“When you have wit of your own, it's a pleasure to credit other people for theirs.” - Criss Jami
Copyright and intellectual property is an important part of education and academia. In practise, respecting copyright is easier said than done as not every student is familiar with how to correctly reference academic sources and simple mistakes can result in plagiarism.
So what should you do if you suspect it?
The Roots of Plagiarism
Plagiarism is the act of taking somebody else’s work or ideas and passing them off as your own with no acknowledgement for the original creator. It can be difficult for some students to understand. So while it may seem easy to avoid just by quoting other authors, you can’t take ideas, either.
Plagiarism is more than just copying; it’s essentially intellectual theft. You can’t make a claim that was devised or created by somebody else without referencing where the idea came from. How you do this fairly isn’t always clear but it’s a good idea to reference where you got the information from.
The arrival of the internet only complicated things since students are used to doing their research online and copy and pasting the information into their work, which is becoming increasingly common both innocently and otherwise. This is why teachers need to make sure that their students are aware of how plagiarism works.
Students, on the other hand, need to know what is allowed and what isn’t. Teaching them falls squarely on the shoulders of teachers, lecturers, and tutors as the rules for academic plagiarism are within their field and they’re the experts.
In private tutorials, it’s never a bad idea to review how to properly reference academic sources if there’s any doubt, too.
Try to Understand Why Students Plagiarise
There’s always a reason why students choose to plagiarise someone else’s work. By understanding the reasons, solving the problem becomes much easier. It’s easy to believe that it’s just because the student wants to cheat, but when you think about it, this isn’t always the case.
In some cases, plagiarism can be down to a simple mistake. They may have forgotten quotation marks or to put the name of the author. It’s possible that they thought changing the words or rephrasing an idea meant they didn’t have to reference the original author. Students may have copied the quotation into the text as part of their research or as a reminder. With mistakes like these, it may be worth going back over how to correctly reference with the student.
Students may plagiarise because they’re struggling. They might lack confidence in their own writing abilities. Some students may struggle with rephrasing ideas or might be too embarrassed by their own writing to rewrite it and perhaps they thought it was just better to leave the original in their work.
Of course, there are also students who plagiarise just to cheat and there are many ways for them to do this from copying someone else’s work to make it look like their own or going to a website like Wikipedia and copying and pasting from an article.
Others do it because they didn’t get their work finished in time, panic, and decide copying is the quickest and easiest way to avoid the punishment for not handing in an essay, assignment, or their homework. Showing them how to stay on top of their work and plan appropriately might reduce the temptation to cheat.
Whether you’re a teacher, lecturer, or tutor, you need to make it clear to students that plagiarism is not acceptable. This is less about punishing them for the bad behaviour but teaching them the right behaviour so that they won’t slip up and get caught out when they’ll be punished severely for it.
Copying at primary school and secondary school (outside of official exams) may be frowned upon, but at university, it can cost you your degree so it’s a good idea that students learn from a young age that it’s not to be done.
If it’s clear that a student’s cheated or copied someone else’s work, try to find out the reasons they did it so that you can address the problem at the source. Show them how to effectively research and cite their sources and it’ll never be worth cheating again. Regularly working on research skills and accurate referencing can make it second nature.
Punishments for Plagiarism
As we mentioned, students may accidentally plagiarise or willingly plagiarise to get better marks or do their work more quickly.
If they regularly copy work or plagiarise, the teacher may need to punish them, but these punishments really need to be constructive and educational.
The most obvious punishment is to have them redo the work without plagiarising. Thus, they can at least practise doing work properly and thinking about it. This will also give the teacher an opportunity to teach them how to avoid plagiarism.
Another punishment could be getting the student to do a piece on plagiarism itself, thereby forcing them to research the consequences of it and teaching themselves about proper referencing and research skills. By finding the information on plagiarism themselves, the students will internalise the ideas more readily.
Your reaction needs to be appropriate. A slip-up from a model student isn’t the same as plagiarism attempting to get a student their degree.
Should You Report a Student for Plagiarism?
Plagiarism can be punishable by law and as a teacher, you need to think carefully about whether legal action is necessary.
Again, react appropriately. If this is the first time a student’s done it, you may want to give them the benefit of the doubt and attempt to explain the situation to them. The student may want to go back and change their work. You may also want to speak to their parents, too. It might be such a minor infraction that it’s not even worth mentioning to the department or school.
On the other hand, if they’re caught attempting to cheat in their GCSEs, A Levels, or university work that counts towards their degree, it may need to be reported to the appropriate authorities.
The same is true for coursework and exams. There are tests and projects that a student will need to do that count towards their grades. Again, if this is the first time. You may have to tell the student that they need to change their work before it can be submitted.
The Consequences of Academic Plagiarism
There can be significant consequences for plagiarism. Plagiarism is technically illegal and in the UK, it falls under copyright and intellectual property law.
According to the law, plagiarism generally falls under copyright and it’s the idea that you’re presenting an idea or a piece of work as if it originated from you and that you are the original author.
So what is the risk?
Generally, the punishment will be down to the school or university to decide. For external exams or recognised qualifications, the punishment will be down to the exam boards.
If you cheat during your A Levels, for example, you can have marks taken from you, have your exam nullified, or be disqualified from all the exams of a given exam board. In some cases, you can be disqualified from all your exams. In the worst-case scenarios, there could be long-term punishments so it’s definitely worth avoiding!
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