from Canada says that teachers are worried about the questions ‘how do teachers detect plagiarism?’ and “how can they prevent further problems?’ She says that teachers can and should report cheating to the students’ parents and sometimes the administration staff is involved. In most cases, the students who are caught with plagiarism are often those who are being monitored for behavioral, attendance, academic and other reasons. According to the rules, the punishment is supposed to be a zero on the assignment, but the students are invariably given a second chance to submit original work without any penalty. It is the responsibility of a particular educator to decide on the penalties for the student on the second "original" assignment. The teachers are also encouraged to get to the bottom of "why" a student would have chosen to plagiarize and analyze the strategies of how to teach students not to plagiarize.
Jennifer refers to sanctions in Ecuador schools for cheating in exams and homework assignments in which students get 1/10 in the task. Still, the only punishment for cheating in essays or written works is deduction of points.
In Germany, a student is required to redo the work if exposed.
Teachers in Zimbabwe are required to report cheating and the students get disqualified from the exam. They only sit for that same exam the next time it is offered. For those who cheat in assignments, teachers do not grade their papers and that negatively impacts their continuous assessment. However, the punishment is usually given on a case-by-case basis.
What is your personal opinion about students who plagiarize?
Ranza from Canada believes that the reason for plagiarism is the student’s laziness. If a student procrastinates and needs to produce work with little time left, they will often plagiarize under pressure. She refers to one particular case of a formally identified mental deficit in a student, who plagiarized in an attempt to complete work that he simply could not grasp despite repeated attempts to coach him through the process with various supports being in place. However, that is an exception, not a common rule.
Jennifer from Ecuador believes that the education that students receive from their parents within their homes says a lot about what they will do outside their homes. It is important to analyze all factors if the student plagiarizes in studies. However, this case results in little doubt in this student who will never be seen with the same eyes. She thinks that the saddest thing about plagiarism is that trust is lost and it is very difficult to recover it.
Rawad from Germany demonstrates tolerance to the students from different backgrounds and countries as some of them even do not know what plagiarism is, while Justen from Zimbabwe is more severe in her attitude. She believes that students who plagiarize should be considered as those who are committing academic fraud. She anticipates that these students will most likely do a lot of shortcuts in their professional and personal lives as the culture of cheating does not end in college and university. She emphasizes the idea that universities should put a lot of effort to stop such aberrant behaviors as the cheaters in studies will most likely going to be drivers of corruption and other unprofessional behaviors.
What is the most obvious sign of academic dishonesty? What tricks do you use to spot plagiarism?
All teachers are concerned about how to prevent plagiarism and how to spot it at the very beginning; however, their attitudes to this are different.
Ranza believes that if a teacher is in tune with the students, he or she knows about the level of work that they are generally able to produce. Then it becomes clear (if not obvious) when they have submitted work which is not their own. Diction is invariably an indicator of plagiarism, so a teacher knows if the paper is consistent with the ideas this student would generally express. However, at the beginning of the year when the teacher is still learning what a student's "voice" sounds like, it is complicated. Most times, she celebrates if a student has progressed in their writing, while still maintaining some level of realism about the standard of work that each student can produce.
Jennifer from Ecuador is sure that the easiest thing kids do is using the internet and the first source in search results on the topic. So, she just puts parts of the students’ texts in different search engines to try to find matches. Rawad from Germany refers to a record of each of our students. Thus, in 99% of cases, plagiarism is quite evident especially when it appears in the paper of an underperforming student. Justin from Zimbabwe pays special attention to changes in the writing style in a paper as it is typically a sign of copying and pasting sentences. She says that although the language in a properly written essay flows, the paragraphs are disjointed when the students just join sentences from different sources without proper synthesis of information.
What is your attitude towards teachers who take on the role of “cops” when it comes to detecting academic dishonesty? Do you support their position? Why? Why not?
Ranza from Germany does not view himself as a “cop,” but he sees a lot of benefits in enforcing integrity and honesty as life lessons. He does not believe that stealing can be a good practice, while plagiarism is actual stealing. He checks students’ works for plagiarism, but only when he has suspicions. He tries to make assignments harder to plagiarize by making questions based on personal opinion and analysis of the text. Thus, he encourages meta-thinking and, to some extent, circumvents the possibility for plagiarism. As plagiarism is a serious issue, he supports those who would make it a "crusade" to stop it. She tends to focus on a more nurturing role as a teacher and mother and tries to assume the best of her students, making a policing role not really synchronous with her teaching style. She does not belong to that group, but she understands the importance of the "fight" and looking for new ways to prevent plagiarism.
Jennifer Ruilova, Equador: “Good heavens! Another tricky question! I believe that we were all raised in different ways and each one has their own well-defined morals and values. Professors who are extremely demanding with academic honesty must have their reasons, but they must also analyze all the students' cases before judging them totally. For my part, I think it is important to make students understand that when they copy or plagiarize something they harm themselves and not the teachers.”
Rawad Nassif says that German teachers are asked not to act as cops for the simple reason that a positive teacher-student relationship is important. Courses run for a year and hence any shake-up in the relation has drastic repercussions on the learning experience.
A PhD lecturer Justen Manasa from Zimbabwe supports the position of ‘cops’ teachers as this forces students to learn to be honest in their studies as well as later in life. He believes that such teachers should be provided with tools to enable them to do their work. In addition, the students should be able to check their works and guard against unintentional plagiarism. All this should be guided by clear regulations and polices that are documented and are available to both students and staff. Furthermore, writing classes should always be given to student at various levels of their academic journey. If this is done properly, most of the plagiarism detected would not be alt-right cases of cheating, but writing mistakes which should be taken as teaching opportunities instead of opportunities to punish students. This does not in any way undermine the fact that some students willfully commit academic fraud. If they are caught, they should be punished to the fullest extent of the University regulations.
Overall, the teachers from four countries of the world with absolutely different backgrounds share the idea that plagiarism cannot be left as it is in high schools, colleges, and universities. They analyze possible steps to be taken and try to get the answers to the question ‘How can students prevent committing plagiarism?’, ‘How can schools fight cheating?’, and ‘How every teacher can contribute to combatting academic dishonesty? It is a matter of crucial importance to refer the real-life issues to actual teachers who deal with actual problems daily, not to those who just form the theoretical basis for fighting plagiarism.