Feature: Copying And Its After-Effects: Notes From The Field

By Dr David CL Lim ((david@oum.edu.my)

I tutored a group of learners in the January 2010 semester, which was more or less routine until after the assignments were handed in. To my horror, I discovered that six out of 17 learners plagiarised extensively from the Internet, while one learner carelessly went off on the wrong path in answering the assignment question.

What surprised me was that these learners resorted to plagiarism despite having been informed repeatedly that plagiarism would not be tolerated and that it was often easy for tutors to pick up on telltale signs of plagiarism.

So, on the fifth tutorial, I went in and gave the learners the bad news: that seven of them “failed” their assignments, which instantly woke the class up, sending the ones who were present to telephone their missing peers who “failed”.

Suddenly, those who could not come for the fi nal tutorial came fl ooding in, all looking concerned.

Not wanting to fail these learners outright, I thought it would only be humane to give them one fi nal chance to make up for their “indiscretion”. In other universities, these learners would have been expelled.

They were given a serious pep talk and three days to redo their assignment and submit by e-mail.

They were also warned that their resubmitted assignment would be put through plagiarism-detection software, and that there would not be any more chance should they plagiarise again.

Of the six who plagiarised and were caught, one was caught plagiarising again - extensively, at that. The one who did not plagiarise in the first round but approached the assignment question wrongly surprisingly decided to send in plagiarised work.

In the end, these two were given zero.

What was eye-opening for me was not so much that some learners plagiarised but that they decided to plagiarise again despite having been caught once and given a chance to resubmit.

Any tutor would ask: Why? Why do learners resort to blatant cheating despite everything that has happened? Did they think they could get away with it, that tutors would not be able to detect plagiarism, or would “collude” with them out of some misplaced sense of “compassion”? Or is it that they just don’t care?

Fascinatingly, a learner even called me on the mobile to request that I give her “at least a C or even a D” no matter what, otherwise I would be seen as “ruining her life”.

Undoubtedly, the Internet provides learners with a treasure trove of materials to conveniently cut and paste onto their assignments. Some tutors might feel compelled to pass their learners anyway, even though proof of plagiarism is irrefutable.

In the face of this, the question all tutors should ask themselves is whether they are prepared to do the right thing.

It would be easy for tutors to look the other way when confronted with acts of cheating in order to remain “popular” with learners. But is being “popular” necessarily good for the university? I think the answer to that is clear and obviou

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I can educate my learners about the wrongfulness of plagiarism by:

setting a good example i.e. not committing plagiarism myself in the notes or materials that I give them
teaching them the correct way to quote references in their assignments
explaining to them the difference between original work and plagiarised work
severely penalising them whenever they hand in plagiarised work
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