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Parkland committee to address plagiarism

Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 11:01

term paper

Illustration by Burke Stanion

While it isn't clear whether or not more students are committing plagiarism or more cases are being detected, it is clear that Parkland views this trend as a major problem. In the hopes of addressing the apparent increase in cases of cheating and plagiarism, the college has formed a committee called the Academic Integrity Affirmation Study Group.

Pam Lau, Dean of Academic Services and member of the group, described the reasoning behind its formation. "I would receive reports of dishonesty, and I would receive a lot of these reports. We would have discussions on these reports. The question was asked ‘Are instructors aware of these dishonest acts?'"

The committee was formed in the fall of 2011, and every academic department is represented among its members. Student government has also elected a student representative for the group. Their discussions shifted their focus from the negative approach of finding ways to catch cheaters to a positive one, which encourages and supports honest students.

"Students have rights, but we want students to be responsible for their own learning," Lau said. "Higher education is about more than just expanding our intellectual selves. It's about learning to live up to principles of honesty and integrity."

In her role as the Dean of Academic Services, Lau maintains a database, which records every reported case of academic dishonesty. She also plays a crucial role in the appeal process for getting names stricken from the database and violations overturned.

When faculty confirms a case of cheating or plagiarism, the following process occurs. First, the faculty member fills out an academic dishonesty form, and privately informs the student responsible of the violation. Then, in accordance with the course's syllabus, a penalty is imposed. The teacher then sends the documentation concerning the plagiarism to the Dean of Academic Services and the student's name is entered into the academic dishonesty database. Students found to be at fault then have multiple opportunities to appeal the decision of the chairpersons overseeing their cases.

In an effort to have a positive impact on the student body, the Academic Integrity Affirmation Study Group is in the process of determining whether or not Parkland should adopt an optional academic honesty affirmation. Such an affirmation would, in effect, ask students to give their word in writing that they didn't cheat on an assignment. Instructors would decide on an individual basis, from class to class and assignment to assignment, whether or not to require their students to write the affirmation.

The group also hopes to bring about active discussion between students and faculty about the issue of plagiarism. "One of the things I hope is that having such a statement will generate discussion in classes. Many teachers will discuss it," Lau said. "Instructors will be able to set the standard and say ‘This is what I expect.' For students to be turning in a paper, and writing out the affirmation on paper, will have a psychological effect on the students."

"Literature on this topic tells us that academic honesty affirmations can be one important part of building a campus culture of academic integrity," according to the co-chair of the group, who wishes to remain anonymous. "Campuses with cultures of academic honesty do have lower rates of student-reported cheating than those without."

One thing that the group does not wish is for students to report the dishonesty of their fellows. "We do not encourage students to ‘snitch,' and most students do not feel comfortable reporting incidents anyways," Lau said. Instead, the committee hopes that when students are asked to let another copy their work, they will simply decide against it.

With the initiation of the committee and efforts from students, faculty and staff alike, the college hopes to cut down on reports of plagiarism and academic dishonesty on campus.

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