As the new calendar year approaches, I can’t help but anticipate the coming spring semester — and to hold out the hope that this one will be the semester in which none of my students commits plagiarism. Otherwise, I’m facing a perfect 12-semester streak.
Near the end of last semester, one of my colleagues related a tale of dishonesty so brazen that it struck us as one for the books. (Or the blogs, anyway.) The crowning offense was that it was committed in the course of an extra credit assignment.
A number of professors offer their students the opportunity to earn extra credit points by going to talks or events that have something to do with the subject matter of their course, and then writing a page or two describing the high points of the event and connecting it to something from the course. (I myself don’t offer this kind of extra credit, but then again I’m a big meanie.)
As you might expect, some of the events flagged as worth going to in order to get extra credit are also the sorts of events that professors themselves might attend — an interesting talk by a scholar visiting from another institution, for example.
Well, my colleague had specified that students who attended one of a number of sponsored talks by scholars visiting the campus and then wrote 600 words evaluating and analyzing the talk could earn some extra credit. My colleague received an extra credit essay about a talk that had relatively small attendance — although my colleague was one of the handful of people who went to hear the talk. Three of my colleague’s students were also at the talk.
None of these three was the author of the extra credit essay.
My colleague then contacted the student of the extra credit essay. The student at first made noises that suggested actually having been at the talk in question. But after my colleague broke the news that the audience was small enough that there was no crowd in which to get lost, the student admitted to not attending the talk. In essence, the student said, “I figured if I still wrote something about the subject of the talk, it would be worth some extra credit, so I did some research on the internet.”
Of course, not a scrap of this research was cited at all. As a result, an attempt to appear to have been someplace one was not — for extra credit points — gets written up as plagiarism.
Sometimes you’re just better off concentrating on the points that were built into your course in the first place.