In a previous post I talked about how teaching students the concepts academic honesty and plagiarism should be done in a positive context. In other words, teachers should, in my opinion, do their best to associate the idea of academic integrity and avoiding plagiarism with a positive learning experience that students may retain for a lifetime. In this post, I’ll present some suggestions for teachers that may help in achieving this goal. The first problem you need to consider is how to introduce the idea to your students? Would you write the word plagiarism on the board and start giving a lecture on the definition of the concept and its applications? Or perhaps start with talking about the penalties to boost students’ feelings of fear and discomfort and then offer the solution, which is to avoid plagiarism and simply be “honest”? Although I’ve personally known very good teachers and professors who follow these patterns in giving courses on academic writing and/or research, I believe that starting your session this way won’t help students learn about plagiarism. It is true that you, as a teacher, would have done your job: you have taught them about what the word “plagiarism” means and that being a plagiarist violates the university’s ethics. However, students have not learnt the message behind such a lesson; they haven’t learnt that being true to oneself should simply be a part of their own character; that academic honesty has many manifestations outside the academia: for example, in the workplace and at home with your own family.
A warmer or icebreaker to the lesson can be an example of a plagiarized painting or a song that quickly draws students’ attention to the manifestations of the concept in real life. I’ve thought of these two pictures below of a famous painting by Bob Dylan which turned out to be a “plagiarized” version of a well-known photo; the pictures can be found at: http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/bob-dylan-accused-of-plagiarism-ahead-of-hank-release
You can ask your students, for example, what do they think of Dylan or any other painter/musician/ writer who follows his path? Do they respect him? Can they call him an “artist”? What other names can they call him? You can even ask students to write on a piece of paper a list of all adjectives they can think of to describe such an act. At this point you can introduce the word plagiarism and its meaning. This activity can be followed by another question: what if Dylan had put an attribution to the photographer and said, for example, “I thank Leon Busy for allowing me to reproduce his photo in my painting?” Would your opinion of Dylan change? Why?
As for the types of plagiarism, I think a video or an on-line tutorial can be useful, as it will allow students to explore the full dimensions of the concept by themselves. You can check students’ understanding by giving them a short exercise or simply by asking them direct questions. By the end of the session the following ILOS (Intended Learning Outcomes) should have been achieved:
1. Students understand that academic integrity is not simply about passing “turntin”, but about gaining self-respect and the respect of others.
2. Students become aware of the different types of plagiarism and their manifestations not only in academic contexts, but also in the real life situations.
3. Students realize that academic honesty is not about spending nights rephrasing words or inserting quotation marks, but about bringing a bit of oneself to his/her own work, about the uniqueness of one’s character and the distinctiveness of one’s own experience and culture.