Teachers crack down on plagiarism

Kristin Lam, Editor-in-Chief

Unintentional plagiarism habits require dedication to correct.  AP United States History teacher Heather Blount made the dangers of plagiarism clear to her students last month.

Verbatim plagiarism, more commonly known as lifting, is a bad habit students have developed as a result of the ease of access to information via the Internet.  Many students don’t realize that they’re plagiarizing by not synthesizing information themselves in addition to citing its source.

When APUSH students turned in a set of notecards to Blount last quarter, she made the consequences of using someone else’s words as their own and not crediting its source clear.  Her enforcement of this policy took students by surprise.

Junior Daniel Barajas says that all of Blount’s policies are the standard.  Most teachers don’t compare assignments directly to the textbook and online sources, however, as thoroughly as Blount did.

The notecard assignment required both the definition and significance of key terms.  Barajas said that lifting the significance was the issue many students had.  In response, Blount explained what plagiarism is and dropped the assignment from the gradebook.

Barajas says that what Blount did will help prevent plagiarism from becoming too big of a problem.

“I think she has the point; it was a warning,” Barajas said.  “It [synthesizing] really forces us to think about things on our own.  It’s harder, but I think it’s worth it.”

Due to the AP class’s challenging material and rigorous pace, the thin line between paraphrasing with a citation and lifting is even thinner.  Higher learning institutions will require students to make this distinction or face consequences in the future.  Blount says synthesizing and citing is an important skill for her college-bound students.

“At the level at which those college professors work, lifting is not going to help them,” Blount said.  “Because it’s the 21st century, as a teacher it’s also my job to teach students how to become good users of technology.”

Since then Blount has seen better comprehension of broad concepts and has adjusted her policy to allow students to use the definitions from a reputable source as long as they cite it and cross reference it with the material.  Overall, teaching students how to properly cite sources, synthesize information and not plagiarize is still a work in progress, but Blount says that her students have become more aware of what it means to take someone else’s words and use them as their own.

“I’m proud of my students for hearing what I’m saying,” Blount said.  “As we’re working I’m seeing them improving on that skill and using their own words.”

English is another subject in which plagiarism unintentionally occurs.  Scrutinizing hundreds of page long essays though is time-consuming and impractical without the assistance of online scanning services such as Turn-it-in.com.  Unfortunately, Bear Creek’s subscription to the plagiarism checking service expires this November.

Staff will have to modify the way they check papers for plagiarism. In anticipation of the shift to a new service, English teacher Kyle Won has already altered his writing assignments.

Thus far he’s had his classes write all their essays in class because it’s difficult to plagiarize.

Won says that on average, Turn-it-in.com reports that 15 to 20 percent of a student’s essay is plagiarized. He thinks that the statistic reflects the generalization that a lot of students just don’t know how to process or synthesize.

“I do think a lot of students don’t understand what plagiarism actually is,” Won said. “They think by changing one or two words of an actual quote it’s okay; they don’t think that’s plagiarism.”

Teachers can investigate on their own by using search engines such as Google when the student’s general voice doesn’t match, but that method is tedious.  To efficiently detect plagiarism in essays in today’s digital age, most teachers agree having access to online scanning services is essential. Unfortunately, that access comes at a cost.

When Bear Creek’s annual $5,000 subscription to Turn-it-in.com expires in November the service won’t be renewed.   Principal Bill Atterberry says that Turn-it-in.com’s expensiveness is the reason it’s being cut.  As a matter of fact, administration was thinking about terminating the subscription around this time last year.

Last October Atterberry discussed Turn-it-in.com’s usage with the English Department to see how valuable it was.  He discovered that Turn-it-in.com is mainly used only by the English Department’s seniors for the senior project research papers.  Taking into account the fact that its subscription cost is based on the total number of students enrolled in the school, Atterberry says Turn-it-in.com is a pricey service for a project that is only a Bear Creek graduation requirement and not mandated by the district.

“When not every student is using it, that’s when it becomes expensive,” Atterberry said.

With a class of about 400, the cost for each senior comes out to be $12.50.  Due to promise of more people using the service, administration went ahead and paid for it last year.  The luxury isn’t affordable this year.

“It just came down to finances,” Atterberry said. “We have even less money in our budget this year. If more teachers in more departments used it, it might be worth it.”

English teacher Twilla Cancilla says that she uses Turn-it-in.com for research papers, not only the senior project. How often she uses it depends on what she’s teaching in her classes.   Ordinarily she uses it in her sophomore and junior classes half of the year.

“Writing is hard,” Cancilla said. “We need some sort of check to see if they’re unintentionally plagiarizing.”

Alternatives to Turn-it-in.com will be looked into as the subscription’s expiration date approaches.