Minimize Take-Home Assignments
Here’s how I deal with plagiarism in Korean universities when I’m teaching advanced level writing to English major students. I only assign 2 “at-home” assignments, both worth 10% of the final grade, for a total of 20%. I give extremely specific topics for a very specific type of essay, word-counts and requirements for things like thesis statements and topic sentences. It’s possible that students could cheat on this, but it would be quite difficult because the assignment is so specific in nature. Even if a few cheaters slip by me, it’s only 20% of their final grade so I’m not really worried about it because this will not propel a C or D level student into an A.
Maximize In-Class Exam Percentages
The bulk of the grade in my writing class (55%) consists of in-class exams that require writing a 5-paragraph essay in 50 minutes. I give the students a list of about 15 possible topics and then on the test day, they have a choice of 2 of the topics which I choose at random. I only allow paper or electronic dictionaries and not cell-phones, so it’s impossible to upload sample essays or something like that. While they can prepare some of their ideas at home, it’s an actual test of writing and not copying something they’ve already prepared.
Say a student really can’t write and gets only 30/55 on these final exams. Even if they get a perfect score on everything else (through cheating), there final percentage will be 75%, which equals only a C+.
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Good Students=love it. Bad Students=hate it
It works for me, but I understand it’s a pretty intense way to do exams in a writing class. The students don’t love it because it’s actually quite a difficult exam, especially if you struggle to write a sentence. However, the better students appreciate the fairness of it because the ones who can actually write will get the higher grades, while those who are terrible can’t bluff their way through it by getting a native speaker to write an essay for them, or plagiarizing, as the case may be.
I have a feeling these weaker students have been cheating and bluffing their way through English classes for years, with little consequence. Not on my watch!
What about Those I do Catch?
If I do catch someone who has copied something (it usually happens once or twice per assignment in a class of 20), I give the student a “0” and no second chance to re-do the assignment. I don’t even talk to them, I just write “0” on the top on their paper and then list the Internet site where I found their work. They’re usually pretty embarrassed (as they should be), but I don’t talk to them because I don’t even care what the excuse is that they’ll inevitably give me. Nor am I willing to give them a second chance, no matter what. It would have been far, far better if they had asked me for an extra day to do the assignment in case of emergency instead of just copying something and thinking I wouldn’t notice. Or, they could have written something terrible on their own, come to my office hours and I would have helped them to make it better. But, they don’t.
The Textbook I use for Academic Writing
If you’re looking for a textbook for your academic writing course, I can’t recommend Great Writing 4: From Great Paragraphs to Great Essaysenough. This one focuses on 5 paragraph essays, but if your students aren’t that advanced, check out the lower-level books in the series-they’re all excellent.