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Cite any reference to the article below as:

Deubel, P. (2005). Plagiarism: Prevention is the name of the game. English Leadership Quarterly, 28(1), 6-11.

Permission to post the article at CT4ME granted by the journal editor.  The article is available from the National Council of Teachers of English for subscribers:
http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/ELQ/LQ0281august05.pdf

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Plagiarism: Prevention is the Name of the Game

Patricia Deubel, Ph.D.

August, 2005

Note: CT4ME provided the following hyperlinks for the reader to more easily access content of the article, and added the grade-level and intended audience. 

  1. Introduction
  2. Crime and Punishment
  3. Detection Software and Services
  4. Prevention Tutorials
  5. Prevention by Instructional Design
  6. Concluding Remarks
  7. Plagiarism Detection Resources Noted
  8. References

Grade Level: K-12; post-secondary

Audience: Educators, Administrators, Technology Coordinators, Curriculum Directors, Students, Parents, Courseware Developers

 

Introduction

Sophisticated technological tools have made it easier for students to share data, and unfortunately to plagiarize.  Probably every educator can cite numerous instances of plagiarism that have occurred in their educational settings and how they dealt with those instances.  In my 30 years as a secondary educator and university level face-to-face and online educator, learners have copied and submitted homework from other learners, cheated on exams, shared assignment/test solutions via email, cut and pasted from Internet resources, and incorrectly cited or omitted references in text-based documents.  Some plagiarized unintentionally or because of pressure to earn good grades, or lack of ethics. Ercegovac and Richardson (2004) see a link between academic dishonest/plagiarism and morality, noting that “different forms of academic dishonesty should be explained to students regardless of their academic status” (p. 305).  Further, “we need to develop appropriate levels of presentation to different levels of students’ moral reasoning” (p. 305).

Learners at all grade levels, including many educators seeking advanced degrees, generally lack knowledge of copyright and fair use of multimedia, and how and when to cite references.  As educators, we can write honor codes, identify the crimes and mete out punishments, but a source of the problem lies in how we address ethical behavior in the curriculum, and design instruction and assignments to lessen chances of plagiarism occurring in the first place.  These issues are addressed in this paper.  Age-appropriate multimedia resources are provided.

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Crime and Punishment

According to the Council on Writing Program Administrators ([CWPA], 2003), "In an instructional setting, plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) material without acknowledging its source" (p. 1).  Academic integrity extends to copyright and trademark violations and inappropriate use of company-owned and protected materials.   Faculty should always reference their institution’s policy in their faculty expectations documents or course syllabi.

Educators might become suspicious of terminology, sentence structure, changes in writing style within the text, writing that is different from that produced in class, writing that appears above or below a learner’s skill level, differences in formatting used in the work, or if they have a feeling of familiarity with the text (Bull, Collins, Coughlin, & Sharp, 2001).  The following examples from this author’s experiences illustrate that detecting plagiarism and proving it lies with the educator, and caution is needed in confrontations.  As Hansen (2003) points out, “Teachers and professors who impose harsh consequences on plagiarizing students sometimes face unpleasant consequences from their students, parents and unsupportive colleagues and administrators” (p. 779).

Consider the case of the young man who needed to earn a “C” on his grade card in trigonometry to remain eligible to play on the high school basketball team.  One day, after reviewing results from an exam with students, I was surprised to find his test among homework papers collected that day, along with a note saying the test had been graded all wrong.  The grade should have been “70,” not the 50/100 that he had earned. I knew he had changed answers, but was faced with proving it.

As I always used an ink pen to strike through incorrect answers, my colleague in the science department suggested examining the paper under his microscope.  Sure enough, the student’s pencil marks and erasures were over the ink marks.  The principal was alerted and parents were called to attend a meeting to discuss the situation.  After the student vehemently denied his action, the evidence was presented, much to the embarrassment of his parents who had been supporting their son’s honor. But, what was learned?  Certainly not the importance of ethics--the parents removed him from the class.

In years following, as technology advanced, high school students used email to collaborate on a take home test.  They were permitted to research answers, as needed, and were asked to sign an honor code that they had done their own work, which in retrospect might have been phrased as did not collaborate with others. Ethics again played a role.  While grading one of the papers, I suddenly stopped and said, “Wait…I just read that.”  The paper was put aside to be dealt with later.  Ultimately, several papers included identical answers to the same problem.  Getting students to admit the plagiarism was problematic.  But, at least this time, a lesson in ethical behavior might have been learned.  The parents and I agreed that all the learners would take a new exam after school, but would only earn 80% of their final score.  Who was punished? I certainly felt that I was.

A wake up call to outright digital plagiarism and the need for better detection of it came when teaching my first doctoral level course.  As part of his critical review of an online learning text, a learner copied a review, word for word, from the Web site of a leading online book seller.  This instance was discovered by accident while searching the site to purchase the book.  When confronted, the learner, an experienced professional, felt his action did not matter and was no big deal.  Although I preferred to award “0” for the effort, my university mentor advised awarding “60%.”  While this score was still a failing grade for this first reported incidence, the student learned that his status in graduate school was in jeopardy, but he would be given a second chance to prove himself.

Professional development and dialogue among faculty might be needed to learn how to handle cases of cheating and plagiarism.  Roig’s (2004) streaming audio/video Web cast, Faculty Study Day: "Rise of Plagiarism,” could be a basis for a faculty seminar, especially when enhanced with video-based case studies, which are among the learning objects included at the Plagiarism and Academic Integrity page (UMUC, n.d.; (http://www.umuc.edu/distance/odell/cip/learningobjects.html) provided by the Center for Intellectual Property at the University of Maryland University College.

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Detection Software and Services

According to Dr. John Barrie, Chairman and Founder of Turnitin.com, plagiarism has been around since the days of Plato, but the problem has escalated among students for three reasons.  First, the technology is available, allowing students to use the Internet like a large encyclopedia.  Second, the level of competition has intensified.  Finally, there is the element of morality.   In past there has not been an effective means to determine from where information has been taken (CNET News.com, 2001).  This latter provides the rationale for educators and their students to use detection software and services to not just detect plagiarism, but to minimize occurrences in the first place.

Bull et al. (2001) classified plagiarism detection software and services into two categories, “those designed to detect plagiarism in computer programs and those designed for detecting plagiarism in text-based documents” (p. 3). For detecting text-based plagiarism, “[s]ome software programs and services are designed to detect material cut and pasted from the Internet, while others detect instances of identical or very similar submissions” (p. 3). Some services, such as MyDropBox, have compiled databases of assignments and works purchased from paper-mills and essay banks from which to compare.  Glatt Plagiarism Screening Program (GPSP) offers yet another methodology in which the uniqueness of learners’ writing styles is exploited.  The program “eliminates every fifth word of the suspected student's paper and replaces the words with a standard size blank. The student is asked to supply the missing words.”  The program then calculates a plagiarism probability score based on the “number of correct responses, the amount of time intervening, and various other factors” (GPSP, .n.d., An In-Depth Look, par. 4).

A Google search reveals numerous services and software for digital plagiarism detection, which should be examined before purchasing for reliability, technical requirements, ease of use, cost, and stability of the vendor. Some, such as Turnitin.com, are subscription based. Easy Verification Engine (EVE2) can be purchased for use within a single educator’s classes. Others are free.  For example, Lou Bloomfield (2005) provides free software, WCopyfind, at his University of Virginia Plagiarism Resource Site.

My university, which adopted MyDropBox for both learners and faculty, has taken a pro-active stance to prevent plagiarism by encouraging learners to post their own papers to that service prior to submitting their work.  MyDropBox is appropriate for use in high schools and post-secondary institutions. Papers submitted for review are compared to four databases: the Internet, term papers from password protected paper mills; electronic books, magazines, journals, and newspapers; and papers submitted from the same institution (MyDropBox, Sample Report).  Generally, within 24 hours of posting a paper for review, MyDropBox returns a color-coded report containing suspected sources, links to view the source with highlighted copied text, the percentage of text matching the source, and an option to re-process the paper without the source.

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Prevention Tutorials

Information literate students are expected to use a variety of media.  For example, standards adopted by the National Council of Teachers of English (1996) call for students to “use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge” (Standard 8). Likewise, among performance indicators in literacy standards for higher education, the American Library Association (2004) states that students manipulate “digital text, images, and data, as needed, transferring them from their original locations and formats to a new context” when planning and creating new products and performances (standard 4).  Given that learners are likely to misuse media, knowledge of copyright and fair use of multimedia is tied to preventing plagiarism.

Age-appropriate tutorials on the Web address these ethical concerns.  Plagiarism tutorials should include the definition; how to cite, paraphrase, quote, summarize, and seek permission to use materials designed by others; and how to avoid plagiarism.  Students and teachers might use permission templates from Warlick’s Landmark for Schools (http://www.landmark-project.com/permission_student.php) to e-mail authors regarding Web content they wish to use in instruction or school projects. Copyright and fair use tutorials should enable teachers and students to learn characteristics that determine copyright infringement: “the purpose and character of use (commercial or non profit educational), the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount of the work that can be used in relation to its whole, and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the work” (Chiles, Riddle, & Rich, 2003, p. 37).

There are limitations on time and the amount of copyrighted material used without permission, which can be incorporated into works.  In brief, Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia established by the Congress of the United States (1996) indicates the following (section 4.2):

Tutorials with video, audio, animation, and interactivity, as opposed to pure text-based tutorials, are particularly appealing to learners.  The following resources are noted in the technology section, Multimedia in Projects, at Computing Technology for Math Excellence (http://www.ct4me.net), which is this author’s Web site where plagiarism and copyright are also discussed.

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Prevention by Instructional Design

Using plagiarism detection services and software, and educating learners in the ethical use of media are pieces of the puzzle on plagiarism; however, knowing and doing are not the same.  Reducing plagiarism calls for a paradigm shift from a reactive to pro-active stance in instructional design (Freedman, 2004).  Freedman recommends allowing students to “select whatever they wish from any resource,” and then to use the Information Age mentality of learners to teach them valuable skills in “assessing information and culling out the significant or cogent material…to make it work for them” (p. 547) in creating their works.  His rationale is based on what people actually do.

Sterngold (2004) recommends more learner-centered teaching approaches, which incorporate "more hands-on, active, and collaborative learning methods" (p. 21).  While no methods are foolproof, Sterngold provides the following strategies for preventing plagiarism in research papers:

Sterngold's strategies "allow instructors to treat most instances of plagiarism as fixable errors rather than fatal violations of academic policies" (p. 18).  In this author’s view, they are equally applicable for projects incorporating multimedia, which are developed over time and for which instructors can provide learner feedback in stages.

To improve the design of assignments, the CWPA (2003) also recommends that educators:

For this latter recommendation, educators might appreciate Concordia University Library’s Citation and Style Guides (http://library.concordia.ca/help/howto/citations.html), which include APA, MLA, Turabian, and Chicago.  The Citation Game(http://depts.washington.edu/trio/quest/citation/apa_mla_citation_game/index.htm) at the University of Washington uses a drag and drop format to introduce students to the correct order for listing elements of citations in APA and MLA formats.

When using multimedia elements in projects developed with tools such as PowerPoint, Talab (2004) recommends that students include credits screens for all works cited, including sources for clip art, pictures, and audio/video clips.  Many of those resources might not be in the public domain, and are copyrighted.

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Concluding Remarks

As educators we can not assume that learners know the rules regarding plagiarism and ethical behavior.  Detecting instances of plagiarism is time consuming.  Proving it adds stress and might deteriorate a working relationship with the learner. Prevention is the name of the game.  Winning involves dialogue with learners, incorporating age-appropriate Web tutorials into the curriculum, and adapting instructional design to the new Information Age mentality of learners.  Hence, research assignments and project-based learning experiences should allow learners to take ownership of their work, focus on analysis and synthesis of referenced media, and be developed over time, which enables instructors to support learners with feedback in stages.

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Plagiarism Detection Resources Noted

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References

American Library Association (2004). Information literacy competency standards for higher education.  Chicago, IL: The Association of College and Research Libraries. Retrieved January 26, 2009, from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency.cfm  [URL updated since publication].

Bloomfield, L. (2005). The plagiarism resource site. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia. Retrieved on April 20, 2005, from http://plagiarism.phys.virginia.edu/home.html

Bull, J., Collins, C., Coughlin, E., & Sharp, D. (2001). Technical review of plagiarism detection software report. Luton, UK: University of Luton and Computer Assisted Assessment Centre. Retrieved on April 20, 2005, from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/luton.pdf

Chiles, L., Riddle, N., & Rich, L. (2003). Are you breaking the law? Copyright guidelines for video streaming and digital video in the classroom. T.H.E. Journal, 31(3), 36-39.

CNET News.com (2001, July 6). Students can’t cheat anti-plagiarism site [video interview with Dr. John Barrie]. Retrieved on May 4, 2005, from http://news.com.com/1606-2-732674.html

Council on Writing Program Administrators (2003). Defining and avoiding plagiarism: The WPA statement on best practices. Last accessed January 26, 2009, from http://www.wpacouncil.org/node/9 [URL updated since publication].

Ercegovac, Z., & Richardson Jr., J. V. (2004). Academic dishonesty, plagiarism included, in the digital age: A literature review.  College & Research Libraries, 65(4), 301-318.

Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia established by the Congress of the United States (1996). Retrieved on May 17, 2011, from http://www.cgu.edu/PDFFiles/Academic%20Computing/MMFUGuides.pdf [URL updated since publication of the article.]

Freedman, M. P. (2004). A tale of plagiarism and a new paradigm. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(7), 545-548.

Hansen, B. (2003, Sept. 19). Combating plagiarism. The CQ Researcher, 13(32), 773-796.

National Council of Teachers of English (1996).  Standards for the English language arts. Retrieved on May 3, 2005, from http://www.ncte.org/about/over/standards/110846.htm  [NOTE posted January 26, 2009: new URL is http://www.ncte.org/standards?source=gs]

Roig, M. (2004). Faculty Study Day: "Rise of Plagiarism" [audio/video Webcast]. Houston, TX: University of St. Thomas. Retrieved on May 4, 2005, from http://www.stthom.edu/cgi-bin/webcast/detailmore.pl?pid=15 [NOTE posted April 28, 2008: URL inactive].

Sterngold, A. (2004). Confronting plagiarism: How conventional teaching invites cyber-cheating. Change, 36(3), 16-21.

Talab, R. (2004). A student online plagiarism guide: Detection and prevention resources (and copyright implications!). TechTrends, 48(6), 15-18.

[Note posted December 30, 2016: URL in original publication is no longer active for Prentice Hall Companion Website: Understanding Plagiarism. The tutorial is available at http://seaportmedia.coastline.edu/objects/12300/Plagiarism%20Prentice%20Hall%20Companion%20Website.pdf.]

 

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