Strategies to Help Legal Studies Students Avoid Plagiarism

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<ul><li><p>Strategies to Help Legal StudiesStudents Avoid PlagiarismLinda B. Samuelsn and Carol M. Bastnn</p><p>I. INTRODUCTION</p><p>Plagiarism is certainly not new to academics, but it may be on the rise with</p><p>easy access to the vast quantities of information available on the Internet.1</p><p>Students researching on the Internet do not have to take handwritten or</p><p>typewritten notes. They can simply print out or copy and save whatever</p><p>they find. They are even spared the tedium of having to retype the ma-</p><p>terial that they have accessed; todays students can simply copy and paste</p><p>the material into their assignments. Also, a number of companies, easily</p><p>accessed online, provide finished research papers for students on business</p><p>and law-related topics for a fee, which, if utilized, can substitute for doing</p><p>any work at all. As a result, the age-old problem of plagiarism is exacer-</p><p>bated by the ease and availability of the copying.</p><p>This article first reviews the importance of helping legal studies stu-</p><p>dents improve their written communication through written assignments,</p><p>despite the problem of plagiarism. The article argues that students need</p><p>more education about plagiarism. It looks at definitions of plagiarism and</p><p>considers typical problems legal studies students may have with plagiarism.</p><p>The article then suggests faculty strategies for structuring assignments to</p><p>avoid plagiarism in student assignments.2</p><p>r 2006, Copyright the AuthorsJournal compilation r 2006, Academy of Legal Studies in Business</p><p>Journal of Legal Studies EducationVolume 23, Issue 2, 151167, Summer/Fall 2006</p><p>nProfessor of Legal Studies, School of Management, George Mason University.</p><p>nnAssociate Professor of Legal Studies, Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies,University of Central Florida.</p><p>1Apiwan D. Born, How to Reduce Plagiarism, 14 J. INFO. SYS. EDUC. 223, 223 (2003).</p><p>2A topic outside the scope of this article is detecting plagiarism. A basic method to detectplagiarism in student work is to use an Internet search engine, such as,to search sophisticated phraseology found in student assignments. Companies such asTurnitins, located at, offer detection services for use by teachers,</p></li><li><p>II. THE CHALLENGE OF IMPROVING STUDENTWRITTEN COMMUNICATION</p><p>One of the recurring criticisms of college graduates by employers is that</p><p>the graduates have poor written communication skills. Legal studies classes</p><p>can be used to improve the quality of student written work by giving stu-</p><p>dents assignments that require significant writing practice. These assign-</p><p>ments have the added bonus for students of helping them improve their</p><p>critical-thinking skills.</p><p>Educational theory encourages moving students forward in Blooms</p><p>Taxonomy for categorizing levels of abstraction.3 Students preparing for and</p><p>taking objective exams may achieve little beyond memorization and perhaps</p><p>understanding. In contrast, written projects can offer more in learning; stu-</p><p>dents engaged in written projects can learn new ideas (knowledge),4 under-</p><p>stand these concepts (comprehension),5 and use the ideas and concepts for</p><p>problem solving (application).6 More advanced students may find patterns</p><p>and meaning (analysis)7 and compare and assess what they have learned</p><p>(evaluate).8 The most advanced students may create new ideas (synthesis).9</p><p>and some schools are investing in these services. Turnitin allows faculty and students to scanwritten work for copying and provides a written report detailing all similarities detected.Turnitin compares materials to other student work submitted and to sources available on theInternet. Writing can be corrected and resubmitted, so students can use Turnitin to self-monitor and thereby avoid plagiarism. Results are available to both the student and the facultymember online and may be printed out by either one. Faculty can also access a report that listsall student results for a particular assignment. Glatt Plagiarism Services, Inc. offers three waysto combat plagiarism at Plagiarism-Finder is a software programthat matches suspect documents with documents on the Internet; the program provides areport showing passages that match Internet material and identifying the source. Informationon this program is located at</p><p>3BENJAMIN S. BLOOM, TAXONOMY OF EDUCATIONAL OBJECTIVES: THE CLASSIFICATION OF EDUCATIO-NAL GOALS: HANDBOOK I, COGNITIVE DOMAIN (1956). See also Linda B. Samuels &amp; Richard L.Coffinberger, Balancing the Needs to Assess Depth and Breath of Knowledge: Does Essay Choice Pro-vide a Solution?, 22 J. LEGAL STUD. ED. 103: 10407 (2005).</p><p>4BLOOM, supra note 3, at 6288.</p><p>5Id. at 89119.</p><p>6Id. at 12043.</p><p>7Id. at 14461.</p><p>8Id. at 185207.</p><p>9Id. at 16284.</p><p>152 Vol. 23 / Journal of Legal Studies Education</p></li><li><p>Over the years, faculty have developed and assigned a multitude of</p><p>projects to legal studies students. These written assignments range from</p><p>traditional legal-based papers10 to experiential journals of class-based</p><p>learning to interviews of legal services providers. Many of these project</p><p>ideas are published in the Journal of Legal Studies Education and providewriting experiences that, hopefully, yield educational benefits for stu-</p><p>dents beyond what can be achieved through in-class examinations. This is</p><p>based on the belief that, to the extent that students communicate their</p><p>learning in their own words, they own these ideas and enhance their</p><p>learning.</p><p>However, despite these benefits, many students are resistant to</p><p>practicing their writing through significant writing experience assign-</p><p>ments. In fact, many students actively avoid courses with research papers</p><p>or other substantial written coursework. When given a choice of all ob-</p><p>jective questions, essays, or a written project, many students choose the</p><p>objective questions. This is because learning to write well takes practice</p><p>and effort, and many students have not had much practice writing and</p><p>do not care to try. Some students recognize that they do not like to write,</p><p>perhaps because they feel or fear that they cannot write well. Some stu-</p><p>dents view written assignments as burdensome and time consuming, to</p><p>be circumvented whenever possible. This issue may arise only infre-</p><p>quently in large-section classes, which generally utilize objective testing</p><p>exclusively. For many students, most of their collegiate distribution</p><p>and major cores assessment experiences are objective exams. In fact,</p><p>this is more often the case than would be hoped with classes in the major</p><p>as well.</p><p>When confronted by a written assignment, some students reason</p><p>that the obvious way to avoid the pain of writing, to save time, to</p><p>10Typically, these papers require students to research a legal issue using traditional legal re-search methods and write a paper summarizing their research and analyzing the issue. Thebest student-authored papers can be presented by students in competitions sponsored by theAcademy of Legal Studies in Business and several regional legal studies academies. The Uni-versity of Central Florida has a two-semester honors course in the major program that pro-vides participating students with significant writing experience. A student who meets certainbaseline requirements spends one semester researching a selected topic and the followingsemester authoring a thesis. The student must successfully defend the thesis before a panel ofthree professors. George Mason University has a Student Research Apprentice programwhere undergraduate students attend a seminar about research and are paid to work withfaculty on research projects.</p><p>2006 / Strategies to Help Legal Studies Students Avoid Plagiarism 153</p></li><li><p>produce a decent work product, and to receive a good grade, is to copy</p><p>someone elses work, in whole or in part. This is a short-term decision,</p><p>which fails to consider the problems the student may experience as a</p><p>result. Many students have little or no experience in considering their</p><p>actions from an ethical perspective. In addition, while student plagiarism</p><p>is often intentional, some students do it unintentionally, often because</p><p>they do not understand what plagiarism is and thereby have not even</p><p>begun to consider the ramifications. Of course, from the students per-</p><p>spective, the problem primarily is that the student may be caught and</p><p>sanctioned. Most students who copy are unconcerned with the negative</p><p>effect on their own learningFthat they would have learned more if theyhad written the assignment without copyingFnor are they troubled withthe ethics of misappropriating someone elses work and passing it off as</p><p>their own. While they may be inexperienced at writing, many students</p><p>are quite adept with technology and sources of information on the In-</p><p>ternet and have experience purchasing goods and services online and</p><p>downloading and sharing information. Specifically, many students have</p><p>copied video tapes, CDs, and DVDs and access music and perhaps even</p><p>videos online.</p><p>The problem from the faculty perspective is at least threefold. First,</p><p>the student has not done the required course work for which the student</p><p>hopes to receive a course grade. Second, to prevent this and preserve the</p><p>integrity of the course and the grading system, all written assignments</p><p>must be monitored by the professor to determine whether students have</p><p>done the assigned work.11 Third, if plagiarism is found, steps must be</p><p>taken by the professor and the administration, in accordance with the</p><p>honor code in effect at the institution. Further complicating matters,</p><p>the institutional sanctions may or may not be in accordance with faculty</p><p>desires. For these reasons, helping students avoid plagiarism is a very</p><p>appealing solution. An obvious place to begin with strategies to avoid</p><p>plagiarism is to define plagiarism and discuss this definition with</p><p>students.</p><p>11A vast improvement in student work quality over a previous assignment may be a clue that astudent has plagiarized in the most recent assignment. Michael Thompson, Hidden in PlainSight, CHRON. HIGHER EDUC., Dec. 2, 2005, at B5. An anonymous reviewer notes that com-puters enable students to edit copied material, making it more difficult for professors to detectplagiarism.</p><p>154 Vol. 23 / Journal of Legal Studies Education</p></li><li><p>III. WHAT IS PLAGIARISM?</p><p>Plagiarism is a concept for which there are many different definitions, with</p><p>some similarities at the core and many differences at the periphery. Plagia-</p><p>rism is copying someone elses work without proper attribution.12 Attribu-</p><p>tion is acknowledging another persons work by citing to the original work</p><p>and, if quoting, placing the quoted information within quotation marks.</p><p>The concept has both legal and ethical underpinnings. Legally, there</p><p>is both a misappropriation and a misrepresentation. When a plagiarist</p><p>misappropriates anothers work to the plagiarists benefit, it is wrong from</p><p>the point of view of property rights, because the owner did not give per-</p><p>mission. The standard for plagiarism is broader or more inclusive than</p><p>found in the copyright law. Also, plagiarism is a misrepresentation, because</p><p>the person whose name is on the document as the author is claiming au-</p><p>thorship, which is untrue.</p><p>The assumption in academia is that the student gains an education</p><p>through participation in the requirements of the courses completed, in-</p><p>cluding authoring written assignments bearing the students name. Pla-</p><p>giarism is an act of dishonesty, because the student claims authorship of a</p><p>document authored by another. Therefore, from the ethics perspective,</p><p>plagiarism reflects poorly on the plagiarists moral character. Honesty is a</p><p>value that underpins the educational institution and that should be trans-</p><p>mitted hand in hand with the students acquisition of knowledge. Even</p><p>unproven accusations of plagiarism can cast suspicion on an individuals</p><p>reputation for telling the truth and behaving morally. Depending on the</p><p>institution, a student who helps another student commit plagiarism may</p><p>also have committed an ethical violation.13</p><p>12The following is the definition of plagiarism from the College of New Jersey Web site,</p><p>Plagiarism is academic theft. If you take words, phrases, ideas, or artistic productions ofsomeone elses and present them as your own, you are guilty of plagiarism. If you quotesomeone elses words or paraphrase someone elses ideas, and do not cite the source, youare guilty of plagiarism. If you give someone elses exact words, but do not quote themFeven if you cite the sourceFyou are guilty of plagiarism.</p><p>13The Harvard University policy is that a student is subject to disciplinary action for helpinganother student plagiarize. Harvard University has made available online at a student guide to plagiarism entitled Writing with Sources: AGuide for Harvard Students. Many other institutions have similar guides available online.</p><p>2006 / Strategies to Help Legal Studies Students Avoid Plagiarism 155</p></li><li><p>There are a number of definitions of plagiarism found in legal liter-</p><p>ature. One source states: Plagiarism is the intentional appropriation of the</p><p>creative product or scholarship of another without attribution.14 Another</p><p>source comments that plagiarism is the act of representing someones</p><p>words or ideas as being of ones own.15 A third observes that plagiarism</p><p>is a form of cheating that allows the plagiarist an unearned benefit.16</p><p>The Legal Writing Institute, an organization comprising mainly law school</p><p>legal writing professors, defines law school plagiarism as [t]aking the lit-</p><p>erary property of another, passing it off as ones own without appropriate</p><p>attribution, and reaping from its use any benefit from an academic insti-</p><p>tution.17</p><p>Though the first definition of plagiarism listed above requires</p><p>intentional behavior, most authorities believe that an individual does</p><p>not have to intend to borrow someone elses words for plagiarism to occur.</p><p>A common defense to accusations of plagiarism is that the writer inadvert-</p><p>ently included the language of a source in notes and wrote the document</p><p>from the notes, without realizing or intending to plagiarize the source.</p><p>However, unlike copyright law, plagiarism does not have a fair use excep-</p><p>tion. Even a de minimis copying without attribution constitutes plagia-</p><p>rism.18 As a result, the concept of plagiarism sometimes can be difficult for</p><p>students and even faculty to fully understand and easily apply. While it is</p><p>clear that wholesale copying of another persons work or sections of an-</p><p>others work without giving credit to the original author is plagiarism, the</p><p>concept can also apply to copying of much smaller amounts. For example,</p><p>plagiarism protects phrases. Thus, it can be plagiarism to borrow someone</p><p>elses wording or even to merely paraphrase someone elses writing by</p><p>changing some words and rearranging others. Many would agree that</p><p>14Jaime S. Dursht, Note, Judicial Plagiarism: It May be Fair Use But Is It Ethical?, 18 CARDOZO L.REV. 1253. 1253 (1996).</p><p>15Jo...</p></li></ul>