|Jeffery Maiten: A photo I took in front of the College of the Redwoods library after the rain (Source: Wikipedia)|
As an instructional designer, I have even more mixed feelings about using software to detect plagiarism. There are things that teachers can do to help prevent plagiarism:
- Teach writing as a process. If you require students to turn in the various stages of their paper - outline, discovery draft, bibliography, etc. then there is no room for the student to plagiarize. And when students try to circumvent the process, you know you are probably dealing with an academic honesty issue.
- Dedicate a class session to academic honesty. This lets the students know that you value academic honesty and that you know how students can cheat. Make sure they get a copy of the school's academic honesty policy. Some even go so far as having the students sign a statement that says that they read and understand the policy.
- Ask deeper questions. If the answers the students are giving you are coming from Wikipedia, then you are asking the wrong questions.Take a look at Bloom's Taxonomy and think about what kind of writing you are asking your students to do.
- Know your students. Get to know your students by asking them to keep a journal. Or begin the day with a short in-class writing assignment.If you know how they express themselves and at what level their writing is at, any changes would be a red flag for issues in the students' work.
- Bring in the students' experience. Ask the students to bring their experiences into the assignment. In part of your question, ask them to provide an example of a similar problem they have encountered in their previous work. Or have them interview a relative or employer.The learning theory Constructivism tells us that students learn best when they are able to apply what they are learning to past experience.
- Let your students connect. Have the students work together on their revisions. Have them discuss their research in groups. This encourages students to bring their research to their audience. They can't discuss thoughts that are not their own. Also, this allows students to see how other students tackle assignments and research problems.
- Make it relevant. Don't just ask students to take a position on a topic and argue for it. Require that they use a few news sources in their paper. I love teachers who complain about reading the same death penalty papers year after year. Change the assignment! Ask them to bring in a topic from the headlines. Have them find out what journalists or writers are covering their topic.
- Model academic honesty. Some of the same teachers who get worked up about plagiarism will sometimes be the same teachers who do not cite sources in their own class materials. Show students how it is done and why early and often. Start with that favorite quote or picture you put in your syllabus.