How to Turn a Check for Plagiarism Into a Teachable Moment

From copying an entire essay that was submitted years before by another student, to forgetting to write down references, the majority of instructors will encounter at least one case of plagiarism in their teaching career. However difficult these confrontations may be, avoiding them means losing potential teachable moments. Learning how to address plagiarism without it being a punitive moment can make your job easier and your relationship with your students stronger.

Take advantage of the many online tools to detect and prevent plagiarism, like Turnitin Feedback Studio. If a submitted paper’s similarity score is too high, it calls for further investigation.

Your first step should be to send an email to the student explaining the issues and reminding them about references, paraphrasing, and intellectual property. Offering a chance to resubmit the assignment allows the student to fix their mistake – that is most likely a simple oversight or an act of laziness. It is rare such mistakes will happen twice.

However, if the final piece still has too high of a similarity score, send the student a more detailed report showing the specific areas of concern. The use of transparent, unbiased reports separates the action from the person. Seeing it in black and white, provides an opportunity to discuss the facts rather than what they did intentionally or unintentionally.

In all interactions, try to stress your role as a helper, not a police officer! Not only will your students benefit to seeing how easily tools like Turnitin are in finding content matches, it can help you realize where knowledge gaps are and further improve your teaching practice.

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