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nikipedia's avatar

Can you give me any advice on how to handle doing something awful to someone else?

Asked by nikipedia (27497points) April 26th, 2010

Two of my students blatantly plagiarized their last assignment.

I would have been fine with them working together (and even would have encouraged it). But they have some sentences that are word-for-word identical.

We have a zero-tolerance policy for cheating. I have no choice but to fail them for the course.

One of them is sneaky and dishonest and I had suspected that she cheated on a previous exam anyway. I will not be sorry to see her go.

The other one is very earnest and sweet but so completely lost and was clearly in over his head in this class.

Much as I dislike the one student, I feel horrible that I have to do this to them.

Have you ever had to do something similar? Any words of guidance?

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44 Answers

jbfletcherfan's avatar

I wish you could talk to my daughter. She’s a high school history teacher & had this happen last year in one of her classes. It involved 3 kids. It caused a HUGE stink, of course. But she didn’t let it go, & neither can you. These kids need to be taught self dicipline & integrity.

stratman37's avatar

call the sneaky one in and tell her you caught the other one cheating and “what do you think I should do?”...

Trillian's avatar

Plagarism is frowned upon for very good reasons. Just because the person is “sweet and lost” does not mean it’s ok to look the other way. You can get booted right out of college for this.
Remember that you are not doing anything to them except making them face the consequences for something they did to themselves.

marinelife's avatar

Be brief. Come to the point when you meet with them. Be factual. Have examples of what they did handy to show them.

Do not let your agony over this show.

Afterward, go out to dinner or take a hot bath or otherwise do something nice for yourself.

P.S. You are not doing something awful to them. They did it to themselves. You are merely the instrument of doom.

MrItty's avatar

You’re not doing anything to them. They did it to themselves.

And you have a weird definition of “earnest”, btw. Cheating is the opposite of honesty.

CMaz's avatar

Don’t take it personal. It is just business.
DO what HAS to be done.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Are these students aware of what plagiarism is and why it is unacceptable?

bob_'s avatar

To quote Nike, just do it.

gailcalled's avatar

And if the second guy was lost and clearly in over his head, you and he should have had him drop the class before it got to this point.

But now you’re stuck with the dirty job. Just do it.

john65pennington's avatar

There is only one way for you to look at this situation: right is right and wrong is wrong. in my police rookie class, we had two applicants that were sitting together and were caught passing a cheat note to each other. the Sgt. immediately took them to separate rooms and gave them the same test, but apart. they both failed and they were kicked out of the academy.

Do not feel bad for the actions you are about to take. i hate cheaters, everyone hates cheaters. by not acting, you are not doing the students justice.

wonderingwhy's avatar

Call them in, inform them that, because of their actions (define them clearly), you will be forced to fail them. If there is an appeals process, direct them to it, otherwise, that’s that.

Sorry, but it’s a bit like firing someone. When it needs to be done, just doing it is usually the best method anything else just drags it out needlessly. Just be clear, direct, and succinct.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

You did the right thing, if only all teachers were like you!

hug_of_war's avatar

At my college at least cheating is a HUGE deal, there has to be a hearing, and it’s really serious so it’s better to learn the lesson now. Also being generally a nice person doesn’t excuse a bad decision. So don’t feel bad, you’re doing the right thing. Actions have consequences.

Cruiser's avatar

I would review these cases with a peer worker or your superior to go on record of your findings if warranted strictly for procedure purposes. The I would call each into a meeting one on one and show them the evidence and advise them of their consequences and or rights for appeal if their is any.

ChaosCross's avatar

Give justice so that they may understand mercy later in life. If I were in your shoes I would bring down the hammer hard to make sure they know what they are doing is wrong and that they should not plan to do it again.

Sounds harsh, but very gentle to them in the long run.

lilikoi's avatar

You could have a separate conversation with the one you have more faith in. For people walking the thin line, reaching out to them could make the difference between dropping out of school and going on to grad school.

The reality is, one F is not going to kill either of them, so don’t feel too badly.

They probably expect it. I took an accelerated summer math course in college one year, and ended up having to travel for a massive chunk of the term. I missed a lot of class because of that and just could not catch up in the end, and also missed the deadline for dropping the class. The instructor on top of that was foreign and had high standards. She was a good teacher, and I was bummed I missed out. She gave me a D, which I was fully prepared to receive, we had a nice conversation, and there were no hard feelings. I understood why she needed to do what she did, and she knew I would get past it.

You can serve justice tactfully being firm instead of mean.

MissAusten's avatar

I agree that you should handle it according to the school’s policies without letting emotions get involved. If the students get away with it, they are more likely to try it again in the future. If any of the other students learn that someone got away with cheating, they will probably feel cheated themselves.

When I was in high school, a kid in my Spanish class got caught cheating during a test. The teacher made a big show of ripping up the test and throwing it away, but the next day let the kid retake the test. He wasn’t disciplined in any way, and didn’t even lose points on the test he did take. The rest of us took a very bad attitude toward the teacher, and I think he knew it. By the end of the year we were all opening helping each other during tests, and he pretended not to notice. No one respected him or took him seriously.

In your position, I would feel horrible too. It’s to your credit that you feel bad for at least one of the students, but will be more to your credit to do the right thing. :( Then go out for a martini.

kevbo's avatar

Education is more than just studying and test taking. Among many other things, it is also learning about how to make mistakes and recover from them and to recognize one’s limitations and manage them. They both acted out of some degree of ignorance. This is still an opportunity for you to teach and for them to learn.

nikipedia's avatar

@gailcalled: Because it’s a lab course, they can’t drop it after the first day. I agree that he should not have taken it.

Allie's avatar

I’ve never had to do anything like this, at least not that I can think of right now. It’s not like it’s your choice though. It’s a campus policy. They knew the rules and they knew what the consequences would be if they plagiarized. (Seriously, it’s not like this is some new rule on college campuses.) I would feel bad for the one student if I were in your position, but he should have come to you and asked for help instead of plagiarizing.

tinyfaery's avatar

Do you know for a fact that the person #2 (or #1 for that matter) actually cheated? Do you think they both copied something out of a book or that they copied off of each other? Because if #1 copied from #2 (or vice versa) there is no way to no if #2 knew #1 was copying from them. Therefore, maybe #2 did not plagiarize.

nikipedia's avatar

@tinyfaery: I know for certain that one copied from the other because their assignments are so egregiously incorrect that the material could not have come from a book.

Our policy states that both the copier and the person who shared his/her work are equally penalized.

tinyfaery's avatar

That doesn’t sound fair. That policy allows for innocent people to be penalized due to no fault of their own.

cockswain's avatar

What if #2 did not know #1 copied it their original work?

susanc's avatar

@cockswain: #2 will have an opportunity to explain this to niki.
She is listening.

deni's avatar

they chose to do it, and you didn’t make the rule. any other negative feelings you have towards yourself or the situation in general are natural. don’t get too down on yourself. it’s your job. :)

dpworkin's avatar

Sorry this happened. I’m pretty sure you already know what must be done.

janbb's avatar

It’s a painful situation; a colleague of mine just went through something similar. There is only one thing to do, however. Sorry you have to deal with this @nikipedia .

janbb's avatar

A second thought; maybe you have to reframe it not as doing “something awful to someone else” but making students face the consequences of their actions.

nikipedia's avatar

@tinyfaery and @cockswain: Students are required not to share their work with each other as part of the academic honesty policy. So someone who shares his/her work is just as guilty as someone who takes work from another student.

If there was some kind of digital espionage that happened (student 2 hacked into student 1’s computer to steal the document) that would be taken into consideration. But that strikes me as reasonably unlikely.

cockswain's avatar

I didn’t picture the writing being password protected on a computer. I was just picturing it was written the old-fashioned way, and another student opened the other’s backpack or whatever and looked at it. But I agree digital espionage is unlikely.

tinyfaery's avatar

So much for collaborative learning.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

There is a reason plagiarism isn’t tolerated – they knew what they were doing, period.

gailcalled's avatar

@nikipedia: Do it asap. Less time to brood.

nikipedia's avatar

@tinyfaery: A lot of what they do is collaborative. They work together in their lab groups when they do experiments, and I have no problem with them discussing their ideas for lab reports and writeups.

But it is not acceptable for them to turn in assignments that are word-for-word identical. That is no longer collaboration. It’s plagiarism.

cockswain's avatar

Do you think they are aware what they did is plagiarism?

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Why is it your problem that your students cheated? That’s squarely on them.
You told them what would happen.

If you go soft now, you’ll have worse problems.
Bring that hammer down.

Students detect any weakness and will exploit it.
You need to show that your armor has no weak spots.

tinyfaery's avatar

But there is no way to know if both parties knew what was happening. Do what you have to do. I just think that the school’s policy could unfairly punish certain individuals. But that’s the way it goes.

Allie's avatar

@tinyfaery If that is really the case, then that non-participatory individual could take it up with Student Judicial Affairs. At least that’s how it works at my school.

tinyfaery's avatar

Well, that leaves the burden of proof on the student. The burden of truth should be on the accusers.

casheroo's avatar

I was once in trouble for something similar, I didn’t fail the course. I did receive a warning from my teacher, and the dean of the school (I was penalized with an F for the paper and it brought my grade down to failing..a D, which cannot be transferred but kills my GPA) I was young and stupid and am still paying the price..but honestly, people don’t learn unless their are consequences. As much as it sucks, I deserved it.
I never was talked to by anyone though, I received an email from my teacher informing me she noticed it was plagiarized then I got a formal letter from my school with copies of the evidence and a letter about it. It was long ago, so I forget exactly what it was, but it was some sort of probation. I was just happy not to be kicked out of the school.

Have you informed the higher ups? Or is it just dealt with the individual teachers(you) and giving out the punishment?
I’d either email or have a meeting (not with both of them, but individually since it sounds like the one person might get emotional) then send a formal letter with the proof and punishment so its on record.
Sorry you have to go through this.

nikipedia's avatar

I met with the rest of the teaching team (other TAs and the professor who administrates the class) today. Everyone agrees that this passes the threshold we set for cheating. So I really have no choice. I don’t think they even realize they did anything wrong. Fuck.

gailcalled's avatar

So when’s the moment of truth? How can we help? Bring a box of kleenex. Sorry, but I guess that it’s part of any leadership job.

Jill_E's avatar

You will be helping the students short and the long term.

I admit two of my classmates and I did similiar thing in one class at college which I am not proud of.

A teacher brought us three in the room and the evidence showed…some same wordings and same mistake on each of all three papers.

Two of us admitted it when the teacher showed evidence. One denied it. The one who denied it got in more trouble. We all felt awful.

We learned our lessons. It was so long ago. I know the teacher meant well and doing her job. And we were embarrassed. So you will be reteaching the kids right from wrong in the classroom. I am trying to remember what happened. I think the other classmate and I got a rare D in the class or was it C -. And the other one who denied failed.

It is more embarrassment on our parts. I deserved it. We knew the teacher was doing her job.

I wish I could apologize again to the teacher what we put her through that day.

I am sincerely sorry for what you are going through.

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