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ASEE PRISM
  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationOCTOBER 2006Volume 16 | Number 2 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
FEATURES
Trouble on the Horizon - BY THOMAS K. GROSE
Get SMART - BY THOMAS K. GROSE
Tulane's Next Move - BY JEFFREY SELINGO

DEPARTMENTS
COMMENTS
CONTRIBUTORS
BRIEFINGS
REFRACTIONS: ENGINEERING AND HISTORY - BY HENRY PETROSKI
CLASSIFIEDS
LAST WORD: The College Payoff - BY ANTHONY P. CARNEVALE

TEACHING TOOLBOX
Let Go of My Legos - Those little bricks are a wonderful way to teach engineering to youngsters. BY ALICE DANIEL
BOOK REVIEW: An Inconvenient Truth - BY ROBIN TATU
TEACHING: The Plague of Self-Plagiarism - BY PHILLIP WANKAT AND FRANK OREOVICZ
ON CAMPUS: The Write Solution- BY LYNNE SHALLCROSS










 
TEACHING TOOLBOX:  - TEACHING: The Plague of Self-Plagiarism - Students shouldn’t copy from reports they’ve written for other classes.  - BY PHILLIP WANKAT AND FRANK OREOVICZTEACHING TOOLBOX:  - TEACHING: The Plague of Self-Plagiarism - Students shouldn’t copy from reports they’ve written for other classes.  - BY PHILLIP WANKAT AND FRANK OREOVICZ  


It’s late. The deadline is near, and you haven’t started the literature review for your article. But wait. Your published 2002 article on teleological engineering has just what you need, so you copy and paste and meet the deadline with hours to spare. What could possibly be wrong? Well, you’ve just self-plagiarized! As teachers, we all know what plagiarism is, our schools have policies against it and we probably put a line in our syllabus cautioning students to avoid it. But what about self-plagiarism? Not only are there often no rules against it, but there is little recognition that a problem even exists.

Self-plagiarism involves copying from one’s own work without proper attribution. A common scenario, particularly in graduate and senior elective classes, is to assign a course project that is a major part of the course grade. You discuss plagiarism with the students, and because you use an Internet anti-plagiarism tool such as “Turn-it-in,” you’re fairly confident that students have not plagiarized.

But it may not have occurred to you that some of your students self-plagiarized. Copying one’s own work is dishonest because it presents the material as original work. It’s also unfair since students who don’t have a previous report to rely on have to do a lot more work to earn the same grade. But perhaps more important, students who simply recopy their previous work are also cheating themselves out of an opportunity to learn more.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many students don’t think plagiarizing is wrong. So it stands to reason that they don’t have a problem with self-plagiarizing. That’s all the more reason you must let them know that writing reports in this way is a form of cheating.

There are several approaches you can take. When the course project is assigned, talk to the class about self-plagiarizing. Explain why it’s wrong—and you can add a line to that effect in the syllabus. You might also get your colleagues involved by discussing the issue at the department level. And use appropriate channels, such as the department’s representative to the university senate, to push for the addition of self-plagiarism to the university’s definition of cheating.

You can give students a scholarly alternative to self-plagiarism. Have them treat their previous course project as a publication and then build on it. They can appropriately cite this previous report and use quotations if they quote from it. A copy of the previous project can be appended to the new report.

Of course, a few students may still try to circumvent the rules and resubmit old projects. If you want to try to catch cheaters, discuss your course project with professors who teach courses that might have overlapping projects and see if there are any suspicious reports. In any case, developing the habit of discussing teaching with other professors is a good way to improve your own teaching.

We can control self-plagiarism by first identifying the problem, setting appropriate rules, explaining procedures to our students, providing a scholarly alternative, modeling appropriate behavior and occasionally checking for compliance. A more uniform playing field will be the result, with more balanced student workloads and increased student learning.

Phillip Wankat is director of undergraduate degree programs in the department of engineering education and the Clifton L. Lovell Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering at Purdue University. Frank Oreovicz is an education communications specialist at Purdue’s chemical engineering school. They can be reached by e-mail at purdue@asee.org.

 

 


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American Society for Engineering Education