Section B: Preventing Plagiarism

The next two sections offer a series of brief videos with additional resources for instructors in both small and large classes.  They provide tips on how to prevent plagiarism through assignment and course design and on how to approach and converse with students in the event that instructors suspect plagiarism.

How do I prevent plagiarism in my small, discussion-based class?

Expert perspective: Steven Engel is a graduate of the University of Michigan’s Joint Program in English and Education and works as a lecturer in the U-M English Department Writing Program. Steve’s research focuses on academic integrity issues in the writing classroom.

Expand to view transcript of video

The first way in which we craft assignments that open up places for plagiarism would be reusing the same assignment year after year.

So if these are essays that students can get ahold of samples from their roommates, from files or something like that, I think we’re encouraging them to utilize those sources more than doing original research.

The second is by asking them such broad questions, that it’s hard to tell if their answers are coming from their experience in the class, or, again, if they’re searching for places online that might answer the same question.

I think the other places in which we can create opportunity unintentionally for plagiarism, is if we are unclear on what we’re looking for in the paper.

So if we, again, give really broad, open-ended topics, which we might feel like gives the better students opportunity to explore on their own, the students who may be not as comfortable with academic writing, might look elsewhere for ideas, and so will either grab large chunks of text, or just get lost and confused and start to do patch-writing.

Spending time in class, talking about plagiarism and responsible source use, I think pays dividends beyond just preventing students, or warning students, against plagiarism. I think it gives you windows to talk about what it means to be an author. What does it mean to engage in conversations in your discipline?

What are the ways in which scholars operate and think about texts, so that students can see, not just these rules that we have about plagiarism, but the reasons we encourage citation and acknowledgment.

In literature, it’s easy to talk about inter-textuality, allusion, that sometimes are acknowledged, sometimes are not.

I could imagine having similar conversations in other disciplines, where you’re looking at how the text, how knowledge is created, how ideas are developed and shared, throughout that field.

We want them to talk to other people about their writing.

Writing is really social, but to give them an outlet to acknowledge that, so at the end of each paper, even if it’s a three page paper, I’ll have them write a little acknowledgment section, where they thank, people, you know, their peer tutor, the faculty at Sweetland, that they’ve asked their roommate to help with proofreading.

So that a lot like academic articles will have acknowledgments, that we try to model that same ability to thank people who have helped you with that paper.

Key Takeaways

  • Don’t use the same assignment year after year
  • Avoid broad, open-ended topics: ask narrow questions that students can’t find the answer to online
  • Engage students in meta-thinking about how to think within their discipline, what the scholarly process looks like, and why acknowledgement matters
  • Encourage students to name and thank the people who helped them develop their ideas
  • Don’t take it personally if students plagiarize despite your careful instruction


Expert perspective: Steven Engel is a graduate of the University of Michigan’s Joint Program in English and Education and works as a lecturer in the U-M English Department Writing Program. Steve’s research focuses on academic integrity issues in the writing classroom.

Expand to view transcript of video

The first thing you want to make sure is that students are really aware of how you want them to engage with the sources.

Do you want them just to look at the primary text? Do you want them to engage with secondary sources?

I think it’s important to provide steps along the way, so that students can see how they should engage with sources.

Take time in class to model how they should take notes on that primary source.

My assignment sheets tend to provide the overview, and then a number of steps along the way, and then, in class, we will talk about those steps.

I will model examples, so I tend to do one on my own, we do one together, and then, I’ll have them do one on their own, so that there’s this movement toward proficiency on their part.

I don’t give them a specific topic, but, what I will do is check in with them throughout reading the text.

What questions do they have that they don’t know the answer to? So I like to see the essay as an attempt to uncover and answer –not just report on what they think they know already.

I try to model asking questions, and I’ll ask questions that I don’t know the answer to, to show them that this is really how we need to engage in literature. This is how we need to– this is why we read, right?

Is to ask questions that we don’t quite know the answer, and it’s through the act of investigating, that we develop, we create, meaning, and we are able to develop things to write about.

If students are struggling a little with “I’m not sure what kinds of questions to ask,” I’ll then work with them to think about, you know, what’s a place in the text that you were bothered by? You know, where’s a place in the text that you had a strong feeling about?

So that they can use that tension, that fusion, as a place for investigation.

Show them how the research is in support to answering that question, right? That you’re allying yourself with these other writers, in your investigation of that question. So that you’re not just providing other people’s answers, but you’re using other sources to help with your answer.

And so, in some of the drafting, I’ll really encourage them to write in the first person, than I think is easier than to pull away if you want a more formal register, but to get them to say, “I’m arguing this,” right?

Then place themselves in conversation with these other writers, so it’s not expecting them just to come up with the ideas, but to use some of these resources to help them answer the question on their own.

To keep students on track, I will often ask students to go around the room quickly, in ten seconds, or fewer, tell me what question they’re thinking about investigating, or have them read one, you know, their thesis statement, or offer one example of from the text that they’re going to look at.

I think it is helpful to eyeball what the students are doing, right? So if you have a workshop, not just workshop on a draft, but I’ve had workshops on invention, right? How do you come up with ideas? What are strategies for thinking about the organization? And get them into small groups to work on those steps.

It’s important to reach out to students that you see struggling, so if I am checking in with students, and see students who are not keeping up, I really want to make sure that I invite them to office hours, or, or talk to them briefly after class, so that they don’t get in a position, where they’re trying to make up all of this work…to check in, informally, right?

It doesn’t have to be a big production, just ask.

Key Takeaways

  • Clarify how you want students to engage with sources
  • Provide steps along the way
  • Model how they should take notes
  • Do one example for them, do one together, have them do one on their own
  • Guide students toward a research question by asking the what confused or intrigued them about the text and by modeling asking questions you don’t know the answer to
  • Rather than restating what other scholars say, have students use scholars’ ideas to support their own inquiry
  • Check in on students along the way by having them share parts of their writing process with the class
  • Reach out to struggling students


How do I prevent plagiarism in my large lecture-based class?

Expert perspective: Mike LaVaque-Manty, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan. LaVaque-Manty also holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Philosophy

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Well, I start thinking about it, before crafting the assignments themselves.

I have some discussion on my syllabus on academic integrity, in general.

I try to frame academic integrity, not as an issue of trying to catch cheaters, trying to think that students are out there to cheat, but sort of think about, what are the proper practices that guide, sort of, collective enterprise we engage in, and I try to talk about the importance of the fact that all of our work is collaborative.

So why not acknowledge that students should think about collaborating, including their assignment, on their assignment.

And then going from there, starting to think about how to frame the assignment so that some collaboration is not only okay, but commendable.

And then what kinds, given that collaboration, either with real people or resources, what tools guide that?

So we should signal the importance of collaborative work, and then think about, okay, what are the rules of the game? What makes this game possible? They are, again, giving credit where credit is due, being transparent and open.

By having explicit guidelines, so how you cite your materials, what you don’t need to cite, the basic stuff, but it’s again framed as don’t cheat, you bad person, it’s more like, this will help us understand where the credit is due, if I as a interlock-eter, am curious about your claims, I can check them up.

So that’s how I frame all those rules. This is why you need to cite this. Most of the cheaters that we catch, they panic the night before, and they do stupid things. They don’t think about what to do. So, to prevent those opportunities, or at least limit them, I try to make it very hard for them to find direct sources on the Internet, or papers to buy.

So I rotate my assignments pretty frequently, but, or I might tinker with them, and then, even when I teach canonical stuff, so for example, when I teach Plato, I try to think of a contemporary connection.

A couple of years ago, there was that Congressman who yelled at Obama, “You lie!” And I framed a paper topic on Plato’s apology, which is about Socrates’ trial, around what would Socrates say to this guy? And so, of course, it’s not uncheatable.

I always meet weekly with all my GSIs, in one topic every week, especially when we have assignments, either in the field, being worked on, or due recently –graded.

We look at, look at literally, the class roster, and we rank the students, not for the purposes of ranking, other than identifying the weakest students, and we go through pretty much everybody, so we look at all the students who did poorly on a paper, for example, and we talk about everybody individually. Say, “What’s going on here?”

And the point is not to say, “Okay, why is this person so awful?” But what the issues are. And in addition to that, so I mentioned I made more and more explicit rubrics lately, and so now, I also have my GSIs grade with the rubric. So, there all multiple dimensions for a paper, and so then, when they grade on that, it becomes, sort of, almost technically very easy for me to identify, like, “Look, these, all these students, seem to have issues with structure, or, or topic sentences, or citations styles, or things like that.”

Key Takeaways

  • Discuss academic integrity from the beginning of the course
  • Show that academic integrity does not preclude collaboration
  • Create explicit guidelines for how to cite material
  • Frame those guidelines as understanding where credit is due, not as cheating vs. not cheating
  • Don’t ask students to analyze a canonical text in isolation; instead, ask them to make unconventional connection between the text and other less well-known texts or events
  • Norm grades among GSIs (graduate student instructors) and check in as a teaching team about struggling students
  • Grade with a rubric that helps you identify what students’ issues are


Teaching the research process through lecture, discussion and assessment

Expert perspective: Mike LaVaque-Manty, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan. LaVaque-Manty also holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Philosophy

Expand to view transcript of video

When we post the assignment, I usually try to give them about, if it’s a conventional paper, I also use blogs and things like that, but if it’s a conventional paper, I try to give them about two weeks.

And I tell them that it does not mean that they have to work on it for two weeks, ideally, it means they don’t work on it the two hours before, or the night before.

When we post the assignment, I start talking about it. I go through it in great detail in class, and in my assignments, I include the purpose of the assignment, the audience, and sort of, the particular rules, for my requirements.

So, I go through all of those, and also what we’re looking for. So, I start making my rubrics very explicit. So, that’s maybe about ten to fifteen minutes, and invariably, some Q & A.

And then, I ask the GSIs to spend some time in section, sometime before it’s due, not too early, but also, not right before, thinking about, again, this workshop model, where they think about something like, “Okay, let’s all right the first sentence of this, your paper.”

I have this, sort of, trade-off issue, because no single assignment is required of all; students have choices.

So I don’t want to bore the students who feel like, “Okay, I’m not doing that.” So that’s partly why I also want to make the discussions sort of general, like, this is a learning opportunity to think about this kind of thing academics do, whether you are writing this particular paper topic, or not.

I started grading writing, many years ago, thinking, “Oh, writing is so subjective, rubrics are a stupid idea.” No, they’re not. I think that we are using rubrics all the time, in our heads, anyway.

And if we make them explicit to the students, some people might say, “Well, you’re teaching to the test.” As if where, if you give them the rubric, and if the rubric catches what you want them to do, then that’s a feature, and not a bug.

What’s really cool about coming up with a rubric, it’s actually connected to coming up with the paper assignment. So, when I think about, like I said, I always put on my prompt sheet, I say, “The purpose of this paper is x, y, and z.” To develop an argument, a close reading of a text, understanding an argument, a counter-argument, paraphrase an argument, and so on.

So, I think about those purposes, and then, I think about the rubrics, and so, obviously, the rubrics should some how track those things. So, I think of the dimensions that we care about, and let me use an example, which is a little easier.

So, in my intro class, students can also do group projects. And the thing about it is that group are completely unspecified. They can be anything.

They can be videos, they can be music. One group, a couple of years ago, came up with a board game.

I said, “Why not?” And so, if part of the idea is to be creative, then creativity is one dimension. So, for the group projects, I have three dimensions of evaluation.

One is creativity or innovation, second is interpretation, and because it still has to do with the materials, so you could, you could have a board game that claims to be about political theory, but it’s not. And so, how well does it do that? And then, the third one is the execution.

So, you might say, I want to have a four million dollar movie about Plato, but, you know, if you don’t have four million dollars, at the time to do that, then that’s not going to work out.

So, we have three dimensions of evaluation, and the same happens for all kinds of assignments. For a paper, it’s again, it’s structure, it’s argumentation, it’s interpretation, and then, writing. And the writing includes proper use of citations, and things like that.

And then we realize often– and each, each dimension has exceeds expectations, meets expectations, and so on, and then, then we grade the papers, and then we see whether it worked, and we might tinker a little bit, and so on. And this has been really great.

Key Takeaways

  • Give students enough time to complete the assignment
  • Go through assignments in detail in both lecture and section. Use a workshop model in section
  • Communicate the assignment’s purpose
  • Make rubrics explicit and align them with that purpose