My colleague, Pam Allan (also a graduate of the May, 2000, On Course Workshop), and I tried out a case study with 25 incoming freshman football players as part of an all-day academic orientation session.  Our goal was to introduce them to the university’s definition of academic integrity and the dangers of plagiarism.  Our case study (provided below) describes a situation where two students get behind in their reading and come to tutoring for help writing a paper.  The tutor can’t help them because they haven’t read the text.  So, one student downloads an essay off the Internet and shares it with the other.  The first student tries to paraphrase the essay, but doesn’t document his source. The second student simply turns in the Internet essay as his own.  They flunk the course.

Following the On Course model, we asked our students to rank the characters (teacher, tutor, students) from most to least responsible. Then we broke into groups according to rankings.  As we expected most students ranked one or the other of the students as most responsible. However, we had lively discussion about what the students could have done which touched on time management, the role of tutoring, the need for proper documentation and the university’s academic integrity policy.  We also were able to emphasize that most instructors aren’t idiots and actually are aware of what’s on the Internet. Finally, we shared with them that in the real life situation, the students spent several days blaming the instructor, their coaches and the tutor for their failure before taking responsibility for their actions.


REGGIE was really upset. He hadn’t started the paper. In fact he had only read about 25 pages out of the 300 he needed to read before beginning the paper. Making matters worse, he had missed class discussions because of games. The first thing Reggie did was call SALLY, his academic support counselor, to see if he could work with a tutor on his paper. Sally met with him, but she told him tutoring wouldn’t help until he read more of the book. He asked her if she had read the book, and she said no. Reggie tried to read more on the weekend, but he didn’t have much time because of a game.  Besides he had to prepare for exams in other classes.

By Sunday night Reggie was really stressed out and started searching the Internet to see what he could find out about the book.  Finally, he found an essay on the Internet and used it to write his paper. The next day he ran into ARNIE, another student in his class. Arnie said he hadn’t started on the essay and was still trying to finish the book. Reggie told Arnie about the Internet essay, but warned him against using much of it since he was already using it for his essay. On Tuesday, Reggie took his essay to Sally to have her read it over. Sally told him the essay didn’t make much sense and asked him to explain to her what he was trying to say. She soon realized he hadn’t read much more of the book and told him she really couldn’t help him. She warned him about turning in someone else’s ideas as his own. Reggie went away discouraged. On Wednesday he tried to revise the essay some more before turning it in on Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, Arnie kept trying to read the book. However, he was really upset because the book was difficult and he couldn’t read it quickly.  Wednesday night in a panic, he took the Internet essay, added his own introduction and conclusion and turned it in during class on Friday.

On Sunday night when Reggie returned from his meet, he had a voice mail message from PROFESSOR LOVELIT asking him to come to her office on Monday morning. At the meeting, she explained that she knew he and Arnie had not written their own papers. Not only were the papers almost exactly alike, but also she had found the original essay on the Internet. On top of that their papers were not about the assigned topic. She told him that they would both receive and F for their final grade in the course.

*  *  *  *  *

Listed below are the characters in this story.  Rank them in order of their responsibility for Reggie’s failing grade.  Give a different score to each character.  Be prepared to explain your choices.    

Most responsible <– 1 2 3 4 –> Least responsible

                                    ___ Professor Lovelit, the teacher     ___ Sally, the academic counselor  
                                    ___ Reggie, the student-athlete   ___ Arnie, the other student  


–Jan McMannis, Academic Counselor, University of Pittsburgh (PA)

*  *  *  *  *

I very much enjoyed this case study as it raises some important topical issues. I would, however, add one more choice to the list of responsible parties: the purveyor of the essay at the internet site.  –Lynell R. Williams, Director, ASISU Content Area Tutoring Program, Idaho State University

*  *  *  *  *

Here are a couple of other changes I would make. First, I would make it clear that Reggie is perfectly capable of doing passing work in this literature class, which is often the case with students who do poorly. Another change I would make is to have the plagiarized paper bring Reggie’s grade exactly between a “D” and an “F” (e.g., a 69.5 average). As Professor Lovelit is debating with herself whether to give Reggie the benefit of the doubt (and assign the “D”), Reggie’s coach comes to Professor Lovelit’s office and tells her that if Reggie fails he will lose both his athletic eligibility and his athletic scholarship and wonders if there isn’t some way the professor can pass him “just this one time.” Professor Lovelit then feels coerced and chooses to give Reggie an “F” to show the coach that she cannot be intimidated. I think these changes would stir more controversy about who was most responsible for Reggie’s failing grade. If there’s no debate about who’s responsible, there’s little intellectual friction from which transformational learning takes place.–Skip Downing, Facilitator, On Course Workshops

Forum Image OptionCase Study: The English Paper (Ethics & Plagiarism) Forum