I’ve had to punish plagiarists. It isn’t a fun job, but when I taught freshman English courses at a university during my Master’s program, I had to deal with it. As you all know, universities don’t take kindly to academic theft, and it is a serious issue that writing instructors must address.
My first experience with this occurred during my very first course taught. We made it to the end of the course, when final essays were due, and while reading one of them, I became impressed with myself. This student had made so much progress. This student’s final essay was written in a smooth and coherent way compared to all of this student’s other writing throughout the semester. I got through the first page and thought what a great teacher I must be for this student to have improved so immensely during my course. I really had a knack for this teaching thing!
And then it dawned on me, slowly so that my pride could slink away and humility could rise up in its place. This student had not improved. This student had plagiarized! (I wasn’t as great of a teacher as I thought!)
To make a long story short, I proved the plagiarism by finding the paper on the Internet, and I confronted the student with my supervisor’s help. The student admitted to buying the paper, and we made a deal for rewriting and resubmitting. I went pretty easy on the student.
However, that experience taught me to have a clear plagiarism policy in my classroom and to include the university’s policy on my syllabus. From then on, I made it clear at the beginning, during, and toward the end of every semester that plagiarism of any form would result in failure of the course. This policy was pounded into my students’ heads.
Things went smoothly. Students seemed to understand that I wasn’t joking around. And then a few years later it happened again. I spotted it right away, given that the student had written about an essay from an English composition textbook that we weren’t using in my class. The student had not bought the essay this time, but instead had borrowed it from a friend who had previously taken English 1010. However, they forgot to take into account the different textbook and my propensity for giving assignments that required some measure of creativity instead of regurgitating what was in the textbook. This student suffered the consequences of my no-tolerance policy. This student was angry with me, but I stood my ground.
It was hard being the bad person in both of these situations. I don’t like punishing students, because I happen to really like students. My teaching philosophy is based on Peter Elbow’s idea that writing teachers should like students and like student writing. I loved teaching composition courses, as I wrote about for my very first blog post, and I found my time in the classroom delightful. It broke my heart to have to deal with plagiarism and to punish students for it.
Yet I find that I might be indirectly contributing to plagiarism through my blog. My blog is a plagiarist’s dream when it comes to information about books and reader responses to literature. And I suspect that many high school and college students have benefited from my musings. I have no proof, of course, but I have the search terms that have led people to my blog. Here’s a sampling of them. (I’ve linked them to my blog posts on these books.)
“why is death used in mrs. dalloway”
“what is the connection between the british class system and the novel brave new world”
“harry potter as a literary hero”
“what are three ways technology is portrayed in george orwells 1984”
“mrs dalloway death theme”
“swallows and amazons book essay”
“kill mockingbird book summary”
“the little prince quotes explained”
“feminism in portrait of a lady”
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but these seem like desperate search terms from young adults who have essays due in less than twelve hours. In some ways, I hope my thoughts on these novels helped them to make sense of their assignments and perhaps gave them a way to write the essay on their own. Maybe my posts even prompted them to read the books for themselves. The more cynical part of me wonders if any of my blog posts have been turned in to teachers under false names. If that’s the case, I hope they were caught, learned their lesson, and now love literature so much that they’d rather read and respond themselves than rely on my thoughts.
I think my blog is really about encouraging others to read and respond on their own. I don’t claim to have all of the answers or to have the final say on any of the books I review. I enjoy reading and therefore I enjoy writing about books. I hope that leads others to do the same.
What interesting search terms have you come across? Have you noticed any patterns that may explain your blog traffic?