Last night, I reviewed the final assignments for two classes and posted final grades. One of the classes is a 400-level course on teaching. The final assignment is to submit a course outline and curriculum for a six to eight-week class.
Most of the students did very well and successfully completed the course. Unfortunately, two of them did not. In both cases, the majority of their content was taken from one online source. One student included the reference to the source on the last page but did not include any quotation marks or citations to show the source of her work. The other student included both a citation and reference to their source. Even so, the amount of material each student used from the one source was over half of their work, which is a form of plagiarism. I had no choice but to post a zero and refer their work to the Dean for review. The result is both students failed the course, which will most likely affect their ability to graduate next month.
As I carefully composed my grading comments and email explaining why I posted a zero for the assignment, I kept asking myself what could I have done to prevent this. I looked back on their previous work, some of which was in preparation for the final assignment, and in both cases, the draft submitted the week prior was very sketchy and lacked detail, which I remarked on in my grading comments for that assignment.
I went to bed last night waiting for the inevitable fallout. Sure enough, I had an email and voicemail from one of the students waiting for me this morning. She stated that she had never been called a liar and was giving up on her dream of completing a degree. I went back and reviewed the grading comments and email I sent her and nowhere did I call her a liar. In fact, I explained the reason why her work was a form of plagiarism and provided a couple of resources that explained it and gave tips on how to avoid it. One of these sources is www.plagiarism.org. But that is not what she heard in my message. Her focus was on the word plagiarism, which of course has the connotation of cheating.
Another thought I had was that this is probably not the first time this has happened. A student who is in their fourth year of college should know what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. Apparently this is not the case, which leads me to wonder how many times had these students gotten away with this in the past. I am not implying that they did this purposely, but that somewhere along the way, the system of higher education failed to teach these two students about plagiarism and how to avoid it.
I know that the student is ultimately responsible for their work, but it does not make it any easier to post a failing grade.