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Plagiarism Detection and Prevention

Plagiarism involves students deliberately using another’s prose, ideas, or other materials without acknowledgement. Many times, the student’s intent is to present these works or parts of them as their own original material. Contingencies for measuring plagiarism include degree of culpability and intentionality. (Jocoy, C. & DiBiase, D. 2006) Some students based on their moral values will cheat if they don’t think they will be caught or reprimanded. Dr. Rena Palloff, in our course video, indicated other students may not understand their behavior is plagiaristic. (Paloff, R. & Pratt, K. n.d.) The former students may need consistent review and policy enforcement. The latter students may simply need to be educated. I’ll discuss both aspects as part of this post. Additionally, I’ll examine modern methods for detecting plagiarism strategies for mitigating it.

While the Internet has made it easier for students to commit cut-and-paste plagiarism, software seems to have caught up. For example, the Essay Verification Engine can compare student papers to essay databases and find matching passages. Turnitin, used here at Walden, is a subscription-based online detection service. Finally, free search engines including Google or Yahoo can also be used to detect plagiarism. (Jocoy & DiBiase, 2006)

Researchers Jacoy & DiBiase (2006) found some tools inconsistent in their results reporting – even of the same/resubmitted document. Turnitin for example analyzes papers and calculates the percentage of copied material. The caveat is that Turnitin cannot distinguish between plagiarized text and properly-cited quotations and references. While not perfect, Jocoy and DiBiase (2006) contend these tools are still better than manual detection especially for copy-and-paste forms of plagiarism.

We know software can detect plagiarism, however, Drs. Palloff and Pratt in a course video said online environments were not the best places to administer tests. Instead, they suggested ways to design assessments that reduce or deter plagiarism. Course projects and assignments that mirrored the real work world and required students to chat with peers or look up references were preferred. (Palloff & Pratt, n.d.) Researchers found open book tests and teamwork did not automatically reduce the effectiveness of exams or applications. In fact they demonstrated a student’s mastery of a concept and its application. Dr. Keith Pratt reiterated “real life situations often require research.” (Palloff & Pratt, n.d.)

As an instructor, I would address facilitation in the manner of a well-trained police officer during a routine traffic stop.  Many will start their interrogation with a phrase such as “Ma’am do you know why I stopped you?” This is usually followed by their explanation of the violation. This scenario also reminds me of the approach outlined by (Jocoy & DiBiase, 2006). They said it was helpful for students to receive feedback on their infraction. Therefore, if I were facilitating as a future instructor, I would help students who plagiarized on their first assignment by explaining the violation. I’d include links to the source(s) of their copied passage as recommended by our resource and I’d allow them to revise and resubmit their work. I would not penalize them. (Jocoy & DiBiase, 2006)

I’ve been both sides of the plagiarism “fence” so I believe I have sensitivity to the issue and can offer specific considerations based on my experiences. I’ll outline two real-life scenarios followed by my recommendations as a future online instructor.

I had taken an economics class as a junior at my university. The instructor was handing out graded papers. I approached her to take mine and noticed two grades written at the top “A/F.” I asked, “What does this mean? “ She replied “This is an “A” paper, but there’s no way someone from your socio-economic background could have written it. I was 19 years old. I left the building and walked across campus wondering, “Who does she think wrote this paper?” “She doesn’t know me. Why should she make assumptions about my ability based on my background?” My final and catalytic thought was “She’s got to be kidding me.” I explained my situation to my academic advisor who sent me to the head of the department. I arrived at my appointment with several dozen 3×5 note cards (We didn’t have Zotero then), each containing a point, or thought, and relevant citations. Additionally, I brought marked-up rough drafts of the original paper.  Within a week, I received an “A” grade.

Years later I found myself in the opposite situation. I was teaching a junior level course at a state university. The assigned topic was around an aspect of typography. The student turned in a paper but large portions were inconsistent and changed “tone.”  The Internet was relatively new then. Yahoo may have been the main player among search engines. I started to look up passages from her paper and found them on the Internet. Students had to sign the school’s academic integrity policy. Based on the policy, I was supposed to report her, but I tacitly got permission from a department official to take a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. Similar to Dr. Rena Palloff’s suggestion, I confronted her “offline” or privately. (Palloff & Pratt, n.d.) I told the student I knew the work wasn’t hers and she would receive no credit for this paper in exchange for my not reporting the incident. She never marched back into my office with note cards or drafts – and I never noticed any evidence of plagiarism in her subsequent work.

Finally, as an online instructor, I would require that all students review their institution’s academic integrity policy. Additionally, I believe students need to hear definitions of plagiarism and see examples. A quiz would be a fun, interactive way to approach this. I would also create or refer students to a Web page similar to Walden’s (Walden University, 2012) or the University of Maryland’s (University of Maryland, n.d.) that succinctly outlines university policy.

I recognize some students, for varying reasons, might feel pressure to cheat. However, I would try to discourage this by emphasizing the need to uphold and respect the hard work and research of others. I would do this with the understanding that while setting expectations is a good practice, it does not typically reduce incidents of plagiarism.  (Jocoy & DiBiase, 2006) I also agree with Jocoy & DiBiase (2006) that institutions with atmospheres lacking respect should resort to consistently enforcing academic integrity. In closing, I would remind students about institutional resources they could consult to help them make positive distinctions. These would include librarians and writing assistants.

Works cited:

Jocoy, C., & DiBiase, D. (2006). Plagiarism by adult learners online: A case study in detection and remediation. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 7(1), 1-15.

Palloff, R & Pratt, K. (nd) Plagiarism and Cheating. Laureate Inc. Baltimore, MD

University of Maryland, University College (nd). Copyright and Fair Use in the UMUC Online or Face-to-Face Classroom. Retrieved August 9, 2012 from http://www.umuc.edu/library/libhow/copyright.cfm

Walden University Student Handbook (June 2012). Code of Conduct. Retrieved August 9, 2012 from http://catalog.waldenu.edu/content.php?catoid=41&navoid=5129

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