Montana Senator John Walsh's recent embarrassment is what we in education call a "teachable moment." It was determined that Walsh, who was appointed to serve as senator this past February, plagiarized nearly a quarter of the master's thesis he submitted to the Army War College to complete his coursework in 2007. In response, the College has recently rescinded Walsh's master's degree, and Walsh has announced that he will be dropping out of the state's upcoming election.
When stressing the importance of proper citation to students, this is an excellent anecdote to relate. The internet makes it easier than ever for schools to catch students when they don't give credit where it's due, and the consequences, as Walsh's case shows us, can be severe.
Citation can be tricky, however, and some students don't fully understand the difference between research and plagiarism. The issue isn't as cut and dried as some might think. For example, plagiarism doesn't have to be intentional; even unintentionally failing to credit someone else for their words or ideas counts as cheating.
To help students understand plagiarism, look no farther than Purdue's Online Writing Lab, one of our favorite writing resources. For teachers, there are several excellent ready-made lesson plans that should help clear up misunderstandings about academic honesty. And students should bookmark the excellent page of resources on topics like the difference between paraphrasing and quoting, how to format in-text citations, etc.