I've been dealing with a lot of plagiarism lately (well, actually, I deal with plagiarism in my upper level writing classes all the time). There are a couple of issues that I have seen develop out of my many meetings with students, but for this entry, I'm only going to talk about intentionality.
The often knee-jerk reaction to finding out a student copied several sentences or even a paragraph word-for-word is to become insulted, indignant, even wounded. I went through this a lot in my first years of teaching. I got really upset, and it took a lot out of me.
And then it kept happening.
I had to know why. I revisited my teaching on paraphrase and citation, I looked for better teaching materials, I gossiped around water coolers and read stuff online. Eventually I came across the concept of the word "plagiarism" being too broad. Basically, it includes both the malicious plagiarizers and the clueless/accidental/misunderstanding ones. It really exists more on a continuum:
Back in 2009, I remember the Director of Composition requiring students to purchase They Say / I Say with Readings. Her rationale was that ENG 101 was a writing course, and so many students were getting bogged down by having to find good sources for the bibliographic essay that it lead to poorly written papers based on sources that very often were not that good to begin with. By giving them a set of sources to start using, it opened up possibilities I had never thought of:
- Students had more time to read, understand, and write
- Students had easy access to some quality sources
- Since we had access to the source texts, we could better gauge reading comprehension and also paraphrasing ability
This all ties into a conversation I had on Monday with a coworker who has the same strategy with assigning source texts. She had her students writing annotated bibliographies, and surprise, surprise, some of them were plagiarized.
"It's obviously not malicious. They know that I know all of the sources--so it's not like they're trying to pull one over on me!"
This is the crux of the matter: The high rate of international students plagiarizing cannot all be attributed to deception, especially since it happens even when students are well-meaning and know their teachers cannot be tricked.