Traditional plagiarism — in short, unattributed usage — still exists, but today’s students are also increasingly the target of predatory marketing from essay-writing companies. These companies promise “plagiarism-free” essays, and a purchased essay can be extremely hard to spot.
Luckily, there are steps that you can take to protect your students from these companies and the temptation they offer.
Acknowledge the Temptation
Acknowledge that ghost-writing exists and warn students that companies will target them. Explicitly state that you consider the submission of a purchased essay or an essay written in full or part by another person to be a violation of the Honor Code.
Explain the Consequences
Explain that you will be comparing the quality of their informal writing to their formal assignments, so if they decide to purchase an essay, they’re setting the bar pretty high for all of their future work– they’ll get trapped and beholden to these companies for a long time.
Know Their Writing Voice
Have the students create a Diagnostic Essay during class early in the semester. This pass/fail assignment allows them to practice uploading the assignment to Blackboard and clicking on the SafeAssign button. This also provides a baseline for the kind of writing they produce.
Flip your classroom so that students learn on their own as homework and apply those skills/concepts under your supervision in class. Hold individual conferences with students, as time allows, to discuss the contents of essays and guide students to deeper understanding of their topics.
Use Office Hours
When introducing assignments and collecting assignments, encourage students to come see you in office hours if they’re feeling stressed about completing the essay. This doesn’t mean that you need to accept all requests for late work, but you should create an atmosphere that prioritizes students’ growth over strict interpretation of late policies.
Remind students that late policies, if you have them, are an opportunity to take responsibility for their own time management, not a punishment. As adults, students can choose to turn something in late if that extra time means that they will be able to dedicate time and energy to the assignment. Acknowledge that they need to develop the maturity to choose between on-time and low quality/late and high quality.
Speak to students who seem particularly stressed out and remind them that you have confidence in their ability to produce high-quality work and collaborate with them to help them balance their various responsibilities.
Design for Success
- Scaffold all of your assignments so that students actually do have the skills to succeed in your assignments.
- Give students a group of topic choices and consider accepting student-proposed topics. Engage students, either individually or as a class, in developing major course assignments.
- Assign hyper-local topics, connect the local and the global, or ask students to view their own world through your disciplinary lens.
- Connect local, personal experiences to larger research papers.
- Require presentations or debates on essay topics as final exams.
Trust Your Instincts
Use tools like SafeAssign to guide your inquiry, but not blindly. The main strength of SafeAssign is the ability to have conversations with students about patchwriting, citation, and attribution. A high score on SafeAssign might reflect plagiarism, or it might mean that a student’s rough draft is popping up as “another student’s paper.” Think critically about SafeAssign scores, and use them in conjunction with your own knowledge of the student’s writing.
With all of these strategies, remember that the goal is not to create an atmosphere of distrust. Rather, implemented carefully, these strategies foster trust and respect between professors and students.