The rule is imperative. Cheating, which includes but is not limited to plagiarism, will automatically result in a flaming grade of 5.0 for the term. This, I specifically pointed out as a welcoming reminder to my second year engineering students in technical writing at the beginning of the semester.
However, in their first important paper, which was submitted a month after the assignment was announced, some of them committed the act as though I had not told them anything about plagiarism and the consequences thereof.
I was infuriated when I saw pages and pages of wasted paper containing information that was obviously copied from multiple websites. I was almost compelled to tear the sheets into pieces so that the group that purportedly wrote the term paper would know that its output deserved a place in the trash bins of the university rather than in the great halls of the academe. But I felt that it would be too harsh.
The experience gave me the idea that confronting students like them with anger will not yield any fruitful result but, rather, develop in them a sense of hostility that may eventually lead to little learning in class. They are college students. They are young adults. They already know what is right and what is wrong. That type of behavior will not work anymore, especially in this day and age.
So I confronted them in a rather subtle way. I entered the classroom flashing a bright smile as usual, as though telling them it’s another ordinary day. I tried my best to conceal my disgust. I started asking questions pertaining to their possible reaction if something that they had worked so hard on and spent so much time with would be taken away by someone without their consent.
Their reactions were identical. They said they would definitely be angry. One even volunteered the thought of reporting the culprit to higher authorities. I flashed them another smile and paused briefly while some engaged their seat mates in a discussion of their possible reactions.
I asked for a volunteer to read a short paragraph from a term paper I had on my table. When he started reading, I took another paper submitted by another section and read it as well. They were all appalled by what they were hearing. Every word was the same. Judging from their reactions, they had apparently realized what I was getting at.
I heard expressions like “We’re dead!” and “Oh no!” or “OMG!” When the reading ended, the students became silent. I asked them if it was possible that two groups from different sections could have exactly the same thoughts that they would use exactly the same words and paragraphs in exactly the same order in a term paper. They were hesitant to answer. Their silence was unusually deafening.
I threw another question at them, and this time, I asked them about my warning remarks at the beginning of the semester. I saw fear in their eyes. I savored the moment.
“Sir, you told us that plagiarism is a crime. If we are caught plagiarizing other people’s work, we would automatically receive a grade of 5.0 for the term,” said one student. I then asked them why I—and the academe as a whole—am very strict when it came to plagiarism.
Another student answered: “It is because we need to be trained to be intellectually honest citizens to avoid being stripped of our license, or worse, imprisoned because of it. Plagiarizing other people’s work can destroy the credibility we have tried to earn for years, just overnight.” My heart leaped for joy because it seemed to me that they remembered every word I had said.
“If you were in my place, and I submitted a term paper like this, what would you do?” I asked.
One student had the courage to answer in a hushed tone: “Sir, I would give you a grade of 5.0…”
I asked why.
“…[B]ecause that is the rule. It is stated in the student code of conduct, and you said so in the beginning of the semester,” he said.
Some students almost stopped him for saying it. Still others were about to cry.
I explained that they were enrolled in a writing class, so I should be grading them, and not somebody from the Web. I told them that by plagiarizing someone else’s work, they were killing the potential of a better life ahead of them, that they were giving away their dreams just because they lacked the proper motivation and attitude to do their school work.
“Plagiarism is a desperate attempt of people that springs from laziness and refusal to write and do research—something that others consider as painstakingly laborious tasks,” I said, adding that it was an unforgivable insult not only to the professor to whom the paper was submitted, but to the academe in general.
“If you have various means to find your resources to put together thoughts in a term paper with a few clicks of a mouse, we, your teachers, are also blessed with the same means for us to easily spot which one is original and which one is not,” I pointed out.
I said that I would grade them, not by the length of their paper, but by well-thought-out ideas presented with skill. I said that the rules I set forth at the beginning of classes were not made to punish them but to teach them a lesson that they cannot afford to learn only when they have established their name in society or when it was already too late to rebuild the credibility lost because of a simple oversight.
I firmly believe that this time, the rule has indeed become imperative in my class. The same should be true as well in society, to set a good example to the younger generation. Politicians and other respected authorities of the land should therefore not be excused.
Nicanor L. Guinto, 24, is completing his master’s degree at the University of the Philippines in Diliman and working as an instructor at Southern Luzon State University in Lucban,
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