Teaching Tips | April 24, 2015

Teachable moments in plagiarism

Tools like Turnitin and Safe Assign clearly provide a much-needed service for many faculty (as discussed in a previous blog post).  In this post, we’d like to build on the idea of plagiarism as a “teachable moment,” both for students and for faculty.

Many scholars look at the idea of “inadvertent plagiarism” (see Citation Project, for example).  The argument is that students are not adequately engaging with the text and/or have a superficial understanding of what they’re being asked to do in terms of the research process in their discipline. They may have difficulty in summarizing and paraphrasing a source, or have a process that saves all citations until the end of the writing process, resulting in inadvertent plagiarism caused by bad notetaking (was that a quote or my paraphrase?, for example). Project Information Literacy, too, has reported on the impact of faculty assignments on students’ research projects.

photo of classroom built with LegoThe Citation Project– and similar sites — recommend scaffolding research assignments and assigning supplementary exercises, especially on how students read and engage with sources. At the library, we have also collected our thoughts on the research assignment.  See our guide to creating research assignments. (Please note that it’s very much a work in progress and we would welcome your feedback.)

For student-facing materials, you might assign items from the Research Toolkit, particularly the How do I use sources in my paper? section. Our Writing Center also has some excellent resources on using sources, including a resource on notetaking, a skill that can often cut down on inadvertent plagiarism.

Finally, as faculty, we lead by example.  Please build awareness of your own ethical use of information, particularly in class and with course materials.  We provide this guide to Course Reserves and information on our copyright and fair use policy. Malin Abrahamsson is the library’s Copyright Assistant (link to email) and answers copyright-related questions. We also recommend Copyright at CUNY which outlines CUNY’s official copyright policy.

(Image credit: Ian Cook et alCreative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license)

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