Call it blame-shifting, call it a lack of responsibility and academic integrity, call it whatever you want. Plagiarism is rampant in our schools and colleges, and while the onus ultimately falls on a writer for failing to give credit for his or her sources, does some blame also rest with instructors?

It’s easy to dismiss plagiarism as a problem of your students’. However, the situation is more complicated than that. Plagiarism is growing to be an out-of-hand issue, and as this problem rises to the forefront of the national media, it’s one that educators are forced to address.

What Constitutes Plagiarism?

Question anybody, and they’ll likely give you a different answer to the question: what is plagiarism? While there are many different types of plagiarism, there are very few clear-cut answers as to what constitutes academic dishonesty. That being said, you can generally lump plagiarism into one of four different categories.

The first kind of plagiarism is the easiest to identify - direct plagiarism. This form of plagiarism is when you copy, word-for-word, somebody else’s work. You do not give them credit and you do not use quotation marks. This kind of plagiarism is usually deliberate and it should be considered the severest form of academic dishonesty.

The next type of plagiarism isn’t quite as easy to identify or to discipline as a teacher. Self-plagiarism is when a student submits previous work - or includes portions of previous work - without being given express permission to do so.

Next up is mosaic plagiarism. This is when a student “borrows” comments or information from a source without using quotation marks or appropriate citations. They might plug in synonyms for several of the author’s words, but they will more or less stick to the same structure and message of the original passage.

Last but not least is accidental plagiarism. Luckily, this is the most common type of plagiarism - and it’s the easiest to address in the classroom. Accidental plagiarism is when a writer fails to address his or her sources or paraphrases incorrectly. He or she attempts to give credit to a source, but does not do so in the proper manner.

Is the Teacher Responsible?

Teachers should never be blamed for students’ plagiarism, because when it really comes down to it, nobody is forcing a student to cheat. There are always other options for completing an assignment - especially those that are more honest in nature.

That said, there are some conditions that teachers can easily modify in order to create a classroom environment that is less conducive to cheating. For starters, teachers should provide interesting, clear assignments that are challenging - but not impossible - to complete. Teachers themselves should be passionate about these assignments, and they should be administered with reasonable deadlines.

Is the Student Responsible?

While teachers can modify their classroom climates to create environments that foster creativity, integrity, and academic innovation, there are other issues to consider when placing blame as well. As previously mentioned, nobody forces a student to cheat, and today, there are myriad resources available to help students avoid this unnecessary evil.

For example, students have countless resources at hand to help them prevent accidental plagiarism. From EasyBib to this quick, easy to use Plagiarism Checker Tool, there is no shortage of digital tools that students can use to help them avoid plagiarism -intentional or otherwise.

In addition, student attitudes about cheating have changed drastically over the last few years. Studies point to disturbing statistics about cheating - a growing percentage of learners now rely on cheating as a way to pass their courses, feeling the pressure from college admissions departments, parents, instructors, and others to earn high grades.

How to Combat Plagiarism - From Any Perspective

Whether you’re a teacher, parent, or student, there’s a lot you can do to combat plagiarism. For starters, teachers and parents should do their best to educate students about what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. This instruction should encompass all forms of plagiarism and should give students examples of free plagiarism checkers that they can turn to in order to review their work.

In addition, teachers can connect with students and ask for their feedback in developing solid, plagiarism-resistant assignments. Allowing students to complete some work in class (or offline) can help reduce the likelihood of plagiarism in any classroom setting.

Teachers should not be blamed for plagiarism, but the unfortunate reality is that they often are. When assignments are not of interest - or have high stakes attached - students are significantly (and sadly) more likely to cheat. The bottom line is that while teachers should not be given full responsibility for student plagiarism, there is a lot that teachers can do to help prevent plagiarism from occurring.