Summer ImageIn the northern hemisphere at least, summer almost is upon us. In the United States, that means most schools are either out or nearly out and graduation ceremonies are being held across the country.

But as students and teachers alike head off for a well-deserved break, it’s worth noting that summer is also a time of planning and reflection for schools. It’s a time to look at what happened the previous year and plan to both correct what went wrong and build up on what went right.

Schools certainly have a great deal to think about over the next few months and undoubtedly be busy with everything from student intake, to lesson plans, to needed renovations and much more.

Still, summer is also a great time to think about and ponder plagiarism policies and, to that end, there are some questions all schools (at nearly all levels) should be looking at over summer break.

The reason is simple: Without looking at these questions, there’s no way to tell what changes are needed or what ways there are to improve these policies. Given how rapidly-evolving the nature of plagiarism is, it’s worth revisiting these policies regularly and, to that end, there’s no time like the present.

So, without further ado, here are three questions for school’s to ponder over summer break.

1: How Well Are We Teaching Proper Attribution?

Coffee Writing ImageMany plagiarism policies start and stop with the idea of plagiarism as cheating and view the issue merely as a means of catching students who are trying to take unethical shortcuts.

But the issue of plagiarism is rarely that simple. Students are not born knowing when and how to cite works and often make mistakes. Sure, mistakes are almost always distinguishable from malicious cheating, but they often wind up taking time way from instructors and administrators alike.

The summer is a great time to review your efforts to teach citation, especially to remedial and foreign language students who are the ones most vulnerable both to malicious plagiarism and to accidental plagiarism.

With plagiarism, a little bit of prevention can be worth lifetimes of disciplinary hearings.

2: Is How We are Detecting Plagiarism Working?

Google SearchThere’s no right or wrong way to detect plagiarism. Some schools have adopted plagiarism detection software and centralize detection. Others, however, rely instructors who know their students and to use a combination of instinct and hand searching to spot plagiarism.

Both approaches are fine and have their uses, often working with one another. However, it’s worth taking the time to look and see if your current approach to finding it is working.

Are plagiarism cases on the rise versus the previous year? Are they lower? Are they staying about the same? How are cases being found? Could the cases that have been found been discovered easier and earlier through another means?

These are tough questions but they can’t really be answered without some deep reflection into what you have been looking at for the past year. Still, with some hindsight, you may discover a need to alter your approach, including finding ways to check earlier drafts of student work, crafting more difficult to plagiarize assignments and even integrating the use of technology into the teaching process.

3: Is Our Punishment for Plagiarism Fair and Consistent?

Student Expelled ImageFinally, it’s worth taking a look at what happens to students after they are caught cheating and how they are punished.

Here, we are looking for two things: Fairness and consistency. Are two people with similar cases getting similar punishments or does the outcome vary? Also, is the outcome fair given all of the circumstances involved.

This can be tough to really weigh as it may mean admitting some students in the past were treated harshly, softly or otherwise unfairly, but it’s important to admit those mistakes to avoid making future ones.

With summer break upon us, it makes sense to look back and see if your plagiarism policy is working best for you and your students.

Bottom Line

With summer upon us and the students (mostly) away, now is a great time for reflection on the year before and that includes looking at plagiarism and other cheating-related policies.

While these policies aren’t popular topics, they are important as their application can forever change the lives of students. When a student is caught plagiarizing, how the school responds can have a huge bearing on their future.

As such, it’s worth taking the time to weigh all of these issues and really consider if your policy and approach is working for you.

In the end, you might find that you have a policy deeply in need of revision but able to be easily improved.

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