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Plagiarism penalties not worth the grade

Langara instructors say purchasing essays from third-parties can result in failing grades.

Langara English instructor Joanne Horwood gave an F grade to a plagiarized essay. Photo by Cameron Thomson
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Reported by Cameron Thomson

Illegal third-party assignment writing services have been targeting Langara students, with the promise of quick turn-around, high-quality essays with no effort involved.

500 reported cases

Though some students might be tempted to use such services when they are burdened late in the semester, according to Langara’s director of student conduct and judicial affairs, this constitutes plagiarism. Last year, there were nearly 500 reported cases of plagiarism at Langara, Maggie Ross said, adding she knows some students use these essay writing services.

“Our policy clearly says you can’t use a writing service,” Ross told The Voice. “Students can be subject to charges of plagiarism if they do that.”

On Feb. 6, two ads were posted on a student-run Textbook Buy and Sell Facebook page, advertising academic essay writing services to students.

Reaching out to the email addresses provided, The Voice made inquiries about the services offered. The contact for the essay writing services — who identified himself as Peter Ouma Luta and whose bank information was tracked to Kenya — said a 2,000-word general English class essay would cost $80.

The Voice, which acquired a sample of an English essay from Luta’s business, asked English instructor Joanne Horwood to mark the essay. Horwood, gave it a failing grade, saying it was underdeveloped and lacked depth.

“I would think that [a student] would have gone to some website and just copied bits from SparkNotes,” she said, referring to the study guides for literature, poetry, film, and philosophy.

Plagiarism easy to notice

Ross said in some cases it’s very easy for instructors to see when students have plagiarized.

“The writing style is dramatically different,” she said. “Students submit one piece of work and then two weeks later they’re submitting something that’s noticeably different in terms of quality or competence or vocabulary or writing style.

“We’ve even had situations where writers will contact us to report students who haven’t paid their fees and reported them for cheating and plagiarism.”

Langara’s plagiarism policy posted online says the first time students plagiarize, the penalty may be a zero for the assignment or exam, or outright failure of the course.

Langara library communications coordinator Dan Slessor said there is support at the college for students who need help with essay writing.

“Whether [students] want to come into the library or if they just want to connect with us online, there are lots of resources out there to help you not plagiarize,” he said.

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