Plagiarism Detection and Prevention
Technology has opened many possibilities “to improve learning and create a more exciting and motivating environment” (Connors, as cited in Schmidt et al, 2009, p.2); however, the use of technology in education has triggered a new round of academic cheating, leaving educational institutions faced with new challenges to their social responsibility of producing high-quality graduates.
Overall, there is little convincing research on “the actual prevalence of academic dishonesty in the online classroom” (Black et al, 2008, p.24; also see Laureate Education, 2010). Moreover, some studies demonstrate the opposite trend (Black et al, 2008) and the relevance of the ‘Media Equation’ phenomenon, according to which “students are exhibiting the same behavior in online courses that they exhibit in traditional classrooms” (p.24).
To adequately and effectively address the problem of cheating and plagiarism in both online and traditional environments, it is necessary to understand the reasons and motives underlying the cheating and plagiarism behavior, that is, why learners cheat and plariarize. Researchers now are focusing effort on identifying the root causes, rather than symptoms, of cheating. Chris Park (2004), for example, states that:
“Many students are tempted to plagiarize [and more broadly, to cheat] or do plagiarize and for them both the opportunity and the motive to do so are growing. … Students are faced with many temptations to plagiarize, because many of them now have to work part-time to support their studies, they produce coursework in large quantities and to tight deadlines and they are under mounting pressure to perform well to justify investment in studying for a degree. Students also often know that their peers engage in plagiarism, and they too are faced with moral dilemmas” (p.293).
The latter idea is echoed by Milliron and Sandoe (2008), who say that “students learn deviant strategies and adopt their peers’ techniques and behavior as they communicate and form social relationships. If students perceive a ‘culture of cheating,’ they are more likely to engage in academic dishonesty” (para 4).
According to Black, Greaser, and Dawson (2008), “various personal and environmental factors … contribute to academic dishonesty” (p.24). Among them are “(1) the number of credits taken during the semester, (2) the number of hours spent weekly on the course, (3) the perceived learning as a result of the course and (4) the perceived amount of interaction with the instructor” (Black et al, 2008, p.24).
Simkin and McLeod (2009) take a closer look at the causes of cheating in an online learning environment and identify six cheating motivators:
- an opportunity;
- the “desire to succeed”: “if ‘winning is everything,’ then cheating simply becomes a tool to use in pursuit of this higher goal’ (p.3/13);
- “ the small or non-existent penalties that some instructors impose for infractions’ (p.3/13);
- ‘the reluctance many professors now harbor to prosecute student cheaters” (p.3/13);
- “a growing trend to redefine what constitutes ‘cheating’” (p.3/13);
- lack of a moral code.
Simkin and McLeod (2009) summarize their findings in the following graph:
Chao, Wilhelm, and Neureuther (2009) corroborate Simkon and McLeod’s findings and identify three broader (more comprehensive) contributors to plagiarism by students: availability of high-speed Internet and access to numerous web-based resources, students’ attiude toward cheating and plagiarism, and “the lack of consistent enforcement of academic honesty policy by faculty members and university administration” (p.32), which, according to Chao, Wilhelm and Neureuther (2009) “fosters a culture of cheating” (p.32).
The deterrents that Simkin and McLeod (2009) identify – culture, moral, risk – seem to me to call for a comprehensive institution-wide strategy for overcoming cheating. I believe, an anti-cheating policy is to be implemented at three levels:
– the institutional level;
– the course design level;
– the classroom (course implementation) level.
Chris Park (2004) posits that “many universities now recognize the need for a broader and more cohesive institutional approach to dealing with student plagiarism, in order to protect everyone’s interests as well as the academic credibility and reputation of the institution” (p.293). Further, Park draws on the experience of Lancaster University to outline an institutional framework for dealing with academic dishonesty by students. According to Park (2004), “the framework places a strong emphasis on prevention and education, backed up by robust and transparent procedures for detecting and punishing plagiarism” (p.291).
It is the responsibility of the institution to promote the culture of academic integrity which would “underpin and inform all aspects of its teaching and learning strategy” (Park, 2004, pp.297-298), with “any initiative to raise awareness – among faculty and students alike – concerning current trends in online plagiarism” as an important first step for any ed ucational and/or training institution (Scanlon, 2003, p.163; also see Jocoy & DiBiase, 2006).
“Because academic integrity involves the development of behavior that reflects moral values, educators’ responsibility for addressing plagiarism may go beyond shielding students from copyright infringement. …educators enforce academic integrity in order to advance students moral development”
(Jocoy & DiBiase, 2006, p.3)
One of the ways to combat cheating is offered by the proliferating plagiarism-detection software products (e.g. Turnitin.com), and computer security features (Vilic & Cini, 2006).
Cheater-detecting software is, certainly, useful to protect educational and/or training institutions against legal action that the institutions incur upon themselves if they neglect security in such areas as assessment contents, assessment environment, assessee authentication, as well as plagiarism, as the most notorious instance of cheating in both traditional face-to-face and distance educational environments that has caused a lot of concern for decades (Bradley, 2006).
However, as Scanlon (2003) points out, “although the potential deterrent effect of plagiarism-detection software may be considerable, and although it likely will sniff out the most egregious forms of plagiarism for which there is no excuse, reliance on plagiarism checkers could bring unforeseen and unwanted consequences” (p.164), among the most dangerous of which Scanlon (2003) identifies (a) “the probable motives for student plagiarism, as well as the reasons for student confusion over the nature of originality and textual appropriation” being left unaddressed, (b) the evidence of mutual distrust, and (c) the possibility of the faculty avoiding “engagement with the pedagogical and ethical issues involved” if the cheating-detection software is used “solely as policing mechanisms” (p.164). To effectively address the issue of cheating, it is necessary “to move the plagiarism discourse beyond just detection and punishment and to situate and embed it in a cohesive framework that tackles the root causes as well as the symptoms of plagiarism as a family of behaviours [sic]” (Park, 2004, p.294).
What is important is to introduce and nurture a culture of academic integrity (Laureate Education, 2010) and to create an environment, which, according to McCabe and Pavela (as cited in Milliron & Sandoe, 2008, para 1), “encourages mutual respect, fairness, trust, responsibility, and a love of learning and that is maintained by safeguards like clear expectations, fair and relevant assessments, and vigilant course management (McCabe & Pavela, as cited in Milliron & Sandoe, 2008, para 1):
“Colleges and universities should update their policies on academic honesty to include definitions and sanctions regarding cyber-plagiarism, and they should regularly publish or otherwise draw attention to these policies. Plagiarism is a problematic and widely misunderstood concept for students, and the complicating factor of the Internet, where each of acquisition too often is taken to mean common ownership, has only widened the divide between faculty and student notions of fair use” (Scanlon, 2003, p.163).
“…there is evidence that suggests a portion of one form of academic dishonesty – plagiarism – may be unintentional”
(Chao et al, 2009, p.32).
The idea of students’ cheating because of their misunderstanding what cheating constitutes is corroborated by Black et al (2008), Jocoy and DiBiase (2006), Park (2004), and Simkin and McLeod (2009). According to the Council of Writing Program Administrators (as cited in Jocoy & DiBiase, 2006), there are “several contingencies which complicate the enforcement of academic integrity in higher education” (p.2), intentionality being one of them.
“We consider communicating the principles of academic integrity to be one component of establishing high expectations in the classroom”
(Jocoy & DiBiase, 2006, p.8).
With the advent of online education and training, cultural differences are also to be taken into account. Vilic and Cini (2006), for instance, refer to the Chinese and Indian culture of copying as examples of cultural differences in understanding plagiarism.
Overall, research suggests that students who are “given instructions on avoiding plagiarism (including definition of plagiarism and proper documentation) and paraphrasing practice exercise along with instructor feedback” are less prone to unintentional plagiarism (Chao et al, 2009, p.39).
The course design level
To be effective, any institutional policy is to be reflected in the teaching and learning strategies employed institution-wide. Therefore, course design is critical in creating the environment necessary to discourage cheating. Engaging students and offering meaningful and authentic learning and continuous, formative assessment experiences are “the key to deterring plagiarism” (JISC InfoNet, n.d., p.10). Dr. Pratt (Laureate Education, 2011) suggests using performance assessments and multiple assessments as means to reduce cheating. This is supported by Vilic and Cini (2006), who “the need for effective instruction and authentic assessment as the strongest means of deterring and reducing the number of academic integrity violations” (p.341).
Moreover, it is desirable that links to plagiarism-avoidance resources provided by an institution’s library or writing center be made available to learners (Laureate Education, 2010).
The classroom level
“From a policy perspective, education policy, aimed at educational change, only becomes reality once it has been implemented at the micro (classroom) level” (Pitsoe & Maila, 2012, p.322).
In their research into the reasons for student cheating, Simkin and McLeod (2009) did not only focus on cheaters and their motive for cheating, but also on non-cheaters and their motives against cheating. Simkin and McLeod (2009) found that one of the most commonly mentioned deterrents to cheating was “the presence of a moral anchor in a faculty member whose opinion mattered” (p.10/13). Ultimately, it is the faculty’s position on cheating that determines whether the students will engage in cheating practices or not.
Many researchers, however, emphasize that there is little agreement among the faculty on what constitutes cheating (Black et al, 2008; Park, 2004; Scanlon, 2003; Simkin and McLeod, 2009), which contributes to “the reluctance many professors now harbor to prosecute student cheaters – a trend that again enhances the environment for such behavior” (Simkin & McLeod, 2009, p.3/13). Therefore, I see it as necessary that a shared understanding is developed among the faculty. This can be reached through a thorough professional development relying on “on broader efforts to improve teaching and learning and should be aligned with state and local standards” (Trubmull & Gerzon, 2013, p.5).
Moreover, as Jocoy and DiBiase (2006) point out, “lack of proof of intentionality may reduce the penalties for offenders” (p.2), while “the degree of culpability” (p.3) may prompt instructors to refrain from penalties for what they personally perceive as minor plagiarism.
Overall, an institution’s failure to address student cheating jeopardizes the institution’s reputation and its ultimate goal of serving the society. Addressing the issue, however, is not an easy task, but takes a conscious, coherent, and comprehensive action to be effective.
As a future ID, I feel I must address the issue, by, first of all providing students with an opportunity to build a true learning community with each student feeling him/herself a full-fledged member of a socially and cognitively valuable group – let this group become a reference one for him/her. Next, I will take care to combat potential plagiarism through a strategic assessment policy: continuous, formative, and, possibly, authentic assessments to incentivize each learner to put in genuine effort. And I insist that the faculty be provided appropriate and effective PD programs to help them develop effective feedback skills.
Challenge me here:
I do not agree with Drs Palloff and Pratt (Laureate Eduaction, 2010) when they say that when a student uses a revised version of his/her own work that he/she produced in a previous module, it is to be considered a case of plagiarism. I think, that if a person has once used multiple resources to produce a quality work and has revised it to fit the purposes of a new course, it is only fair and copyright-consistent.
Please see the highlighted parts in the articles attached (I have only started comparing the two, I am certain, more text was reused by the author):
Swan, K. (2003). Learning effectiveness: what the research tells us. In J. Bourne & J. C. Moore (Eds.) Elements of Quality Online Education, Practice and Direction. Needham, MA: Sloan Center for Online Education, 13-45.
Click here for access:
Swan, K. (2002). Building learning communities in online courses: The importance of interation.
Click here for access:
Are we to demand that our own students be above THAT? Above those we consider to be true scholars? Are they really wrong in using all or part of their own work?
Black, E.W., Greaser, J., & Dawson, K. (2008). Academic dishonesty in traditional and online classrooms: Does the ‘media equation’ hold true? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 12(3-4), 23-30.
Bradley, B.D. (2006). Legal implications of online assessment: issues for educators. In M.Hricko, and S.L.Howell (Eds.), Online assessment and measurement: Foundations and challenges. Hershey, London, Melbourne, Singapore: Information Science Publishing.
Chao, C.-A., Wilhelm, W.J., & Neureuther, B.D. (2009). A study of electronic detection and pedagogical approaches for reducing plagiarism. The Delta Phi Epsilon Journal, LI(1), 31-42.
JISC InfoNet. (n.d.). Effective use of VLEs: E-assessment. Retrieved from http://tools.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/downloads/vle/eassessment-printable.pdf.
Jocoy, C., & DiBiase, D. (2006). Plagiarism by adult learners online: A case study in detection and remediation. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 7(1), 1-15).
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Plagiarism and cheating [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu.
Laureate Education (Producer). (2011). Design considerations for assessments in online environments [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu
Milliron, V., & Sandoe, K. (2008). The net generation cheating challenge. Innovate, 4(6). Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=11B1046C18C8BCE73A6393BC55713344?doi=10.1.1.186.3630&rep=rep1&type=pdf
McCann, A.L. (2010). Factors affecting the adoption of an e-assessment system. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(7), 799-818. DOI:10.1080/02602930902981139.
Park, C. (2004). Rebels without a clause: Towards an institutional framework for dealing with plagiarism by students. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 28 (3), 291-306.
Pitsoe, V.J., & Maila, W.M. (2012). Towards constructivist teacher professional development. Journal of Social Sciences, 8(3), 318-324.
Scanlon, P.M. (2003). Student online plagiarism: How do we respond? College Teaching, 51(4), 161-165.
Simkin, M.G.,& McLeod, A. (2009). Why do college students cheat? Journal of Business Ethics, 09 December 2009. doi: 10.1007/s10551-009-0275-x (Published online).
Trumbull, E., & Gerzon, N. (2013). Professional development on formative assessment: Insights from research and practice. San Francisco: WestEd.
Vilic, B., & Cini, M.A. (2006). User authentication and academic integrity in online assessment. In M.Hricko, and S.L.Howell (Eds.), Online assessment and measurement: Foundations and challenges. Hershey, London, Melbourne, Singapore: Information Science Publishing.