Online Educators and Academic Dishonesty: Dealing with Plagiarism

Last week we shared an article regarding cheating and how online educators may deal with this form of academic dishonesty.  Today we are continuing our topic of academic dishonesty in eLearning environments with a discussion centered on plagiarism. Plagiarism can be defined as when a student intentionally presents the written work of someone else as his or her own work.  Plagiarism is usually associated with long written assignments such as essays, research papers, or even masters theses and doctoral dissertations.  However, plagiarism can certainly occur in any assignment that requires a written response.

The first step in curbing any form of academic dishonesty is prevention.  While plagiarism may be more difficult than other forms of academic dishonesty to prevent, sometimes simply discussing what plagiarism is and how to avoid it can quell a student’s temptation.  As we stated in our previous article on the subject of cheating, another form of prevention is making the policies around academic dishonesty known to all students at the beginning of your course.  Each student should have access to your personal academic dishonesty policies and those of the organization you work for.

Plagiarism can also be somewhat difficult to detect.  There are many plagiarism detection resources from free online services to paid subscription or software.  If the organization you work with utilizes a plagiarism detection service, you would be wise to make use of it.  If not, a simple Internet search for free plagiarism detection services will return several options and you should be able to find a solution that works for your needs.

There are also certain “red flags” you can look for in a student’s writing that may be an indication of plagiarism.  Sudden font or text size changes in a work of writing may indicate copying and pasting from another source as many students are not savvy enough to ensure the text size or font they have copied matches the text in their original work.  Another tip-off that a student may have plagiarized a portion of a written assignment is the use of atypical spelling of certain words (for example, the use of “-our”  in words like behaviour or colour if you are in a region that used the “-or” spelling instead).  Some students have also been known to leave various header or footer information (advertising or other indications of original source) in items that they have cut and pasted from an Internet source.  This is an obvious red flag that should be investigated.  Another way to detect a possible act of plagiarism is if you sense a student’s voice or tone has changed abruptly in his or her writing.  Again, this could indicate that text has been copied from another source.

If you do find that you have detected an act of plagiarism by one of your students, you should document all of your research and evidence thoroughly.  Most organizations have a protocol that should be followed for handling such cases so you will need to familiarize yourself with the procedures that apply to your situation.  Ideally, preventative measures and education on the subject will make the occasions you have to deal with plagiarism rare.

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