Academic Plagiarism

An Ethical and Educational Issue

Plagiarism is largely defined as using content and ideas from another author’s work without giving proper credit to the originator. With all the new learning tools and resources available to students, plagiarism is now more than ever a topic of concern for colleges and universities — both in traditional and online classroom settings.

Since the advent of the Internet, higher education has certainly drawn great benefits from all that the Digital Age provides. The Internet and other technologies have given students countless resources that can enhance their learning experience, help them complete their coursework assignments faster and improve the quality of their research.

One would think that online learning would create optimal circumstances for those who choose to cut corners on assignments. However, a recent study coined the Academic Dishonesty Assessment revealed that a variance of this dishonest behavior was almost non-existent between the two types of college classrooms (Sottile, Watson).

The Road to Plagiarism: Often Paved with Good Intentions

Although Sottile and Watson’s survey indicated no significant difference between the level of plagiarism practiced in traditional (or face-to-face) platforms and the level of plagiarism practiced in online classroom platforms, people still believe that students are more apt to plagiarize in the online setting. Some believe that because online students use the Internet as their learning environment and primary academic resource, they tend to plagiarize more than traditional students. Yet, students in both types of learning environments have access to the same Internet and written resources, thus the temptation is equally prevalent in both groups.

Since identifying an author of a written work published on the Internet is sometimes difficult, students can adopt a nonchalant attitude about the use of “unclaimed” text from the Internet. The article “Plagiarism lines blur for students in Digital Age” published on newyorktimes.com talks about a student at the University of Maryland who was reprimanded when he used wording from Wikipedia on his paper about the Great Depression. He wrongfully assumed that he could use the information because it fell into the category of general knowledge and the Web site credited no author for the work.

Dissuading the Offenders

Both professors and college administrators continue to focus on deterring plagiarism in traditional and online classrooms. In a traditional classroom, the circulation of handouts about academic honesty and the school’s plagiarism policy combined with open discussions and direct interaction with the instructor convey the school’s intolerance of and repercussions for students wrongfully taking credit for someone else’s work.

Similarly, in the completely online learning environment, professors and school administrators can overcome the challenge of dissuading students from plagiarizing in several ways. For one, schools absolutely must publicize clear anti-plagiarism policies in the documentation of their general academic standards and disseminate these policies to online students at the beginning of each course. In addition, online instructors must incorporate such academic policies into each online course. To reiterate the importance of this, schools can add electronic consent forms that require students to agree to not plagiarize any resources that they use for their courses.

To streamline the process of analyzing plagiarized content, colleges and universities can also enlist the services of a company called Turnitin.com, which provides another effective tool and resource against plagiarism. This interface and service allows students to upload their assignments, scans the entire text of each assignment and detects any plagiarized content. The Turnitin.com database accesses countless resources, journals, newspapers, Web sites and even archived student papers as it checks for plagiarized material.

Today, more than 9,500 educational institutions use Turnitin.com worldwide in 126 countries. Aside from serving as a fast and highly productive method for detecting plagiarism, Turnitin.com contributes greatly to the prevention of academic dishonesty. Students are less predisposed to assume undeserved credit if they know that Internet-based software will scan their work. Instructors who have access to this service can also upload student submissions and use the interface to authenticate students’ work.

Various tools and actions can promote or cultivate students’ academic honesty, however, no concrete guarantee exists that any feat will work without fail. However, consistently using up-to-date tools and technologies to combat plagiarism in the classroom while communicating the ethical and educational impact on the student’s learning experience and outcome is a best practice that not only protects authors and their intellectual property but also motivates students to strive to create original academic work.

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