Plagiarism is a huge problem in every level of education. It’s important for teachers to have a firm grasp on the nuances of the issue because there are plenty of grey areas when it comes to using others’ work. One thing I never really thought about before really delving into the topic was the question of why people plagiarize in the first place. I always assumed people who committed the act did so out of laziness and not wanting to do the assignment themselves, when really, some people really feel like they have absolutely no choice but to do so. Whether some feel pressured to do well in school or some people really feel they do not have the skill set to complete the work, the fact of the matter is plagiarism is going to continue to be an issue if students feel they can’t succeed any other way. You can read more about the reasons people plagiarize in a 2013 article by Johnathon Bailey of Plagiarism Today called “3 Reasons Smart People Plagiarize.” http://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2013/01/14/3-reasons-smart-people-plagiarize/
What's a teacher to do?Edit
So what’s a teacher to do in the face of this enormous issue? I think the problem lies in the classroom environment created by the teacher’s expectations and demeanor when it comes to large projects that require the students to do their own research. I think students would feel less pressured to plagiarize if their assignments didn’t seem so daunting and impossible to tackle themselves. As a future teacher I can think of a few ways to combat this feeling.
The first is to encourage the students and provide them with the necessary resources they will need to complete the project to give them more confidence when starting the project. As the name suggests, a teacher needs to teach and the teaching cannot stop with the content. Throwing students into their own research projects with no guidance is going to leave the students feeling drowned in information and desperate, two feelings that could easily lead a student to feel the need to plagiarize. So as a teacher I need to teach them how to complete their own research and guide them as to where they can get reliable sources of information. Whether that’s providing them with informational websites or taking them to the librarian for a tutorial, the kids need to be shown by example how to find and use information because no one is born with the skill of using the library or the Internet to collect research. So after becoming literate in research myself I need to be sure I can relay this information to my students so they don’t feel as overwhelmed.
Another way I can encourage my students to do the work themselves is to allow them some freedom of choice on their projects. Hopefully when they choose a topic that they have some sort of invested interest in they will be more apt to researching the topic because it’s something they actually want to learn about. If I can get the kids excited about their project I think they will actually want to put in the effort because they have some sort of stake in the project. I trusted them enough to choose a topic and that will encourage most of them to want to prove to me that they are responsible enough to do so. This attitude helps to foster a good relationship between the teacher and students, which is good outside of plagiarism issues too. Also, I think plagiarism can be avoided is to break the project into smaller, more manageable pieces. Students tend to procrastinate (I’m definitely guilty of this!) and by throwing an entire project on them that’s due at one time it will lead the procrastinators to feel pressured to finish as crunch time approaches. By breaking the project up into smaller pieces it will make each piece of the project seem like less of a big deal and the students won’t be as stressed. It will also teach them the concept of time management by modeling how a project can be broken up on their own for future large assignments.
The final way to prevent plagiarism is to make sure the students are well versed in the issue themselves. A student can accidently plagiarize if he or she doesn’t know what plagiarism is and I can’t rightfully hold a student accountable for it unless I was certain that I had been clear with the topic. By providing examples of plagiarism and talking about the consequences of committing plagiarism the students will know what is expected of them with using others’ information and the consequences they will face if they knowingly use others’ work as their own. The teacher needs to leave no wiggle room for misunderstanding if he or she expects his or her students to not plagiarize in their classroom. A great video I was exposed to in my technology class that could be used in the classroom to teach about plagiarism is provided at the bottom of the page. Check it out!
By creating an encouraging and supportive environment for the students they will not feel as pressured to plagiarize because they are well equipped to do their own research and they know what plagiarism is and how it can manifest itself in their work, even unintentionally. By letting kids know that they can do the work and they will succeed if they put in the effort there should be no legitimate reason to plagiarize and if they still choose to do so they will understand the consequences of their choice.