Friday, February 12, 2016

Addressing Plagiarism in the Online Classroom

As noted by (Jocoy, & DiBiase 2006) The Council of Writing Program Administrators states that “Plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) materials without acknowledging its source” (as cited in Quinn, 2006). Note; while other forms of academic dishonesty certainly exist; this effort is confided to exploration of how online instructors can manage and respond to incidences of plagiarism.

Several methods of quantifying the prevalence of plagiarism at the collegiate level exist. However, each method produces radically different results. For example, a table listing previous studies compiled by (Jocoy, & DiBiase 2006) reports the following rates amongst first-year college students who were asked to self-report if they had previously committed plagiarism: 3%, 13%, and 21%. One could speculate that the 3% figure is an outlier stemming from fear of recrimination. Fortunately, more accurate methods of detection exist.

Of the many forms of plagiarism detection software, (Ewing, Anast, & Roehling 2015) cite a study by (Hill and Page 2009) identifying “Turnitin” as being the most accurate and trustworthy due to both higher detection rates and fewer false positive hits. According to (Ewing, Anast, & Roehling 2015) studies quantifying the rate of plagiarism using this software report rates between 12.8-14.8%. Certainly, the utilization of plagiarism detection software is a step in the right direction. Yet, in the video file (Laureate Education 2010) Dr.’s Palloff and Pratt prescribe a more holistic three-pronged approach to the prevention and detection of plagiarism.

First, create awareness of the problem, as students are not always aware of what constitutes plagiarism. Second, create an environment that rewards hard work and frowns upon all forms of academic dishonesty. Finally, employ detection software and confront students who cheat directly. To allow for an initial adjustment period, (Laureate Education 2010) Dr.’s Palloff and Pratt suggest making first-time offenders rewrite the offending papers to include required citations. Thereafter, they recommend a reduction of one grade point based on the severity of the offence.      

Ewing, H., Anast, A., & Roehling, T. (2015). Addressing plagiarism in online programmes at a health sciences university: A case study. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 1-11.

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. Retrieved February 10, 2016.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Plagiarism and cheating [Video file]. Retrieved from


  1. Hi Robin,

    Do you think that has been a steady increase or decrease in plagiarism in the last 2 years? Is the software that is being used as effective as first thought? If not, shouldn't we (as educators) be thinking of other ways to deal with the situation?



  2. Teri,

    As you know, online education (as opposed to online training) is outside our realm of experience. To be sure, there are greater opportunities for wholesale copying and pasting via the internet. However, as noted in the post, plagiarism detection software increases the likelihood of being caught. In fact, (Ewing, Anast, & Roehling 2015) indicate that detection software is three times more effective than manual detection efforts.

    In the absence of conflicting information, I would naturally default to the three-pronged method outlined in the post.

    Ewing, H., Anast, A., & Roehling, T. (2015). Addressing plagiarism in online programmes at a health sciences university: A case study. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 1-11.

  3. Rob,

    I really like the three pronged approach you outlined in your post. I too think it is a combination of educating student of what plagiarism is, how to overcome it. Reward for doing it right and the implementation of the software tools that make it easier for educators to confront students who continue to make the choice to either plagiarize or cheat. I think this is a great way to continue to reduce the amount of plagiarism. I was very surprised by how many instructors did not seem to be using the tools they have at their disposal to detect plagiarism and the reasons why were disturbing in the article: Strengths and Weaknesses of Plagiarism Detection Software.
    Brown, V., Jordan, R., Rubin, N., & Arome, G. (2010). Strengths and weaknesses of plagiarism detection software. Journal of Literacy and Technology, 11(1/2), 110-131.

  4. I find it interesting to contrast conversations about plagiarism and cheating across generations, and student/instructor roles. The question that arises for me is one of whether it is realistic to assume that non-plagiaristic behavior is due to morality and ethics, or fear of the law. Thanks for the information you have provided.