By J. Wheeldon*
September is the beginning of the school year and another chance for those of us who teach the next generation of scholars to think about what we might do differently this time around. As Profs finalize syllabi and update lectures, I want to suggest that the first few weeks of class is a good time to get a sense of how students understand the basic building blocks of writing. In my opinion these building blocks include: sources, structure, and citations.
Academic honesty has been much in the news of late. Whether it students at well-known schools or evidence of plagiarism by journalists and television personalities, a debate of sorts has emerged on the issue. Some see plagiarism as a function of technological advancements. Students today can copy and paste things from multiple sources, change a few words around (and the font!), and pass it off as their own. Others suggest stealing the work of others is hardly new. While technology may make it easier to cheat, the decision to cut corners amounts to a basic ethical lapse. For these commentators, it this moral question that must be confronted.
Based on a project I conducted while at George Mason University, this resource provides some more details on a step-by-step approach to assist students to plan, research, draft, and review academic papers. For now, I want to focus on the question of how to help students properly cite sources and integrate material into original work. In my experience teaching in multiple countries, states, and universities, one major issue is that students do not know what standard is expected of them. Should they use APA or MLA? Does the Prof want Chicago style or some other strange and/or personal approach to citation? The lack of clarity for students is a function of the lack of consensus among disciplines and the seemingly endless infighting that is a historic feature of the academy.
Punishing students for plagiarism requires first that Profs clearly articulate the standard required. This means including policies, tips, and techniques on syllabi and in lectures. It may include other approaches as well. For the last 4 years I have been using a citation quiz in the first week of all my classes. Students complete it, and we then talk about what the “best” answers might be and why.
The quiz is below and I encourage you to read through it and think about if and how it might be useful to your teaching. No doubt you will need to adapt it and I would love to see how you improve it. My biggest suggestion is this: Don’t assume. Yes, students should have learned this stuff in high school. Yes, their required writing course or some other departmental specific course should have prepared them. I assure you, however, most do not know as much as you think they should. A quiz is a good way to start a conversation about writing. In my experience, investing in this early in the term pays off later when the endless mountains of essays arrive to be graded.
Let’s help students learn about proper citation practices instead of blaming them for not knowing. Remember, once you build this into your coursework, no student can say they didn’t know how to properly cite sources, and/or that no one taught them. At least not in your class.
*Dr. Johannes Wheeldon (LL.M, Ph.D) holds degrees from Dalhousie University, the University of Durham, and Simon Fraser University. He worked at the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada between 2002-2005 and has since worked for the American Bar Association, George Mason University, and the Center for Justice Law and Development.
He is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Washington State University and teaches Philosophy to inmates at the Coyote Ridge Correctional Center. He can be reached at email@example.com.
You can also follow Dr. Wheeldon on Twitter @JusticeLawDev
Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices is available here: http://wpacouncil.org/node/9
Self Administered Citation Quiz
Part 1 Source Selection (True or False)
1. ___ Academic sources include articles from peer-reviewed journals, articles from University web sites, non-fiction books or chapters from those books.
2. ___ Its ok to use non-academic web pages, TV shows or movies, and wikipedia as academic sources as long as you cite them.
3. Rank (1 – best, 5- worst) the following sources in terms of academic reliability:
___ Newspapers and magazines
___ Peer Reviewed Journals
___ Non-Fiction Books
___ Government funded websites
Part 2 Citations (True or False)
4. ___ Copying a sentence or two without crediting the source is not plagiarism.
5. ___ It is not plagiarism if you use information or ideas without crediting the source as long as the exact words are not used.
6. ___ Using specific terminology used by someone else, even a unique word or two, must be set off with “quotation marks.”
7. ___ The author and year of any source used must be included in cases when you summarize, paraphrase, or directly cite the work of another.
8. ___ Page numbers must be provided whenever you paraphrase or directly cite the work of another.
Part 3 Bibliographies (True or False)
9. ___ All sources used in an academic paper do not have to be listed in a bibliography.
10. ___ The information provided in a bibliography should allow a reader to find the source you have used.
Part 4 Read through the Writing Website
- Based on the website what points on structure, citations, and style did you all ready know?
- What points did you not know?
- What aspect of the points raised will be the most challenging for you?