Why Plagiarism Doesn’t Bother Me At All: A Research-Based Overview of Plagiarism as Educational Opportunity

Gerald Nelms explains how student plagiarism is very often less of a cut-and-dried crime than it appears. Research shows that successfully avoiding plagiarism—while also paraphrasing and integrating material from sources—requires complex skills that take time and practice to develop. We can see instances of plagiarism as opportunities to help students learn these skills.

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Students Don’t Go to College to Learn

Teachers may romanticize or villainize students based on conjecture, personal experience, and anecdotal observations. But for the most part we remain in the dark about what students actually do and want. In My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2005), Rebekah Nathan moves us beyond speculation and gives us a useful portrait of college students’ lives, reporting on her observations during a year-long “undercover” anthropological study of college culture. This portrait includes bad news, good news, and an overall more complex and informed way of understanding students.

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