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Beyond “Gotcha!”: Proactive Plagiarism Pedagogy

Mon Feb 22, 2021 at 07:30 AM
"‘It is far easier, more intellectually interesting, and more ethically satisfying to prevent plagiarism than to track it down’” (Bloom, 2008, p. 209 as cited in Sowell, 2018, p. 2).

Bloom made this case over a decade ago, but rates of plagiarism have remained steady (and perhaps increased during our abrupt move to remote learning). (While I included this quotation for its relevance, I intentionally used an indirect quotation because it is one of the most frequently misattributed sources.)

In the face of persistent cases, deflated and frustrated faculty often turn to plagiarism detection software—which should better be described as “text-matching software” (Foltýnek et al., 2020)—like Copyleaks and Turnitin. When introduced as part of scaffolded instruction focused on appropriate use and attribution, these programs provide faculty with time-saving tools to help determine if the writing submitted in their classes reflects their students’ own research, ideas, and words. 

Unfortunately, too many students discover the plagiarism in their work only when confronted with an originality report and/or an academic misconduct charge. In other words, when it is too late to address their inadequate paraphrases and attribution errors within teachable moments. In this teaching tip and in the workshop it complements, we share plagiarism resistant strategies, including the use of text matching software, that go beyond “Gotcha!”

How to Get Started: Two Early Semester Activities

Assign one of your own articles that is relevant to an important course concept.

In other words, pick something you know well.

  1. Ask students to read it and one or two of the sources you cited within it. (You could have different groups read different sources). Be selective; some of the sources you referenced might have been used only once.
  2. Have students trace how you represented those sources (quotations, summary, or paraphrase) within the article. This could be done individually or within groups, inside or outside class.
  3. Then discuss the role of each form of attribution and its relationship to the argument and to other sources. This discussion will allow you to help students understand that, for example, in the sciences and social sciences, quoting is infrequent if not absent. 

Prompt students to use Copyleaks with a low-stakes assignment.

Using the Copyleaks assignment tool in Moodle, create an early, low-stakes assignment that requires students to represent an idea from a disciplinary article (that you know well) in the context of their own paragraph-length discussion of an issue (perhaps in a local context). You could use the article from the previous activity.

  1. Have students submit their paragraph (without their names) to the Copyleaks Assignment link.
  2. Share some of the Copyleaks results, demonstrating the kinds of errors that were found, why they matter, and how to address them. If class time does not allow for this discussion, make a video that they can watch.
  3. Have students work in groups (inside or outside class) to revise submissions.
  4. Give class time for students to discuss what they learned, how they addressed the problems, and what they “never knew.”
  5. Ask students to repeat the assignment again using the same article but with a different task. Replace the grade on the first submission (if you indeed grade it) with that of the second submission.
Note : For this to work well, you must understand the limits of plagiarism detection software. First, these tools do not identify plagiarism; they identify similarity. For a brief discussion of complicating issues in similarity reports, see Checking the Plagiarism Checkers .

References and Resources 

CETL Resources on Academic Integrity

Foltýnek, T., Dlabolová, D., Anohina-Naumeca, A. et al. (2020).Testing of support tools for plagiarism detection. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 17(46). 

Sowell, J. (2018) Beyond the plagiarism checker: Helping nonnative English speakers (NNESs) avoid plagiarism. English Teaching Forum, 56(2), 2-15.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Authors

Sherry Wynn Perdue is the Director of the Writing Center. When not consulting with writers or conducting research, she enjoys hiking in Bald Mountain with her Standard Poodle Pike and her husband Don.

Melissa Vervinck is the Director of the ESL Institute at OU and has returned to the classroom to teach ESL classes, too. She enjoys taking walks in her neighborhood with her Poochon Sandy and her husband Bob.

Photo by Damian Zaleski from Unsplash. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC.View all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips. Follow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.