I had no plagiarism cases this fall. Maybe it is because I had an unusually ethical group of students, but it probably also had something to do with analysis they did based on short documents instead of books commonly discussed on the internet. With few exceptions, there were no answers to be found on the internet, though I took some chances with the inclusion of A Doll’s House in some questions. Even then, I did not let students focus on Ibsen’s play, but instead forced them to relate it to short documents that I made available on Blackboard. I have made similar attempts in the past, but usually by asking big synthetic questions based on two or three books instead of narrower interpretive questions based mainly on two or three specific documents.
Another variable was length. These source analysis exercises were only two pages, if that, which might have been short enough to prevent the kind of panic that leads to some plagiarism cases. Of course, two pages is less than ideal, but I had more than 150 students this past fall. Even with a grader to help me 10 hours per week, there was an enormous amount of assessment to do, especially since there were three of these exercises.
On a related note, in the coming semester I am going over to the dark side with some quizzes and parts of my exams. By that I mean I will be integrating some multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank elements. As much as I prefer to have students actively produce knowledge in exams, there is a limit to how much grading I can and should do, a limit I far exceeded last semester. Moreover, I will still be having them do analysis. Unfortunately, multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions can raise the specter of copying in overcrowded classrooms. It is with this issue in mind that I plan to use multiple versions of quizzes and exams. I am just not sure if I will have to create these by hand or if there is an easy and free technological solution.