[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Sarah Rosol of the and Dr. Dale Cyphert of the University of Northern Iowa. They recently published an article in Business and Professional Communication Quarterly entitled “Profiling Potential Plagiarizers: A Mastery Learning Instructional Technique to Enhance Competency,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Rosol reveals the inspiration for conducting this research and additional findings not included in the paper:]
What motivated you to pursue this research?
We wanted to shed light on the anecdotal evidence that many students are legitimately confused about plagiarism and proper citation techniques. Often the problem is chalked up to laziness or malicious intent on the part of the student, which might be unfair. In our experience, most faculty members have not considered that current instruction methods or procedures might be encouraging the problem. The animosity and anxiety generated when faculty use the term “plagiarism” adds stress without communicating the need for some additional skill. Our instructional goal was to develop a method to ease some of that stress and create a more collaborative classroom experience. Along the way, we learned that being proactive at the beginning of the class saves both time and major headaches at the end of the course.
What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?
The article could not fully convey the damage to the instructor’s reputation when she announced that she had discovered plagiarism. Rumors spread throughout the college as students speculated about punishments and gossiped about the instructor’s unfairness. At one point, rumors had escalated to include claims that the instructor had actively attempted to unfairly fail over 60% of the class for plagiarism and that the Dean had to force the instructor to allow some individuals to graduate. None of that was even close to the real story, yet students were extremely upset with the instructor for confronting the plagiarism problem. The instructor was both surprised and mortified to walk into class the following semester and find anticipatory hatred on Day 1. Further, attempts to convey the real story were quickly dismissed by the students as simply her attempt to save face by lying!
As a result, the article also fails to capture the contrasting ease and confidence of students gearing up for the final papers after we had used the mastery learning approach. In previous semesters, the stress and anxiety was almost palpable as students resisted submitting the papers to the plagiarism software and asked question after question about proper citations. Prior to the mastery approach, I was seen as the authority figure just waiting to pounce on a student for any little mistake. After adopting the mastery approach, I was viewed as someone that was looking out for their best interests and actively helping the students avoid the errors without a severe penalty.
What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?
As we dug into the literature, it was clear that “plagiarism” is used as a broad umbrella term for several types of offenses, and authors exhibit vastly different assumptions about causes, as well as the severity of any presumed moral lapse and suitable punishments. The different definitions and measurements make comparisons across various studies difficult. Our advice would be to carefully define terms, which is good research practice in any field, but also to carefully interrogate their own moral and pedagogical presumptions, which seem to have a huge impact on how plagiarism research is framed and interpreted.
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