Session Nine: Plagiarism & Cheating


Session 9:  Plagiarism and Cheating

1. Thinking about an online class you teach or might teach, what is the most likely issue related to plagiarism and/or cheating with which you would anticipate dealing?

In my experience, 90% of the plagiarism I see is the result of not knowing how to properly cite research.  I typically get about one out and out copied paper a semester.  On the other hand, I get about 20% of the students who have neglected to properly cite a paraphrase and have “accidently” plagiarized on the first paper of the semester.  I think most students understand that copy words equates to cheating, but they haven’t grasped that copying ideas without giving credit also equals cheating. 

2. Identify and explain the steps and measures you would take to reduce the occurrence of plagiarism/cheating identified in item 1.

First,  I spend a great deal of time teaching citation.  I also use Safe Assign (Plagiarism checker) as a teaching tool.  On the first assignment I show students exactly what I see.  It’s a shame that SafeAssign only shows students the % of copied work but doesn’t show the actual highlighted paper with links to the sources.  When students see the instructor view and we go through various examples of properly and improperly quoted and paraphrased text, it’s much clearer for students.  I’m able to do this as a f2f class but I think it would be trickier online.  I think I would narrate the sample papers so students could see the highlighted text but hear my explanation.

Second, I require multiple steps in the writing process:  freewriting/mapping, outline, annotated biblio, first draft with peer review, then final draft.  The steps equate to as many points as the final draft which means students need to complete the whole process to pass. 

Thirdly, as a linguist I know my students grammar and vocabulary capabilities since they are second language learners.  When a student suddenly produces complex syntax, I meet with them to discuss the work.  The toughest cases are when you can’t find the work on the internet, so you suspect a friend or professional has helped.  I approach those meanings with simply asking if the student had too much help because in all fairness I can’t prove the student has “cheated”.  In at least half the cases, students admit someone has helped them.  I then quiz them about vocabulary in the content.  If a student can’t tell me the meaning of a word, it helps them recognize that they haven’t just gotten “help”. 

Finally, I volunteer train our writing tutors.  Unfortunately, our tutors are often the culprits in “over-helping” students by correcting their grammar, vocab, etc.  Our tutors are asked not to write on the students’ papers.  They can give advice but the student should be doing all the writing.  I also require students to submit tutoring receipts that list the name of the tutor they worked with.  That way I can speak with a tutor if I begin seeing a pattern of them helping too much.

3. What does research tell us about the reasons students give for plagiarism/cheating. Remember to cite your sources!

I agree with Dr. Newberry when he says the majority of plagiarism is the result of students not correctly citing references (Newberry, 2014). “Students are surprisingly unclear about what constitutes plagiarism or cheating,” said Mr. Wasieleski, an associate professor of management (as cited in Perez-Pena, 2012). 

According to Donald McCabe, a professor as Rutgers and leading researcher on cheating, “there’s [no] question that students have become more competitive, under more pressure, and, as a result, tend to excuse more from themselves and other students, and that’s abetted by the adults around them (as cited in Perez-Pena, 2012).  I think there is more pressure on high school students trying to go directly into four year universities, so statistically cheating has gone up among this population (Perez-Pena, 2012). 

Let’s face it, the internet has made cheating easy.  When all a student has to do is cut and paste, it’s tempting. 

Internet access has made cheating easier, enabling students to connect instantly with answers, friends to consult and works to plagiarize. And generations of research has shown that a major factor in unethical behavior is simply how easy or hard it is.

A recent study by Jeffrey A. Roberts and David M. Wasieleski at Duquesne University found that the more online tools college students were allowed to use to complete an assignment, the more likely they were to copy the work of others.

The Internet has changed attitudes, as a world of instant downloading, searching, cutting and pasting has loosened some ideas of ownership and authorship. An increased emphasis on having students work in teams may also have played a role (Perez-Pena, 2012). 

It’s interesting that working in teams may be contributing to copying.  We place so much emphasis on student-centered learning that teacher might be the source of some copying issues. 

4. Evaluate your participation in the discussion this week. Provide at least one quote from the discussion that supports your evaluation.

I find participation somewhat challenging in an asynchronous discussion.  I’ve tried to think how discussion could be structured in a way to allow for contributions at varying schedules, but I can’t think of a solution. There’s just no way to get a whole week’s worth of work done on Mon/Tues without a student needing to complete the discussion later in the week.  Does anyone have any suggestions for this?

My contribution this week is based on my years of teaching, so I hope it is useful-

Schools and Teachers can deter cheating-

  • If class size are kept under 35, teachers can get to know their students and the students’ abilities. I can easily recognize complex syntax and vocabulary when a student suddenly turns in a brilliant essay yet all of their other work is below average.
  • Cheating policies need to be strictly and uniformly followed. If you are the only “bad” guy in the department, students wishing to cheat will just take other teachers.
  • Major essays should be broken down into process writing with weekly graded parts; this eliminates putting so much emphasis on the final draft essay which could be purchased or plagiarized. To my knowledge “paper mills” only sell essays, not the freewrite/mapping, outline, and multiple drafts with revision and editing comments. If a student needs all of that and each draft receives a significant portion of the grade, the “paper mill” essay won’t help.
  • While I appreciate Dr. Newberry’s concern of copyright out of respect for students, when it comes to plagiarism checkers, I personally believe they are a valuable teaching tool and deterrent. I would like to point out that the version of Safe Assign my college uses allows students the option of whether or not the company can store their paper. I’ve noticed that this is not the case at CSUSB.
  • I would suggest that multiple choice test make cheating too easy; short answer or paragraph responses are better even if they are more work to grade.

5. Identify the student you think was the most important participant in the Blackboard discussion. Explain why and provide at least one quote from that student’s contributions to the Blackboard discussion.

I chose Rachel because her response reminded me of why it is so important to find assignments that students are truly interested in.  She said, “I really dived into my project this weekend and am actually having fun with it!”  This is what learning should and can be.  I actually felt the same way working on my project, and I know it’s because we were allowed to chose projects that were relevant to our professions.  A teachers, we should all remember to be flexible with assignment topics in order to let students choose projects they will feel excited about.

6. Reflect on what you have learned this week. What have you learned that has the potential to inform or influence you or your practice of online learning going forward? Explain why.

At the end of the day, I fall into the category of instructors who just aren’t willing to police my students.  The idea that a professor uses binoculars to watch students during test seems absurd to me.  Don’t get me wrong, when Safe Assign uncovers a student who has copied a whole or nearly whole essay, I fail that student for the assignment.  In my whole career I have only had to fail a student for a whole course when they plagiarized two essays.  The number of students who blatantly cheat is fairly small, so I don’t plan to spend a ton of time worrying about it. 

A few months back I had a student come meet with me; he had failed my course three times and had plagiarized at least one assignment every semester.  This student had gone on to take the course with a much easier teacher and he had passed.  Unfortunately, once he got to Freshman Comp he lacked the skills to pass.  He actually came to see me so he could apologize because he finally understood that if he had worked harder to master my class, he would have been ready for the next level.  It took the student years before he finally learned that cheating hadn’t helped him, but at least he finally got it.  Eventually cheaters figure out which skills they are lacking, and if they don’t then maybe they never needed those skills to begin with. 


Newberry, B.  (2014).  Session 9 Plagiarism and

Cheating [Lecture Notes].  Retrieved from Blackboard:

Perez-Pena, R.  (2012, Sept. 7).  Studies Find More

Cheating, With High Achievers No Exception. New York Times.  Retrieved from:


5 thoughts on “Session Nine: Plagiarism & Cheating

  1. Margarita

    Hi Christen,
    I am impressed with the length you go to in order to prevent plagiarism. I also found that most plagiarism occurs because the student doesn’t know how to cite properly. Seeing how many steps you take in order to prevent such issues should result in no accidental plagiarism, though. I agree with you, I do not want to police my students in these types of matters, but I do teach younger students. What steps do you suggest an elementary school teacher could do in order to begin introducing plagiarism and proper citations?

    Interesting question- hmmm… Ok well I have limited experience teaching kids, but I AM SURE they won’t get or care about Intellectual copy-write laws any more than my adult students. I try to relate it to something they will get- stealing, fairness, and integrity (although that last one might be a bit tough for some kids).

    Could you “pretend” to get an award (make yourself a certificate) and show your students that you received it for “your paper” and then show the students a copy of a paper that they all will recognize as one of their classmates (maybe something that was put on the bulletin board or one a class competition). The kids should be able to accuse you of cheating. At that point, you can begin a lesson on how you should have cited the student’s work. Then of course explain that you would never have turned in someone else’s work as your own. I don’t know- I’m just brain storming.

    Here are some lessons for kids on plagiarism-
    Good luck,


  2. Hi Christen,
    I was thinking the same thing about policing the students. Your story about the student who did not pass your class is a good example of how students will try to take an easier route, but in the end it doesn’t pay off. The extremes that were taken as described in preventing cheating is beyond the time and energy that I have. Precautions, yes, but sending a mole or binoculars into the class is beyond my pay grade.

    Liked by 1 person

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