One of my hardest working students turned up this morning with an 11 page essay on NASCAR racing and the technology used to keep drivers safe. Fine. It's a fine topic. I would have approved it. But for the past 4 weeks this student has been working on a paper about siblings and birth order. I've seen him in the library 3 times. I've read an annotated bibliography. I've given advice and help on drafts, an abstract, etc.
So when he showed up today with this new paper, I had to ask:
Me: What gives? I thought you were doing the birth order paper.
Student: Yeah, I know. But I got a little short of time and I had some research already on this NASCAR paper.
Me: (Scratching head.) But you spent 4 weeks on that one paper, then you wrote this new paper over the weekend?
Student: (grinning) Yeah, I really worked hard. I was up until 5 am!
Well, I've been to the rodeo a time or two, and this sort of mini-drama is usually a pretty good sign that the student has panicked and is going to turn in a plagiarized paper - bought, found, googled, or just borrowed from a frat brother.
I held the paper and looked it over and said:
Me: This is pretty unusual. I haven't had a chance to see all your notes and sources like I did for the birth order paper. You know I'll have to check this paper out, right?
Student: (no longer grinning) Oh, I wrote it.
Me: I didn't say that you didn't. But just like your other paper, I need to make sure you're using sources accurately, legitimately. Are you okay with that?
And I actually held the paper out to him, just in case he wanted to grab it and run. But he didn't.
Student (smiling again) It's a good paper. I think it's the best one I've done.
So, I walked back to my office after class, typed a part of the first paragraph of the student's paper into google.com, and in 3 minutes had found 2 other student papers online where my student had liberally copies huge portions - one section was 2 pages long word for word.
I'm not even mad because I see this at least once a year.