Teaching Academic Integrity and Plagiarism across Disciplines

Academic Integrity
Every college discipline should teach students about academic integrity and the dangers associated with plagiarism. Composition courses should not be the only course that teaches students about original work, intellectual property, and proper attribution of source materials. However, it is in such a course that I help my students dive into the nuances and documentation of research. I have learned that the best way to contextualize learning is through timely examples. This has been my experience over many years.
We will begin class by discussing the concept of plagiarism and copying. We will discuss the many ways that copying someone’s work could take place. Sometimes copying other people’s work can be considered flattery. This could be the case when you copy a fashion label or a home decor style. When words are involved, intellectual property problems can arise.
Real Life Plagiarism #1: Copyright Infringement of Music
Each semester, I try and find some recent examples of controversy in the music industry to show how creative endeavors can go too far with songwriting. These are viewed through the lense of class case studies. Robin Thicke/Pharell Williams settled for $7.4 Million to Marvin Gaye’s family for copyright infringement of Gaye’s “Got to Give it up” song. This YouTube mashup features both songs. I ask students to serve as the jury. They begin to notice the similarities and realize that there is a difference in stylistic flattery from blatantly hijacking someone’s original work.

Once students have an understanding of plagiarism and copying, we can move on to a discussion that focuses on words. Although no one can own all words, companies can trademark slogans and inventors can patent ideas. Authors can also copyright their books. These standards are in place to protect language in these ways.
Real Life Example #2: Speech Plagiarism
Speeches are one way to look at the plagiarism of words. Melania Trump’s 2016 Republican National Convention Speech was strikingly similar to Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention Speech. To hear the controversy, I have my students watch this video. This video does not contain the entire speeches. However, it allows my class to focus on the most controversial sections. I then share with them the information that Turnitin, a company with powerful digital plagiarism detection software, found as a percentage “unoriginal content” in this section Trump’s speech.
Students can see that a whole work does not need to be copied in order to avoid plagiarism. This is another way I can help students see their responsibilities as academic writers in college English classes.
In the previous semesters, we discussed:
Brian Williams, news anchor
philanthropist Greg Mortenson
Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat
non-fiction author James Frey
New York Times journalist Jayson Blair.
Students are allowed to examine popular controversy and to look at the fall-out. This has led to a better understanding of the importance and value of concepts that we use when we write.
I want students to understand that original work is important in the public sphere. While gross exaggerations and sensational lies may attract short-term attention, the long-term impact on credibility and job security is much greater.
There is no one way to teach documentation skills. There is no right way to discuss plagiarism. I hope to highlight the importance of what I have learned and help students become competent communicators through a variety case studies and discussions.
Instructors in different disciplines can discuss the importance and benefits of original work with students. They will be able to find examples that fit their class’s context and use them as examples. Instructors should share examples in all disciplines, including art, music, engineering, math, science, and computing. This will help students understand the value of skills they may have learned in college English classes, but which are applicable to other areas as well.
Helping students get it: Cheating hurts them

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