Campus Faces

Alyssa DeSimone ’05, Andrea Frankenfield ’04, and Brynn Saltzer ’04 are long-time tutors with the Writing Center, a service for students who need help with writing skills from basic grammar to organizing a research paper.

A year ago, Writing Center director Joyce Hinnefeld, assistant professor of English, asked all the tutors to attend a workshop on plagiarism led by Margaret Price from the University of Massachusetts.

Plagiarism is endemic on American college and university campuses. It’s gone far beyond the seventh-grader who copies an entry from the Encyclopaedia Britannica or lifts a book report from the blurb on the jacket. Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to download an essay by an expert in the field and pass it off as your own.

In her first year as associate dean for academic affairs at Moravian, Carol Traupman-Carr ’86 found that the number of plagiarism cases that crossed her desk had more than tripled from the previous year. According to a 2002 study by the Center for Academic Integrity, “80 percent of college students admit to cheating at least once.”

What Alyssa, Brynn, and Andrea learned, though, was that intentional plagiarism is far less common than simple, and continuing, confusion over what constitutes the theft of intellectual property. Most students, says the dean, are confused about plagiarism itself. They assume that what they find on the Internet is free for the taking, can’t tell the difference between a paraphrase and a quotation, and don’t know how, or when, to cite a reference.

After Price’s workshop, the three tutors proposed a research project to help find a solution to the problem of plagiarism. They designed and administered a survey to determine the level of knowledge about plagiarism among first-year students, upperclassmen, and faculty. These questionnaires used a variety of devices and questions. Andrea gave the freshmen a passage from Dubliners by James Joyce and asked them to paraphrase it. She reordered the phrases in a sentence and found that half the students believed the result to be a paraphrase. (It isn’t.) Alyssa asked upperclassmen and Brynn asked faculty how much instruction was given on the subject from high school through college, how often it was reinforced, and how much the students retained over time.

From the survey results, the three women devised a one-hour workshop on plagiarism, which was offered to students just as this magazine went to press. They planned to go over the basics: what plagiarism is and what it isn’t; and how to indicate, formally and informally, that an idea or wording has come from elsewhere.

Midway between the survey and the workshop, they co-wrote a paper called “Navigating the Plagiarism Minefield,” which they presented in October at the International Writing Centers Association/National Council of Peer Tutoring in Writing conference in Hershey.

The conference drew 900 participants from around the country, including composition specialists, writing center directors, and graduate and undergraduate writing tutors. “We got a lot of feedback at the conference,” said Alyssa, including requests from teaching faculty to use their survey and to hear about the results of their forthcoming workshop.

“Honestly,” said Andrea, “I think [instruction on] plagiarism should start as early as middle school. And it needs to be reemphasized all the way through college.”

Alyssa DeSimone, Brynn Saltzer, and Andrea Frankenfield confer about the results of their research project on plagiarism in college.

Photo: John Kish IV