Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Dear San Francisco State Administration,

My name is Joyanna Lin and I am currently a freshman at San Francisco State
University.Recently, our English teacher, Sarah Fama required our class to
research possible reasons for plagiarism among students. We surveyed forty four students and separated our class into four categories: Academic Culture, Student Motivation, Extracurricular Activities, and Identity/Demographics. Interviews were also conducted by each group so that a deeper analysis of students’ motivation to plagiarize could be made. We found that some reasons students may plagiarize are a heavy work load, no motivation for classes, and confusion of what is plagiarism. It is important that the issue of plagiarism at San Francisco State University is fixed because it takes away from the quality of education given to students. I want to propose ideas to decrease plagiarism on campus according to research I have done during my enrollment in English 114, and hopefully the problem of plagiarism at SFSU can be solved.
Students plagiarize because of the inability to finish all the assignments given to them by their teachers in the amount of time before the work is due. In Susan Blum’s(2009) book, My Word!, Donald describes his busy week in detail, “It just doesn’t seem…like there’s enough hours in the day…Like right now I currently only have twelve credits, but I do extracurriculars (I am a Frosh-O which is freshman orientation...and I make time for my little brother on the weekends)…I’m usually drained from the events of the day. So I get back from dinner…lie down, take a nap, hop in the shower, and I finally start my homework…go to the library around 8 o’clock, and I try to work hard from there(p.132).” Like Donald, many SFSU students feel the same pressure between their academic life and their social life. Teachers should keep this in mind when giving homework. It is true that homework helps students learn the material from class, but if there is too much work, students are forced to plagiarize because it is necessary to finish the homework. Thus, the material is not learned by students and the teachers’ efforts to teach are also wasted. Teachers should be given a limit on how much work they can assign during the week. The administration should also have set days when certain departments can have tests so that students do not feel overwhelmed with studying. But most importantly, teachers need to have a strong communication with students. Students should feel welcome to voice their opinions about the workload to teachers so that the class is a constructive class for students to learn and to not cheat.
A lack of motivation to work or write is also another cause of plagiarism among students. In our English class, we were learning about types of plagiarism and our teacher, Sarah Fama, assigned us an article called “The Term Paper Artist.” Nick Mamatas(2008), the author, is an actual writer who is paid to write term papers for many clients including mothers who want their children to go to prestigious colleges and well educated professionals, who simply lack English language skills. Fama also assigned an essay that prompted the class to defend whether Wikipedia should be credited as a source for papers. She provided us with a specific article called A false Wikipedia ‘biography’ written by John Seigenthaler(2005). Seigenthaler found a falsely cited article about himself on Wikipedia and was unable to find the culprit because online corporations are protected from libel lawsuits by federal law. Both accounts of Nick Mamatas and Seigenthaler made English class much more interesting because their stories helped us understand plagiarism in well known aspects of our lives. The class knew that some students would buy term papers in order to receive a certain grade and that Wikipedia was controversial because of its unedited nature, yet we had never read any articles pertaining to these matters. Reading these articles, the class became more aware of the issue of plagiarism. Not only were these stories highly amusing, they helped make our class more excited to learn about the material and write about it. Teachers should cater to the students when it comes to course material. If students are presented with material that is useful to their everyday lives, students are more likely to learn and be more motivated to do the work required of them in class. An example is that teachers could create several prompts from which students choose what to about in their essay. This would help students become more motivated because they are encouraged to write their own opinion about a certain topic to their liking. Essays could also not be limited by words so it does not hinder the students’ expression about the topic as well. Discussions in class would also help because students can relate to their peers’ opinions about a subject and compare their own opinions. Having a class that is engaging to students, makes them want to learn, which in turn lessens them plagiarizing for a grade.
In our research project, all groups found that,

“Of the forty four, one answered that they had indeed purchased a paper for an assignment, one checked that they had copied text from the from the internet, six had copied the text of another person, ten had reused writing assignments from their past, three had copied from other texts and failed to cite them, seven students had allowed another person to write their assignment for them, six had written assignments for others, and nine had simple failed to cite their sources. Four students answered the question unsure; eighteen revealed that they had never plagiarized(Chang,2010,p.4)...”

This would mean that over half of the students surveyed, plagiarized and they know they did. However, some students did not know if they have plagiarized or not which means that plagiarism needs to be thoroughly explained to students. The definition of plagiarism is to take credit for somebody else’s work without giving them credit (Bloom,1997,p.11). But this includes reusing your own papers for new assignments which is not known to some as plagiarism. English classes or at least beginning English classes such as English 114 should have the theme of plagiarism. Students should be required to read material about plagiarism, do a research project about plagiarism about San Francisco State University, learn the University policy of plagiarism, and should also be given chances to redeem themselves if they accidentally plagiarize. If a student deliberately or accidentally plagiarizes, they should be taught how to correctly cite sources or asked to rewrite their essay correctly. They should not be immediately punished by being expelled from school. Requiring students to take an in depth class about plagiarism makes students aware of what is considered plagiarism so that they will not make a mistake later. For if students are taught early on about plagiarism, they are more likely to apply what they learned to their future classes.
I hope that the propositions I have stated are further considered to be applied at San Francisco State University. I feel that if the problems of a heavy work load, no motivation for classes and confusion of what is plagiarism among students are eliminated then plagiarism will be decreased dramatically. Plagiarism is a major issue on campus for teachers and students alike. If allowed to continue, I fear that San Francisco State’s quality of education will be affected for the worse. But if changes are made, then it would only be for the better of the campus as a whole. Thank you for your time in reading my letter.

Joyanna Lin

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