Like most instructors, I have graded more papers than I care to count. Add to this the drafts and proposals that I have reviewed and the number gets all together more daunting. Something was a bit different this term, though. I saw more issues with plagiarism or “almost” plagiarism. I was reminded about how it is easy to do the research, but writing is a special craft that the students have to learn. I tell students each term their writing will improve.
I am part of a team-taught course with some 225 students in the class. This class gets 6 Teaching Assistants (TA) assigned and one part of my role is managing the TAs. This includes marking papers and providing the TAs with sample marked papers and grading rubrics, so that they are prepared to do their own marking. Maybe I had better TAs this term, but something was amiss. Anecdotally compared to last year, I re-read more papers that had citation issues. The majority of these instances were cases where students do not attribute the original source.
Now, in many cases sources were never incorporated into the paper. None—not a direct quote or a paraphrase. Yet, a works cited was attached. My point here is that the majority of these instances did not look like the student was intentionally plagiarizing; however, the student had not cited. And, when I met individually with the student, it became obvious that the student did not know how to cite or when to paraphrase. I had an off the record chat with some other faculty and heard that they had also seen more “almost” plagiarism cases in their classes.
There are many things that I would like to say about this. Am I seeing a new phenomena related to students not doing well in their English classes in high school? Is this more commonplace? I am not sure, but my concern is more focused on what to do. I am going to continue my dedicated lecture to the paper assignment; however, I am going to need to speak to writing more. I already have a lecture dedicated to the proposal and I mark all of the proposals. I am also going to have a meeting with a colleague in the English department who teaches their survey writing course and get ideas from him.
Hopefully, my colleague in English will also have some hints to teach more critical thinking and analysis! Wait, that is another post!
Victoria, British Columbia in Canada
Janni Aragon is a Senior Instructor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria. Her areas of interest are varied: Gender and Politics, Women and Technology, American Politics, Feminist Theories, Youth Politics, and Popular Culture. Most of her work attempts to connect these interests. Currently she is working on a co-edited Introduction to Women’s Studies textbook. When she has time, she blogs at http://janniaragon.wordpress.com/.