Skills Deficit or Intentional Plagiarism?

Our recent blog post discusses the thorny question of intentional vs inadvertent plagiarism. As teachers we always want to look on the bright side, and we naturally have a very positive outlook, so, when it comes to breaches of academic integrity we want to assume that any misconduct has been inadvertent, and simply as a result of an issue with comprehension, reading ability, paraphrasing or some other, easily rectifiable skills deficit. However, in a small number of instances, alarm bells ring, sadly indicating a deliberate attempt to commit misconduct. 

In your experience, what proportion of misconduct is intentional, and what proportion is as a result of a skills deficit of some kind? And what are some of the tell-tale signs that can signal possible misconduct? 

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  • In my experience, it has been a combination of intentional in order to get the work done in order to "grade grab" and skills deficit. There must be an unwritten rule somewhere that if a child has a 0 that won't cut it at home with parents, so in order to get rid of the 0, the child does "something".  Anything is better than a 0, so students purposely plagiarize to move on to something else more pressing.  If you talk to administrators, they may say that the student intentionally plagiarizes because that is a message to the teacher that the assignment isn't worth the child's time, but I don't believe that is so much the issue of intention rather than just to replace the 0.  As for the other side - which takes up a huge proportion of my students is skills deficit.  Most times it all narrows down to comprehension of a reading and then paraphrasing and / or citing / quoting correctly.  I find that when my students are faced with multiple sources and then have to synthesize their resources to support an argument or thesis, they struggle with saying all of it, so they just "copy" from one source that says it the best.  It's not intentional it is that they think - well that person says it the best so I'll use it!  My emphasis this year will be on citation / paraphrasing / quoting and synthesis of materials. 

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