Understanding Plagiarism

This post is in response to the following article, “When Plagiarism is a Plea for Help”.  The article can be found at the following link: http://chronicle.com/article/When-Plagiarism-Is-a-Plea-for/235884.

Before continuing, this article does have a powerful message, however, before continuing to the link I provided please note that the article can be upsetting to read.  The author of this article, Helen Rubinstein, describes the course she teaches as writing intensive.  She highlights a resonating problem of plagiarism in undergraduate writing.  Her article deals with a student who she refers to as “Susan”.  Susan who after being caught plagiarizing on a rough draft of a class writing assignment, continued to use plagiarism on her final submission.  After consulting with faculty regarding the issue, the majority insisted she report the student, while a few others instead suggested she consult with the student individually to determine why the student decided to risk her academic success by submitting work that isn’t hers.  At the time, Helen tended to agree with the majority’s belief that plagiarism is still cheating and should not be tolerated.  Given this, she assigned the student an F for the assignment and emailed her letting her know she’d be reported for plagiarism.

Before the author was able to report the student, she received an email from the university informing her that student had died.  Helen’s first reaction was shock, which was then followed by guilt.  She couldn’t help but think that her email to Susan alerting her to her failing grade and submission to the university for cheating may have pushed Susan over the edge.  However, after reflecting on the issue, Helen came to the concluded that although nothing could be done to remove her guilt for the girl’s death, in the future she would deal with students more patience and understanding.  She suggests that students cheat, not because they are irresponsible, but rather they have little self-motivation and need someone to encourage them.

The authors conclusion couldn’t be more true.  If I place myself in the shoes of the students that cheat, it seems reasonable to quickly assume they don’t care, but after logically considering the problem, its also possible that student’s are afraid they can’t succeed on their own.  Cheating could be viewed as an indication that students have given up, where someone like Helen could turn their lives around through compassion and understanding of the fears that many students face as they pass through their academic careers.

One thought on “Understanding Plagiarism”

  1. That’s a great observation. Sometimes, students are going through a bad patch and would need to turn in an assignment for which they didn’t have an adequate time to work on. They resort to taking something close to what they were thinking about. However, it’s not the problem of the Professor that the student died. As you rightly pointed out, understanding the problem is a good way towards solving it.

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