Photo taken from by Puffin Ganin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,
Photo taken from by Puffin Ganin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

I have this friend. Let’s call her S. She teaches undergrads online. A couple of weeks ago we had a conversation that went something like this.

S: You’ll never believe what happened the other day!

Me: Mhm?

S: I caught this student plagiarizing!

Me: Oh? Yeah, there’s always someone who copies something off someone else. And sometimes, you know, they don’t even know what they’re doing is plagiarism. What was it?

S: Yes, but this wasn’t just something! She copied the entire course!! (her voice rises)

Me: What do you mean ‘the entire course’?

S: Well, you know I teach online, right? She got all the assignments off a student who took the course last year and posted this student’s work as her own!!! (her voice is almost a screech)

Me: Okay, wait a second. Hey! Breathe! Like, what, literally all of it??

S: Yes, ALL of it! She copied the assignments, the forum posts, the glossary entries…even parts of the journal entries! (she takes deep calming breaths) Just saying it out loud makes me freak out again, and it’s not like I’ve been doing much else since I found out!

Me: Oh, wow. How…I mean, how did that even happen??

S: I don’t know. I guess the student last year saved all the work she did and emailed it to her. (her voice is more subdued now) I don’t think she knew it was going to be copied, like, with no modifications whatso–

Me: But why would she even do that?! The one from last year? Why would she think someone this year would need…I don’t know, her journal entries?

S: Maybe just to see what the course is like? I don’t know. Remember when we were at university? We gave our notes to people.

Me: Yeah, but those were notes. I mean, you could use them to study, but you’d still have to do the actual studying yourself. Not the same thing.

S: Yeah, I know.

Me: So, but…wait, I’m still…the whole course?? Did you give them the exact same assignments this year?

S: What, you’re saying it’s my fault now?!?! (she starts turning bright red)

Me: What?! God, no, of course not!!

S: Yes, I mostly set the same assignments!  I…I just designed the course last year – I didn’t see this coming!! 

Me: Okay…

(Short silence)

Me: Ummm, your course lasts four months, right? Are you saying you didn’t notice till the end that she’d copied it all?

S: Oh, and you would’ve picked up on it in week one, I guess? 

Me: No…look, I’m not the one who copied the course. Stop biting my head off!! I’m just trying to figure out what happened here! Obviously you’re upset

S: Upset?! Why would I be upset?! I’ve only been made to look like an idiot, I’m probably all they talk about in their Facebook group! Why would I–

Me: Wait a second! Reality check! You say you caught her. Did you tell her?

S: Of course I told her!

Me: Well, then. You’re not an idiot, you’re a teacher who doesn’t let kids get away with copying. Plagiarism. Whatever. What, d’you think it’s not gonna spread? That you figured it out?

S: Oh. Well. Maybe. I don’t know.

(Another short silence)

Me: Well, what happens next?

S: What do you mean?

Me: With the student? Can she still take the exam? What are you going to do? What did you do?

S: Well, I talked to the head of department. First of all, she’s my boss, so I’d have to do that anyway. Second, she’s dealt with this kind of thing before. I didn’t think it would be fair for the student to take the exam, what with all the others who didn’t copy.

Me: Okay, so what did she say? The head?

S: Apparently, this student has done this before. It’s not the first time she was caught.

Me: Oh, wow.

S: Yes. And last year, well I’m guessing it wasn’t this serious, because she was made to apologize and that was enough, I guess. 

Me: Apologize? That’s really effective. That’ll stop them copying, having to apologize! Did she apologize to you?

S: Yes. But I don’t give a… I mean, I know she’s not really sorry. Of course she’s sorry she got caught. That’s the only reason she’s saying she’s sorry. That and hoping that I’ll buy the apology and let her take the exam.

Me: So…she has to take the class again then?

S: Well, it’s a compulsory course. She’ll have to, I guess.

Me: But then you’ll have her in your class next year!

S: You know, I’ve thought about that. I feel sick to my stomach every time I think about that. She thinks I’m stupid, she thinks my course is so boring there’s no point contributing one single original piece of writing…I don’t want her back in my class.

Me: But if it’s a compulsory course, there’s nothing you can do.

S: No, I know that. Maybe I just won’t teach the course next year.

We left it at that. I think S had grading to do.