One of the most disheartening scenarios as a teacher takes place when you discover that a student plagiarized. The repercussions from reporting the student’s academic dishonesty, and the potentially stained student-teacher relationship are both incredibly disappointing.
With the growth of online learning and remote classes this year, students are who used to traditional teaching methods find themselves exposed to an over encroaching risk: plagiarism. Unlike a traditional structure, where in-class writing, essays, mid-terms, and finals made-up most of the course requirements, online learning experiences differ. Your entire curriculum, whether it involves a daily writing component or important, end-term research papers, is completely online. So how can you mitigate the risk of plagiarism and encourage good writing habits to your students?
An ideal approach is to put yourself in their shoes – they are likely using communication tools outside of your remote classroom to help enhance their understanding of materials and discuss their writing strategies. Some popular mediums of communication include Discord groups and online boards such as Reddit. In those same spaces are tools for cheating, such as opportunistic people who sell their services to write papers – in other words, academic dishonesty.
Here are some steps you can take to help your students avoid academic dishonesty:
1. Communicate your Awareness of Online Cheating Tools.
Many syllabi include a section on “Academic Dishonesty,” usually a generic script written by a department or the school. This may be full of important but non-specific information that hasn’t quite been adapted to the modern challenges. This is why it’s important to warn your students that you are aware of groups on Reddit, such as /r/reuseschoolhomework and /r/teenagers where recycled papers are passed around to “help others.” Include warnings about websites that generate re-writing samples automatically. Remind your students that it’s against the terms of service on websites such as Upwork to request someone else to complete their homework. Finally, remind your students not to take the risk using a paper mill or subscription website to “buy” already written papers, as it is a form of academic dishonesty, not to mention many plagiarism checkers, such as Quetext, can catch this quite easily.
2. Remain Available for Questions and Concerns.
Many students commit academic fraud because they struggle with reading comprehension, assignment directions, and procrastination. Although granting extensions puts more work on your shoulders, it’s best to create assignment due dates with potential room for extensions in mind. That way, you already had it in your plans to grade assignments earlier, without penalty. Concerning assignment directions; be sure to adapt your instructions based upon the questions you receive from your students regarding your assignments. If students struggle with waiting until the last minute, provide helpful resources to tackle procrastination, such as links to free TED talks.
3. Provide Clear Examples of Plagiarism in a Separate Document.
The best way to demonstrate plagiarism is by example. Instead of telling students not to copy ideas, demonstrate this by using a secondary source and showing the right, and wrong, ways to present the ideas of others. Provide explanations, showing that sometimes a citation is not enough, that the idea itself must clearly be attributed to the author. The same document should also provide links to the most up-to-date online style guide that your class uses. If possible, use a shortened version of the style guide based on the type of assignments in your class. All the guides are quite lengthy, which may discourage your students from trying to find simple rules, like how to properly quote a verse from Shakespeare. The Purdue Writing Lab is a great source for this and includes a search function for easy navigation.
4. Encourage your Students to Write Daily.
Asking your students to write in their free time is not enough, instead, provide an incentive for them to perform plagiarism exercises in a weekly forum, and give points for their participation. You can create prompts such as, “Please write a paragraph describing Prince Hamlet’s personality in Hamlet.” Require the students to use in-text citations to match their statements. You can also develop quizzes where the students can take online assessments to determine what is and isn’t plagiarism. For a quick run-down, you might direct students to our Plagiarism 101 post.
While you can’t control what your students are doing online, you can certainly inform them and make adjustments to their online learning experience. By helping your students avoid plagiarism and the temptation of academic dishonesty in general, you will be doing them a service for the rest of their academic and professional careers.