Technology has brought benefits to the classroom, as well as drawbacks. Higher education faculty and administrators have raised concerns that cheating is easier than ever before due to the Internet. Fortunately, there are proven methods and new digital tools that help detect and discourage cheating, and more specifically, plagiarism.
In this article, three higher education program directors who have taught in both the on-ground and online environments discuss their efforts to promote a culture of academic integrity. During our conversation, they shared their methods for detecting and combatting plagiarism with technology, as well as best practices for making sure students understand and respect academic policies and expectations.
The program directors – Jenifer Norton (Widener University), Steven Szydlowski (The University of Scranton), and Kharon Grimmet (Purdue University) – currently use a handful of anti-plagiarism strategies when they teach. They have also been a part of the Wiley Fellows initiative, which aims to foster a community of practice among Wiley’s institutional partners focused on innovations in online teaching and learning.
Wiley University Services: As program directors who have taught both online and on-campus, has plagiarism been an issue for you? If so, give us an example of a notable situation.
Jenifer Norton: The most unique plagiarism situation I’ve encountered was one where I least expected it – in a discussion forum. Before we started using Vericite, the anti-plagiarism software that’s integrated into our Learning Management System, we didn’t have plagiarism detection available for discussion forums. In a self-reflection discussion forum where students were asked to provide their own ideas and thoughts on a topic, one of our instructors found odd wording and looked it up online. They found that the student had copied and pasted their post from an online blog. The lesson for us was that even in situations where it’s least expected, we’ll see plagiarism.
Kharon Grimmet: I echo Jen’s answer. We had a similar situation this past fall where a student copied a blog post. Verbatim. It just so happened that the instructor had read the original blog post that same morning. It was disheartening, and even when we brought it to our administration for review, they couldn’t believe that it would happen so blatantly.
Steven Szydlowski: Here’s an example that was interesting: A colleague of mine was grading a paper without software, and as he was reading it he realized the paper looked very familiar, so he ran it through an anti-plagiarism software. He realized that it was another student’s paper from a prior section a year before. It just so happened to be that this particular instructor had also taught the other section and had read the exact paper before. The original student handed it over as a reference to the current student, and the current student submitted it as his own. We have seen content taken from blogs and other areas online, as well as from prior students. We wouldn’t have caught that if it weren’t for the same faculty member teaching the course. I think that supports the need for a standardized approach or policy to plagiarism detection.
All three of you use anti-plagiarism software integrated into your Learning Management Systems (LMS). Can you tell me more about how you use this software and whether you require it to be used for certain elements of your programs?
SS: At the University of Scranton, usage of the anti-plagiarism software is up to the discretion of each faculty member, and the degree of usage varies between faculty and programs. We don’t have any written policy that says you must use the software, and there are varying degrees of use and perception based on the faculty within a particular program.
JN: We never say that anti-plagiarism software is mandatory for all Widener University faculty, but we have not yet had a situation where someone refused to use it, so I think that everyone has bought into it as a necessary and effective tool.
KG: Purdue University also leaves it up to faculty discretion. TurnitIn is part of our on-ground program, but because we use a different LMS for our online programs, we didn’t use it from the beginning. When we started having plagiarism issues online, a Wiley team member informed us we could integrate the Vericite software into our online LMS to combat it. Now we are working with our faculty to identify appropriate assignments and discussion boards to embed the software.
Are there assignments in which you do not want the software to be turned on? If so, what types of assignments are they?
JN: In our research courses, we ask students to upload articles or resources of other researchers’ work for instructor approval, so it does not make sense to turn it on in that situation. Other than that, we turn on the software if there is anything that the student is asked to write themselves.
KG: We have several discussion activities where we ask the students to support their responses with literature and citations, so we leave the software off to avoid any unnecessary red flags.
SS: We turn off the software for students’ study abroad reflection activities, which require journaling and a six to eight-page reflective paper. They are pulling from their documentation about the experiences and we don’t think those need plagiarism software.
What other strategies beyond software are you using to combat plagiarism? These can be just as important.
SS: To combat most forms of plagiarism up front (intentional or unintentional), The Unversity of Scranton has students review an academic integrity tutorial prior to the program that looks at the student code of conduct, academic dishonesty and honesty, and plagiarism policies. One thing that that strategy doesn’t quite cover, however, is cultural norms – some cultural norms are quite different from our domestic students’ norms, so we’re looking for best practices to address this issue. All in all, this approach doesn’t work 100 percent, but at least we can lay the initial framework for the expectations and performance criteria before students enter our program.
JN: We have a similar approach at Widener. During their orientation, students do a plagiarism tutorial with a pre- and post-test. We also have turned on an Assignment Submission Setting within our LMS, which is an academic integrity statement they have to agree to before submitting an assignment. Additionally, we judge plagiarism differently depending on the type. There are situations where students knew they were wrong and deliberately acted otherwise. But there are other situations, which happen more frequently, where the student honestly does not understand that what they did is unacceptable. It could be a cultural difference or a carryover from their prior education where the student does not fully understand citations, so we apply a two-strike approach. The first time it happens we treat it as a learning lesson, but the second time we apply a more punitive approach.
KG: Widener’s approach to plagiarism sounds very similar to Purdue University’s. The first time it happens we will talk with the student and take cultural differences and misunderstandings into consideration. The second time is a punitive penalty.
Wiley University Services: Lots of great ideas here. Thanks very much for sharing them with us today!
For more information of the Wiley Fellows program and their individual research projects, click here. Or, visit our Resources page to read other Wiley Fellows’ general insights, opinions, and experiences with online learning.