Plagiarism Spectrum identifies the blurred lines of cheating, and how to respond

spectrumresized Access to technology, and a propensity for students to share images and text on social media in their everyday lives is blurring the lines of original thought and plagiarism in higher education.

Turnitin, a company that provides a web-based application to help instructors determine if a student’s work contains plagiarism, surveyed more than 800 secondary and higher education instructors in an effort to create a Plagiarism Spectrum.

The spectrum outlines the frequency and severity of 10 common forms of plagiarism, and is designed to help educators determine how to discipline students caught plagiarizing material in their assignments.

Jason Chu, Education Director at Turnitin, and author of the report, said the goal of his study is to educate instructors and students on what plagiarism looks like and promote discussion of the various types of plagiarism and how to avoid them.

(Next page: What’s on the Spectrum)

Cloning, or submitting another person’s work, word-for-word as one’s own, is still at the top of the spectrum as the most problematic and abused type of plagiarism. However increased access to technology has made plagiarism a more complex issue than ever before as students move beyond simply submitting another person’s work as their own.

Mashup — when a student copies work from multiple sources and does not provide proper citations — is just one of the types of plagiarism that blurs the lines between students’ tendency to share information freely on websites (such as Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia) and cheating, which makes it hard for educators to determine the appropriate disciplinary action.

Although it is the second most frequent type of plagiarism, educators do not believe mashup plagiarism is as problematic as cloning or copying and pasting, which is when students submit material from a single source with minimal changes to the original text.

It serves as an indicator of how students are writing papers, Chu said.

Educators understand that at the middle school, high school or undergraduate level students may have be a tendency to copy an expert’s work into their own because educators “see this is as part of the way students learn to write in a particular discipline,” Chu said.

Faculty may expect to see a certain level of copying at earlier levels of education, even as high as undergraduate education; however, the number of instances of unintentional plagiarism, such as mashup, should taper off as students progress through their academic careers, and should not occur at the graduate level.

(Next page: Shortcomings of honor councils)

Many higher education institutions have a no tolerance policy for plagiarism, which requires students to go before an honor council if they are caught plagiarizing on an assignment. However, Chu said many professors are less likely to report plagiarism because honor councils rarely account for the varying degrees of severity on the plagiarism spectrum.

In order to effectively combat the growing number of students who have trouble understanding why information found online needs to be properly cited in an academic paper, “teachers need to take the time to show their students what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate source material,” Chu said.

“What we are seeing is much more a reflection of how students are thinking about information in general,” he said. “In an everyday context students are apt to share information freely. There is not a second thought about it. But in the academic context, it is a completely different animal.”

Read more about the Plagiarism Spectrum here.

The full report here.

Peter Sclafani is an editorial intern at eCampus News.


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