Weekly Teaching Note
Apr 25 2012
Personalize Plagiarism to Prevent its Practice

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards. 

– Vernon Sanders Law, former major league baseball player (Pittsburgh Pirates)


Strong emotions help cement an experience into long-term memory. Not convinced? Think back – where were you when …

  • The first man landed on the moon?
  • A prominent political figure in your country was shot?
  • You first learned of the events of 9/11/2001?
  • You celebrated an important milestone?


We can use this phenomenon to help our students learn certain key concepts more deeply. For example, let’s look at how Deborah Zarker Miller, an assistant professor of English at Anderson University, makes plagiarism very personal to her students.


First, ask your students to create an original work that is in some way related to your course, and tell them they will each have 60 seconds to present their creation to the class. A student in Foundations of Inquiry might create a brief video or write a short essay elaborating on one of the disciplines introduced in that course; a student in Interior Design might create a montage of sustainable materials; a student in Life Sciences might build a 3-dimensional model to represent a structure in the cell; a student in Engineering might create a schematic for a new, energy-efficient vehicle.


At the next class, after each student presents his or her work, let the students wander around and examine them more closely. Most likely, you will see a range of creativity – and of effort – in the projects. Tell the students to identify the work they find the most creative by standing next to it. Some students will choose their own work, but other students will likely choose someone else’s.


Once everyone has made a choice, tell the students to cross out the name of the person who created the project they are standing by, and to write in their own names instead. Inform them that you will give credit to the student(s) who have identified that work as most creative, not to the student who produced it. Wait for your announcement to sink in, and then ask if there are any questions. As the discussion evolves, the students will begin to realize the connection between what has just happened and plagiarism. Perhaps experiencing plagiarism from “the other side” will make a deeper, longer-lasting impact. 



  • Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., and Norman, M. K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series). Jossey-Bass, 1 edition.
  • Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., and Cocking, R. R. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. National Academies Press, 2 edition.
  • Miller, Deborah Zarker. (2012). A Lesson in Academic Integrity as Students Feel the Injustice of Plagiarism. Faculty Focus. Retrieved 4/24/2012 from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/a-lesson-in-academic-integrity-as-students-feel-the-injustice-of-plagiarism/
  • Zull, J. E. (2002). The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning. Stylus Publishing, 1 edition.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. The activity created by Deborah Zarker Miller was used with permission.


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