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Identifying & Preventing Plagiarism in Online Learning

Instructor: Jaclyn Scotto

Jaclyn is a high school English teacher and college professor. She has a doctorate in Education.

Plagiarism has always been an issue for teachers. In an online learning environment, however, it is even more common. Read on for strategies on how to identify and prevent plagiarism.

Plagiarism in Online Learning

Ms. Smith is assigning a research paper to her online class. She is concerned that students may be tempted to plagiarize this assignment. What can she do?

Plagiarism refers to any time a student uses another's work without giving credit. In online learning platforms, students are already using their computers to complete assignments, so the temptation to plagiarize may be greater. Most often plagiarism occurs when students cut and paste from the internet without citing the material; it also happens when students share work with their peers or buy assignments online.

Students in online learning environments may be more tempted to plagiarize.
student on computer

Preventing Plagiarism

Although you (and Ms. Smith) can't prevent plagiarism altogether, there are some things you can do to decrease the chances of students plagiarizing assignments.

Plagiarism Policy

Require that students review the school's plagiarism policy. You can post it in your online classroom and require that students read and respond to it as an assignment (like a discussion post). This has two obvious benefits. First, you know that all students are aware of the policy, and it may lessen any disagreements later on. Secondly, it gives students the opportunity to pose questions or concerns for you to answer based on their responses.

Before assigning the research paper, Ms. Smith reviews the school's plagiarism policy with a PowerPoint presentation. She also creates an anti-plagiarism contract that states students understand the definition of plagiarism and the repercussions if they do plagiarize. She requires that all students sign it before starting the research paper.

Review Citations

Another idea for plagiarism prevention is to review how to cite outside work properly. For example, if you require students to use MLA format, review with them how to complete MLA citations and create a works cited page properly. You can also provide links to websites or require that students purchase a style guide. Similarly, you should review with your students the different types of information that requires citations and how to go about citing it.

Ms. Smith teaches a mini-lesson on the difference between paraphrasing, summarizing, and using direct quotes. In her mini-lesson, she specifically focuses on how to write in-text citations for each.

Identifying Plagiarism

If you're reading an assignment and it just doesn't sound like something that student would write, count it as a red flag. Similarly, if you come across a sentence or passage that seems not to flow with the rest, that might be cause for concern, too. Luckily, there are resources to help you identify whether a student has plagiarized.

Search Engine

One free and easy way to identify plagiarism is to use an internet search engine like Google or Bing. Locate a sentence in the student's assignment that sets off warning bells and paste it into the search engine bar. If a student has plagiarized, it should come up in the first few results. Besides giving you a definitive answer as to whether or not the student has copied word for word, you can see exactly from where he or she got the information (just in case the student tries to argue).

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