Expos Stresses Honesty

This fall, as Harvard investigates the roughly 125 undergraduates implicated in a massive cheating scandal, instructors in the Expository Writing Program are continuing a push to teach freshmen to avoid plagiarism.

Karen L. Heath, a senior preceptor for the Harvard College Writing Program, wrote that she and her colleagues saw the Government 1310 scandal as a chance to emphasize the need to use sources responsibly in academic writing.

“The case that arose recently was certainly one we talked about this fall, as an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of the approach we’ve already adopted in our courses,” Heath wrote in an email to The Crimson.

The program has long included instruction on proper citation practices, and last semester it began requiring freshmen to print or electronically submit copies of their sources for their final research paper.

Heath added that the buzz generated by the scandal prompted preceptors to prepare for students’ questions about proper collaboration practices.

Nicole W. Bassoff ’16, a student in Expository Writing 20, said she found it helpful that her preceptor devoted an entire class period to teaching students how to identify plagiarism and properly cite sources.

“[That lesson] didn’t seem forced,” she said. “I’m sure it will help students not to plagiarize.”

Ken Urban, a preceptor who teaches Expos 20, wrote in an email to The Crimson that he has not changed his teaching approach following the scandal.

Instead, he wrote, he has addressed the issue with his students the same way he does each term: “I give a talk that consists of basically two simple words: ‘Don’t plagiarize,’” he wrote.

Throughout the semester, Expos students typically complete multiple exercises designed to teach them how to paraphrase and summarize material, integrate sources into their writing, and evaluate sources for credibility.

The program has also developed the Harvard Guide to Using Sources, an online resource that all preceptors now use in their courses.

Heath wrote that as a result of these practices, the program has experienced very few instances of plagiarism and does not perceive it to be a major concern in their classrooms. According to Heath, the program typically has between zero and two cases of plagiarism each year.

Urban wrote that he encourages his students to avoid plagiarism not just to follow the rules, but also to develop their own intellectual voice. Each semester he shares the following saying with his freshmen: “Believe that your own ideas, however hard they are to articulate, are ultimately far more interesting.”