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