All you have is your name

Educating in the digital information age has its challenges.  The ready access of content, research, and feedback provides students with abundant opportunities to excel in their educational pursuits.  Of course this also gives them the opportunity to be less then honest about the material they create.  Instilling integrity into a group of students is a challenge at all levels of education and across the many different methods that content is delivered.  Face-to-face courses are struggling with this issue to the same degree as distance education courses.  So how is this problem being addressed, and is it making a difference? 

In many cases, software is being employed  to automatically scan student submissions for plagiarism.  A simple internet search for “plagiarism software” resulted in many thousands of results.  Of these, “Turnitin” is a web service that will “Check students’ work for potential plagiarism by comparing it against the world’s largest comparison database” (Turnitin, 2014).  Instructors must realize that Turnitin will identify instances of plagiarism, but “ cannot distinguish automatically between plagiarized text and properly cited direct quotations” (Jocoy & Dibiase, 2006).  Another useful tool are web search sites like Google and Microsoft’s Bing which allow instructors to “…track down copied phrases” (Jocoy & Dibiase, 2006). 

Something to consider as an instructional designer would be to design content that reduced the risk of plagiarism in the first place.  The University of Leeds in England proposed a number of design elements that would facilitate proper student assessment while reducing the risk of plagiarism.  Some of these ideas were (cited from University of Leeds, n.d.):

  1. “Write learning outcomes that avoid the use of terms ‘list, describe, or explain’ as these invite students to copy.”
  2. “Map/schedule assessments to avoid over-assessment-to ensure that students are not overloaded and to avoid bunching of assessment deadlines as these can encourage students to resort to dishonest tactics”
  3. “Vary the assignment each year-different style, format, wording to prevent students copying work or getting answers from previous cohorts”

 Jocoy and DiBiase discuss the creation and implementation of an expectation management strategy.  The idea is to educate the student on just what plagiarism is, how to avoid it, and what the consequences are if caught copying someone’s work.  Numerous studies have shown that many if not most college students have little understanding just what plagiarism is.  This lack of knowledge results in the acceptance from a students’ perspective that copying internet sources is acceptable.  Jocoy and Dibiase quote “…students who received no explicit plagiarism instruction plagiarized twice as often as those who participated in active instructional activities such as class discussions of definitions of plagiarism…”(2006).  By clearly establishing performance expectations, defining what plagiarism is and how it applies to academic dishonesty, instructors can potentially reduce the prevalence of this problem.

 As a teacher and instructional designer I believe students can be made to understand the importance of integrity and honesty.  For some, this will be a life long lesson that will help shape their personalities.  For other students, they will “toe the line” during the course in order to avoid discipline issues.  My job is to try to not only impart the knowledge and information that is part of the course, but also make them good members of society.  For this reason, integrity is a common topic of discussion.


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


Turnitin (2014).  Corporate website.


University of Leeds (n.d.). Plagiarism-University of Leeds guide.  Designing assessments that prevent plagiarism.  Retrieved February 13, 2014 from


2 thoughts on “All you have is your name

  1. LorenSpinks

    Great post! I loved the three suggestions you gave from University of Leeds. I will definitely save those to my personal tools. I also liked the point you made about TurnItIn not being able to distinguish from properly cited text. However, I think it is a good thing that it highlights both. Then, that leads the instructor to all citations to make sure they are cited properly. I agree that explicitly teaching students about plagiarism is the best way to combat it.

  2. Matthew Pittman

    Hi, Don,
    Excellent post, I particularly liked the part about learning objectives and wording that is more likely to lead to cheating. I just started co-developing a course where I work and I am going to be keeping this particular point in mind as we work through course and module level objectives.


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