Understanding Plagiarism in Distance Education
Plagiarism is a hot topic for online students. What does it mean exactly? What are the consequences? How can I avoid it? As online students submit all of their work digitally, detecting plagiarism is easy and generally done automatically, so distance learners need to be particularly knowledgeable on how to properly cite sources and avoid plagiarism. This resource will help you understand what you need to know about plagiarism and provide the tools you need to make sure you don’t run into trouble
- 80% of college students admit to cheating at least once. (Center for Academic Integrity)
- 52% of 1,800 students at nine state universities had copied several sentences from a website without citation. (McCabe, D.L.)
- More than two-thirds of 2,100 students from 21 campuses copied or plagiarized work done by another student (Center for Academic Integrity)
- 15% of high school students admit to obtaining a paper from a term paper mill or website (Plagiarism.org)
- 50% of high-school students surveyed by Rutgers University see nothing wrong with cheating (McCabe, D.L. )
- 90% of students believe that cheaters are either never caught or have never been appropriately disciplined (US News and World Report)
- Definition: Plagiarism is the act of presenting another person's work (including ideas, writing, conversation, song, and words) as your own. When using another person's work, even when paraphrasing, you must acknowledge it fully and appropriately, unless the information is common knowledge. Proper acknowledgement requires citing sources.
- Links to University Definitions:
- Google and Google Scholar: If a sentence strikes you as odd, put it in quotation marks and run a Google search on it. If the student cut and pasted the phrase, it will show up on Google. And as more books are uploaded onto Google Books, Google Scholar and Google Books will become increasingly powerful weapons against plagiarism.
- The Plagiarism Checker: The Plagiarism Checker allows you to run a Google search on large blocks of text. This is easier than cutting and pasting sentence after sentence.
- Articlechecker: Works the same as Plagiarism Checker, but gives you the option of checking against Yahoo as well as Google.
- Plagium: Like The Plagiarism Checker, this site Googles text you submit. Unlike most other checkers, Plagium works in several languages.
- PlagiarismDetect: A plagiarism detector that allows you to upload whole documents rather than cutting and pasting blocks of text. It's free, but you have to register.
- Duplichecker: Another checker that plugs submitted text into search engines. Duplichecker's interface makes it easy to submit entire documents as well as excerpts.
- SeeSources: Searches the Web for sources similar to the text you entered. You can scan both excerpts and whole documents.
- DOC Cop: Doc Cop offers a few features more than the minimal Web-based detection services. For instance, you can check for collusion—that is, you can check the similarity between two papers. However, you do have to register.
- WCopyFind: WCopyFind is a downloadable scanner that checks for similarities between two papers, but it can't search the Web.
- Viper: The Anti-Plagiarism Scanner. Although it's free, Viper is software, so it's a bit more of a commitment than Web-based tools. However, it has some neat features, such as side-by-side comparisons of the submitted text with the potentially plagiarized one. Viper touts itself as the free alternative to TurnItIn.
- SafeAssign/MyDropBox: This is free if you're already using a Blackboard Learning System. As students submit papers to Blackboard, SafeAssign checks their papers against its database of source material.
- PAIRwise:PAIRwise (Paper Authorship Integrity Research) can compare documents to one another while searching the internet for similar documents. However, PAIRwise is intended for use on an institutional level—for departmental or college-wide servers.
Most universities encourage their professors to include a plagiarism policy in their syllabi. Including a policy is a great first step, but to be effective, professors must also pay attention to where they place that policy and exactly what kind of information they include.
Here are five examples of plagiarism policies in syllabi in universities across the country. We've listed them starting with the best and have highlighted the pros and the cons. We hope these examples will encourage you to include your own policy and will be helpful in helping you craft it.
Bates College: Cultural Anthropology (Anth 101)
Academic Integrity: All students are responsible for reading and understanding the Bates College Statement on Academic Honesty. (See http://abacus.bates.edu/cbb/). When you turn in an assignment to satisfy the requirements for this course, you are indicating it is your own work. The failure to properly acknowledge your use of another work is plagiarism. All references must be cited according to the AAA guidelines (see described in handouts and on Lyceum). I do not tolerate academic dishonesty. Plagiarism of any kind will result in a failing grade for the assignment and/or the class.
- Pros: Clearly labeled, given own section, defined plagiarism, provides link to the college's policy, includes penalties, includes important details, well written and easy-to-understand, placed before course schedule
- Cons: None
Boston University: Modern Irish Literature (CAS EN 392)
Plagiarism: It is every student's responsibility to read the Boston University statement on plagiarism, which is available in the Academic Conduct Code. Students are advised that the penalty against students on a Boston University program for cheating on examinations or for plagiarism may be "…expulsion from the program or the University or such other penalty as may be recommended by the Committee on Student Academic Conduct, subject to approval by the dean."
- Pros: Plagiarism is given its own section, penalties are discussed
- Cons: No definition of plagiarism, no link to BU's policy on plagiarism or more information, placed at the end of the syllabus
Stanford University: Literature and Metamorphoses (CompLit 227)
A Note on Written Papers: All papers must be typed, 11 or 12 pt font, in Times New Roman, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins. Please include page numbers in the upper right-hand corner as well as your name on each page. All papers must be handed in hard-copy and be stapled. Electronic submissions will not be accepted. Furthermore, you are responsible for adhering to Stanford University's honor code. I do not tolerate any form of plagiarism. Please familiarize yourself with the Stanford honor code at http://www.stanford.edu/dept/vpsa/judicialaffairs/guiding/honorcode.htm .
- Pros: link to an extensive plagiarism resource written by the University, placed early in syllabus before course schedule
- Cons: no definition of plagiarism in the syllabus, note on plagiarism tacked at the end of a paragraph about formatting, no penalties discussed
Georgetown University: Intermediate Econometrics (Econ-422)
Honor System: I would like to remind you that as signatories to the Georgetown University Honor Pledge, you are required to uphold academic honesty in all aspects of this course. As faculty, I too am obliged to uphold the Honor System, and will report all suspected cases for academic dishonesty.
- Pros: Included in first page, includes professor's responsibility
- Cons: Doesn't reference plagiarism specifically (or define it), doesn't include penalties, doesn't include link to the university's honor code or more information
UC Berkeley: Cultural Heritage (Anthropology 136e)
Plagiarism: Plagiarism will not be tolerated, and will result in a failing grade for the course. See the University Student Code of Conduct for information about plagiarism.
- Pros: Includes penalties
- Cons: Does not include a description of plagiarism, does not include a link to the university's policy or more information, and is completely buried: it comes at the end of the syllabus at the end of a 700-word Course Policies section
One of the best ways to make sure your students understand plagiarism is to have them complete online tutorials. Here are six excellent tutorials. Many of them require students to e-mail you the results of their quizzes or certificates of completion.
- Provides quizzes before you review the materials, during your review, and post-review.
- Results of your pre-test and post-test will be mailed to yourself and your professor.
- Extremely comprehensive, includes lots of examples and style guidelines.
- Includes a post-quiz that analyzes your results and tells you which section of the tutorial to go over.
- Included links to real plagiarism cases.
- You can print out a confirmation certificate for you professor after taking the test.
- Provides "checkpoints" after each section to test your knowledge before moving on.
- Spells out the benefits for the student for using proper citation (beyond avoiding plagiarism).
- Includes examples of plagiarism in real life, outside of the classroom (like the New York Times and government documents).
- Good use of charts and diagrams.
- Teaches important information in an entertaining manner.
- Personalizes plagiarism by having students pick an avatar to use during the tutorial (like Dylan, a first-year English student working on a paper comparing fiction in movies and books).
- Define Plagiarism: The first step toward discouraging plagiarism in your classroom is to define plagiarism for your students. Especially in high school, many students may not realize that plagiarism encompasses paraphrasing and borrowing ideas without attribution.
- Spell Out the Penalties: Discuss the penalties for plagiarism. If the penalties are serious, students will be less likely to take the risk.
- Put it in the Syllabus: Include your school's plagiarism policy in the course syllabus. Putting the plagiarism policy in a prominent location will remind your students of the definition and consequences of plagiarism. Also, discussing plagiarism on the first day with the rest of the syllabus will show students that you're serious about it.
- Require Citation: Require detailed citations, including page numbers.
- Use Citations Yourself: There's no better way to teach important concepts than by leading by example: use citations in all your own hand-outs.
- Discuss Paper Mills: Let students know that you know about paper mills. Students sometimes think their teachers don't understand the internet. Assure them that know about paper mills and other services for buying essays.
- Require E-mailed Copies: Ask students to e-mail you their essay as well as hand in a hard copy. Having essays in document form will make it significantly easier for you to run a plagiarism check on them.
- Encourage Planning: Plagiarism is usually the result of desperation. If you get students to start working early, they'll be less likely to plagiarize.
- Require Early Drafts: Request early drafts or outlines several weeks before the final paper. This will force students to start working early. And once students have to reverse-engineer drafts from a plagiarized paper, it becomes a lot easier just to write the paper themselves.
- Talk to Your Students: Meet with your students about their paper ideas. This encourages planning, and allows you to see if a student submits a paper on a topic she hasn't been working on.
- Ban Last-Minute Changes: Don't allow any last minute changes of topic. These last-ditch acts of desperation are more likely to involve plagiarism.
- Be Unique: Pick unique topics and, when possible, use unique reading lists. Internet plagiarism is easy because there are standard essay topics on standard books. If you make unique essay prompts and change them every year, plagiarism will be almost impossible.
- Reach Out: Encourage students to come to you with questions about citation methods.
Though evidence suggests that there is no significant difference in the level of plagiarism in online classrooms and brick-and-mortar ones, teachers of online classes do face several unique challenges when it comes to preventing plagiarism. For example, it's more difficult to observe the entire writing process in an online classroom—you can't simply ask a student how her paper is going as she packs up her books. And when giving tests, it's impossible to see whether students are copying one another's work or consulting the Web. Below are some tips for dealing with the unique challenges of plagiarism in the online classroom.
- Put it in the Syllabus: Include a copy of your school's plagiarism policy in the syllabus. Define plagiarism, and explain the penalties.
- Make a Quiz: Have a plagiarism quiz. It's harder to teach a segment on plagiarism in an online classroom than it is in a physical one. If you merely attach a written explanation of the plagiarism policy to the syllabus, students may just skip to the end and hit, "OK." It helps to have a short plagiarism quiz that students must pass in order to proceed to the class materials.
- Use a Plagiarism Scanner: Run suspicious essays through online plagiarism scanners. Teachers at online schools have a big advantage over teachers in physical classrooms when it comes to using plagiarism detectors: because they get their papers already in digital form, they can run a plagiarism check in seconds.
- Use a Message Board: Have message board discussions and short writing assignments. Message board posts and reading responses are too short to plagiarize, and if students have already written extensively on a topic, they'll be less likely to plagiarize a paper on it.
- Compare to Previous Work: Compare submitted papers with other writing samples. Teachers at online schools have a more extensive sample of their students' writing style than teachers at brick-and-mortar schools do. Because class discussions are conducted on message boards, teachers will have a massive sample of writing to compare with any submitted papers. If the styles are different, run the paper through a plagiarism checker.
- Time Quizzes: When giving a test, teachers can't see whether students are cheating. However, teachers can put a time limit on the test such that students wouldn't have time enough to discuss answers or consult the Web.
- Be Original: Write original quiz questions. If your questions are unique enough that students can't simply Google them for an answer, it will be almost impossible to cheat on a timed test.
- Require Drafts: Make essay drafts part of the grade. This is even more important in an online classroom than it is in a physical one. Because teachers at online schools can't ask students what they're writing on when they bump into them in the hallway, they need a formal way to observe the entire writing process.
- Encourage Back-And-Forth: Encourage students to ask you questions about their papers. Because it's more difficult for teachers at online schools to get involved in the early stages of the writing process, it's important to make an extra effort to do so. If students feel comfortable e-mailing you questions about their paper, you'll decrease the chances someone will feel desperate enough to plagiarize.
- Encourage Questions: Encourage students to ask you questions about citation procedures. Just as it's important to encourage students to ask you questions about their papers, it's important to make an extra effort to be available for questions about correct citation, paraphrasing, and quotation rules.