Friday, October 10, 2008

Not Plagiarism Again...

I am a very careful grader. I have only 22 students in my one lab section, not all of whom turn in every assignment, so I can afford to be generous with my time. Prior to coordinating with the other lab TA this afternoon (we give the same assignment, and will review the papers together to make sure students neither gave nor received unauthorized help from someone in the other lab), I was just going to read through the papers once, with no pen or intentions of marking anything. I just wanted to get a feel for what the students had said, and sit on that for a while before starting to mess, however slightly, with their GPAs.

My intentions were lost by the second paper. In the very first paragraph - because I foolishly thought it unnecessary to go over such things as "introductory paragraph" - was a sentence that just couldn't be right. I hadn't even read the journal article they were reviewing yet, for this first pass, and yet I knew it couldn't possibly be the students' writing. It was in the vocabulary, the use of acronyms without explaining them, and a certain sinking sensation. The student wrote three pages of "summary" that are more properly described as "blatantly plagiarised recitation of the methods and results, with a bit of introduction and conclusion added for variety".

After my fiasco with plagiarism last year, in which I decided "they're juniors and seniors, they know what plagiarism is and I can just say 'don't do it' ", I spent an entire lab session on research ethics, including a group activity on plagiarism. So far - I've only read through half the papers - it seems that the only person who didn't get the message was someone I'm pretty sure wasn't there that day. I should be encouraged by this; there's just no way to reach students who don't come to class. But all I can think of is that my careful planning changed nothing, because I'm still caught in the web of figuring out what to do.

Last year's plagiarism fiasco resulted in one student completely pissed off because she got a D (the plagiarism wasn't so extensive, and I was impressed enough with her evaluation that I gave her credit for everything but the summary) and one student who got a 0 with an option to rewrite that he didn't take. I am still sitting on the paper, decided how much credit, if any, to give. I'm inclined to do a 0 on principle. I could give some credit (like 20%) for attempting the evaluation, but I can't decide if that's based on any principles or just on not wanting another student confrontation in my office. I'm also trying to decide if perhaps I should buy a six-pack before I actually grade these things.

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