Posts Tagged ‘academic honesty’

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Encouraging Academic Honesty

posted: 12.11.09 by archived

As the fall semester draws to a close, I thought it might be useful to post about plagiarism and academic honesty.  This is a time of year that I like to have some final discussions about the issue, to prepare writing students  to fully understand the rules of citation and the standards of honesty in academic discourse as they leave my class.

So I want to share a couple of things.

First of all, I follow the lead of scholars like Rebecca Moore Howard, who warn against the tendency to become a plagiarism police officer.  I always hope to get students to think critically about plagiarism themselves. So I’ve created a list of scenarios or “case studies” for class discussion.  The majority of these scenarios aim for the gray areas in discussions about plagiarism.  Here are two examples:

“You have been citing from two books by an author named Clark.  When you rewrite the essay, you add in several more quotes from your notes.  But you have returned both Clark books to the library.  You can’t remember which quotes came from which book, and your notes are no help.  In fact, you realize that much of the time, you didn’t even write down page numbers beside the quotes and information you need to use.  So you add the new citations, and you guess the page numbers and work as best you can.”

Wikipedia quotes from a book.  You use the quote in your paper and you cite the book and not Wikipedia, making it look like you read the book.”

The goal in discussing these scenarios is not to clearly dictate to students what is right and wrong, but rather to try to realistically discover actual writing scenes and tough decisions, and then to have students animate them with ethical questions.  Students are given the responsibility to decide what the rules should be.

I am attaching the entire list of scenarios here as a file you can download.

I like to cut each scenario out, fold the slips of paper and put them in a hat.  In groups of three or four, students pull a scenario and discuss it as a group before presenting to the rest of the class on their conversation: Was their scenario an example of plagiarism?  If so, what should a student do differently to ensure academic honesty?

One other fun activity to do with these scenarios is to give each group several slips of paper.  In each group, ask the students to organize the scenarios they have based on degrees of honesty, from most honest to most dishonest.  Then, as a whole class, work to arrange ALL of the scenarios according to this scale.  This can lead to interesting discussions and negotiations.

I have also discussed these scenarios in the graduate Composition Pedagogy class I teach to first-year graduate student teachers at WVU.  In this class, following discussion of these scenarios, we have worked together to generate a more comprehensive “academic honesty contract” for our writing students.  I will attach an example of this contract, authored by the English 609 students at West Virginia University here for you to download.

This contract, as you’ll see, goes beyond the agreement that “I won’t plagiarize.”  It covers a lot of the gray areas, so that there is less doubt about how to ethically approach citation and plagiarism issues.

In your own writing classes, you could use discussions of the scenarios to generate your own “academic honesty contract” with your students.  I ask my own writing students to sign the contract and submit it with all of the final drafts of their essays.

Good luck with the end of the semester!

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Categories: How to Write Anything, Jay Dolmage
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