Saturday, September 22, 2012

Turning Plagiarism into a Learning Experience

After reading the article by Karon (2012), A Positive Solution for Plagiarism, I began thinking about how I can turn incidents of plagiarism into a learning experience for the students involved. Karon suggests that the first paper students write in lower level writing courses should be about plagiarism. This is based on the assumption that in many cases students do not understand what constitutes plagiarism. I am not sure this is true, but it begins with a positive approach that we need to teach students what plagiarism is before we can punish them for engaging in it. For the purposes of this discussion I am only using plagiarism to refer to using large portions of text or online materials without citations. And while citations might not be in correct APA style, if the student attributed the work to another, I do not consider that plagiarism. Such students need to learn to APA citation style. On the other hand, using another student’s paper or purchasing a paper is clearly academic dishonesty and does not allow for the student to use the defense that they did not know that what they were doing was wrong. This behavior requires appropriate academic discipline.

But I am not a teacher of writing and most of my students are in upper level courses. So while I can hope that others have taught students not only about plagiarism, but also strategies to avoid it, each year Turnitin finds multiple cases of plagiarism in the papers I review. This occurs even when I tell students what Turnitn will do and I allow them to submit their papers multiple times before the due date so that they can see their own originality reports and correct potential plagiarism.

Historically, the first time a student plagiarizes in my course, I have told them that I will not grade their paper and that they must fix their errors and resubmit the paper. Until they do so, they have earned “0” for the assignment because an “F” indicates they have tried to do the assignment and did it poorly, but such papers do not have extensive plagiarism. But aside from highlighting the plagiarism in Turnitin, I have not taught them how to fix their papers. Does such a student know how to fix their papers? The cynic might say yes, but maybe the student does not understand plagiarism or how to fix it. Many times students say “but I used the textbook”, “I did all the readings” and “I worked hard on this paper”.  They almost never say “What is Plagiarism?”

So maybe I have to be prepared to help students learn what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. I can turn their acts of plagiarism into a learning experience. So based on the suggestion of Karon, I have developed an assignment with resources to help students learn about plagiarism and fix their papers. Using, I put together some web resources on plagiarism and how to avoid it, which can be viewed by all students. I plan to add a link into all my Moodle courses. The Storify page offers students the opportunity to understand plagiarism before they write papers. I have included the plagiarism paper  requirements to for those who need them. I hope that the publication of the additional work may also act as a deterrent. Of course these papers must be submitted through Turnitin.

After reviewing the materials, students who have been found to plagiarize are required to write a 3-5 page paper on plagiarism with relevant references in proper APA style. Each paper must include:

·      a definition of plagiarism,
·      identification of the kinds of plagiarism found in the student paper that was submitted and the means for correcting it
·      discussion of three strategies that could be used to avoid plagiarism in the future.

Since I use Turnitin for grading student papers, I have created a grademark that I can place on plagiarized papers that directs the student to complete the paper on plagiarism and the Storify resources. 

The writing of this paper is no guarantee that the student will be allowed to rewrite the paper, because I want them to understand the gravity of the their behavior and want them to take the written assignment seriously. After this paper is submitted, I will inform students whether they will be allowed to fix their plagiarized paper and resubmit it for review. Not only does this assignment require the student to demonstrate that they understand plagiarism and what portions of their writing are plagiarized, but it also asks them to show that they have some understanding of how to fix the paper. If they are unable to do so, I will refer them to the Learning Enhancement Center for additional work.

What to do about patterns of plagiarism? I indicate to students that a second incident of plagiarism with result in academic review and possible discipline. While writing this paper, I began thinking about students who have multiple episodes in different classes with different faculty. While we might not wish to initiate academic sanctions against a student with one incident, we might want to track events in some way to determine if students have multiple incidents. For example, while I may use Turnitin, others may not so do not know a student is plagiarizing. Or the student tries to plagiarize in every class to see if they can get away with it. Since we do not have faculty meetings to discuss students or their progress, maybe we need to report all instances of plagiarism to department chairs, who can decide if further academic discipline is needed.

I would like to hear how others deal with plagiarism in their classes. Please feel free to use my storify page - What is Plagiarism and How to Avoid It and/or my assignment in your classes. Let me know if you have other links or resources that could be added and shared.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Teaching Purpose Centered Education

Last week I posted to faculty a link to the Audrey Cohen Archive, and mentioned I was developing a lesson plan to include Cohen’s writing in the first day of class.  The formula for a first day of class seems straight forward:  introduce yourself, get to know the students, go over the syllabus and course expectations, perhaps develop class rules collectively, get writing samples from the students, etc.  I rarely get into actual material on that first day, i.e. look at a text (discursive or visual) together with students.  Here’s a copy of the email I sent:
I have begun posting a link on all of my Moodle accounts to the Audrey Cohen Archive, available at the school's library website:  The first day of class seems like an ideal opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) students to Audrey Cohen's concept of "Purpose-Centered Education."  We will look at excerpts of "Audrey Cohen College System of Education:  Purpose-Centered Education," asking students to contextualize her theory into the "real world" of their studies at MCNY.  Particularly with the adaptation of Cohen's methodology to other majors or programs, this can spur a fruitful conversation about how Cohen's vision applies to 21st century learners and education.  As we discuss on an institutional level the future of Purpose-Centered Education, it may be useful to pose these same questions in the classroom.
One professor responded that if “Purpose Seminar professors are not doing this by now, they should not have been teaching this course.”  She is right.  But I was curious to know if, indeed, that was being done in the classroom across the board.
I did an “unofficial” (i.e. verbal) poll the next day in a Common Curriculum course.  There were 19 students from three different majors representing 5 different purposes.  Here are my findings, though obviously this is not a ‘proper’ quantitative study:
  1.  100% of the students knew the founder and the founder’s name, Audrey Cohen.
  2.  100% of the students had heard of “Purpose-Centered Education” and “Constructive Action.”  When I asked “Who can define it?”, not one student raised his or her hand.  This very well may be a case of first day trepidation, but when pushed, the students said they “had a sense of what it was but didn’t know how to define it.”  This led to a discussion about a lack of teaching what these terms mean.  One student said she did not learn about this in orientation; another said as a transfer student, she was not given guidance and didn’t know what a “Constructive Action” was until a particular professor worked with her personally. 
  3. I asked students if they think their classes are integrated, and there was general disagreement on this issue.  Some agreed, others diddn't.  They understood in principle that their dimensions are supposed to tie into their Constructive Actions, but they said it didn’t always work that way, especially when courses are taken out of sequence.
  4. I asked students if they thought their assignments in class had “meaning” or “purpose,” and 100% of them said yes.  This may suggest that Purpose can come in different forms, as this (#4) in a “strict” adherence to the Cohen Model could not exist without #3.
  5. Though 100% of the students had heard of Audrey Cohen, only two out of 19 had read her writing.
With this unofficial data in my pocket, the next day I decided to bring Cohen into the classroom for a first semester course in the American Urban Studies Program  entitled “Self Assessment through Writing and Technology.”  After general introductions, I passed out a copy of Cohen’s article, “Audrey Cohen College System of Education: Purpose-Centered Education.”  I had students read it, making note of passages that stood out to them.  We then did close textual readings of a few passages, and discussed how Cohen’s model of education was different from a traditional model of education.  We looked at the charts in the text (pages 31 & 32) that demonstrate traditional education and how “knowledge is isolated in separate compartments” and then how that model is transformed when that knowledge is geared towards a “purpose.”  I mapped the main terms on the board:  Purpose-Centered Education, Constructive Action, Dimensions, Plan of Action, and then used the reading to fill those out, as well as to lead into a discussion of the course material.  I returned to the mapping of the terms throughout the introduction to the course.
Particularly as there continues to be discussion about what “Purpose Centered Education” looks likes or means, returning to Cohen’s original text seems integral to that conversation.  She happened to apply her concept of Purpose-Centered Education and Constructive Action to Human Services, but it is clear when you read Cohen’s writings that she believed it could be applied to different contexts.  As Cohen states, “When we learn most effectively, it is because we want to fulfill a vision or solve a problem:  finding the cure for a disease, creating a mode of transportation that will accommodate mass urbanization, helping people deal with loss, fostering artistic creativity, etc.” (Cohen, 28)  Reading Cohen in class on the first day helped students concretize the course material and the mission of the college overall.  It led to fruitful class discussion and a content-driven first day of class.  In short, I think it modeled for the students what Cohen herself envisioned as “Purpose-Centered Education.”