I recently determined that some copying has occurred on some of my students’ homework assignments. While I encourage students to work together on homework, I want each student to write up his or her own interpretation of the solution. Since everyone has a unique writing style, it is not hard to determine when blind copying is happening.

I told the class that I was aware of this, and gave them the usual speech about academic integrity. I did not call anyone out, but rather let the entire class know of the situation. I was pleased when a student apologized after class for having copied and provided a reasonable explanation for why he/she did. The student had not been aware that the homework was due that day, which is believable because we had an unusual schedule due to a midterm. The student also said that he/she worked through the problems later that night after handing in the copied homework (and that the copied homework was worse than what he/she did later that night). I have no reason not to believe this, particularly with respect to my previous interactions with the student.

This is the second time this has occurred. A similar thing happened in the fall of 2008. I like that might students are willing to own up to this. I wish that they did not copy in the first place, but I like that they own up to it.

(Full disclosure: not every student suspected of copying came forward, but more than I expected did)



6 Responses to “Cheating”

  1. ericakathryn Says:

    Oh, I hate it when I catch a cheater. For some reason it feels kind of personal when it’s plagiarism on a paper (which is what it is in my field). You certainly handled the situation well, though. I admire your patience with the students.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Thanks. Fortunately, I do not have to deal with “plagiarism” in exactly the same way…yet. Do you do anything to safeguard against this? Or can you just tell when they are plagiarizing? Or do you not worry about it?

      • ericakathryn Says:

        Well, the only thing I can do to safeguard against it, really, is to make sure I design paper topics that are as unique to my class as possible, so they can’t grab stuff off the internet. I do also remind them that they learned in FYS what plagiarism was and how to avoid it, that it’s a serious offense, etc.
        As for catching it: Obviously, I don’t know how reliable I am, but when I’ve caught somebody, it was because there was a marked change in tone, or the language/style were way beyond what I’d seen the student do in the past. You do generally get a sense of what a college paper will look like, and plagiarized papers don’t look like that. But then, I’ve only caught people who were pretty blatant.

      • bretbenesh Says:

        That sounds like about the only reasonable possibility that I can think of. Unique assignments are good for many reasons.

      • Anonymous Says:

        Erica – Do you have them use “” My previous school paid to belong to that, and it was super easy to catch plagiarism with it. Kids have to upload their papers there. The software then cross-references their paper with everything under the sun and gives them (and you) an originality report. Then both of you know exactly what’s copied and what’s not.

      • ericakathryn Says:

        No one has ever told me we have it, and I’m sure that I’d have heard about it if we did.

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