During the first meeting of a new college course, students assume they will receive a crisp copy of a new syllabus. Oftentimes, professors go over the syllabus in class – some slowly and some too quickly – while other professors tell students to read over it on their own time. The syllabus is a usually a good reference of what to expect in the class; i.e. when assignments are due, the teacher’s contact information and office hours, required textbooks, and the school’s honor code, which includes the school’s stance on plagiarism. While the latter is usually found at the bottom of the syllabus, students often overlook it simply because every other syllabus they have includes the same information, or perhaps because it is boring. With some teachers going over the syllabus and some not at all, how do students learn about plagiarism? As an older college student, I thought I knew what plagiarism was when I entered University of Richmond. I knew not to copy another person’s work word for word, but my knowledge of plagiarism stopped there. I was unaware that if I used any pictures, blogs, or online videos I had to cite them. Thankfully, the professor of one of my first classes –ENG 201 – went over the additional items and situations where you would include a citation, including the reasons why citations are used. If the professor had not gone over this information, I could have very likely found myself in a situation where I was being accused of plagiarism. I initially chalked up my ignorance about what constitutes plagiarism to the fact that I am an older college student, but according to Lea Calvert Evering and Gary Moorman’s 2012 article, Rethinking Plagiarism in the Digital Age, an abundant number of younger students – particularly those of the Millennial generation – are also unaware of what constitutes plagiarism.
Evering and Moorman (2012) point out that younger students who have grown up using blogging, social media, and texting technologies are unaware that they must cite these sources because “[in] their everyday lives, they adhere to different standards of ownership of words, art, and ideas” (p. 39). Some college courses today require the use and creation of blogs, movies, and other digital media sources, but if younger and older students alike are unaware of having to cite when using pictures and videos, how many of us are plagiarizing? While some teachers are incorporating short crash courses in using digital sources into their classes, many others are skipping over the use of these sources entirely, likely, because the majority of assignments are still research papers. Many other teachers do not discuss plagiarism in general. In my experience as a student in high school and two colleges, I have only had a handful of teachers thoroughly discuss plagiarism, which leaves me wondering where the hiccup is.
When a student does read their school’s stance on plagiarism they will likely find strict consequences for those who plagiarize, so if the consequences are so severe why is there not more discussion about it? Evering and Moorman (2012) propose that in order to address plagiarism it is important to understand why some students choose to take that path. They suggest that students plagiarize when they “are given vague or busywork assignments” and assignments that create a “lack of interest [which] may prompt them to plagiarize just to get the task done” (p. 38). While school is never going to create a one hundred percent interest in all students, there should be enough interest in classes to peak students’ curiosity. Teachers can ensure their students interest in many different ways besides having them write lengthy papers. Having students create digital stories, interviews, blogs, and websites can permit students to focus on an avenue that peaks their interest while also allowing them to be creative.
While some students plagiarize because they are oblivious of having to cite sources, such as blogs and online videos, others are simply disinterested in the topic at hand, but want to turn in an acceptable assignment in order to “maintain their grade point average” (Evering & Moorman, 2012, p. 38). In either case, students need to be made aware of plagiarism in all its forms, including the reasoning behind why another person’s work should not be copied or closely summarized. “We need to realize that times have changed, students have changed, and ways of reading, writing, communicating, and accessing information have changed” (Evering & Moorman, 2012, p. 39).
Evering, L. C., & Moorman, G. (2012). Rethinking Plagiarism in the Digital Age. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(1), 35-44. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00100