Resolving Issues – Plagiarism

My E-learning AQ course presented to following question in our latest readings. It had us consider the OCT ethical standards in education [link] and some of the difficult issues that arise in an e-learning environment. The question at hand and my answer are below.

Question: Select one of the following issues: absenteeism, cyberbullying, plagiarism.   Complete the following activity:

  • Identify the issue you have chosen.
  • What tools and strategies could you include in an online course to prevent the problem of happening in the first place? 
  • Determine how you would address the problem, should the situation arise in your class.


My Answer:

Plagiarism is a term that I am quite familiar with – I actually discuss this term as part of my BTA30 course. Plagiarism is using someone else’s work as your own without giving credit to the author.  One of the learning goals in my BTA30 course is that students will learn to cite electronic sources using APA orMLA format.


Plagiarism is a huge issue in education and the advent of the Internet made it an even bigger issue.

I often tell students a story about a (non-technical) teacher I knew that once came into my class after school, threw three essays on my desk and stated “look what these stupid computers do — all three of these essays are clearly plagiarized!”. I looked back at my co-worker and told him that computers aren’t stupid — they give students access to unimaginable amounts of information. The problem is that sometimes, students lack the computer literacy skills to use information correctly.

There are two ways a student could use a computer to complete an essay/report/school project.

The wrong way: A student procrastinates in starting his/her project until the night before its due. Just before bed, the student googles the topic, finds the first article he/she can find and pastes the content into a document. This is the wrong way to do things, yet probably happens alot.

The right way: A student gets their project/assignment and reads it over thoroughly. He /she should then do some internet research on at least 3-5 sources of information. Students could also visit their library for books /  journals to reference. The student should continually be evaluating the information they gather. After reading at least 3-5 quality sources on their topic, they can reflect on that knowledge and how it fits into their own life, their own world, their own context. This idea is called synthesis. NOW they can start to write their paper/essay/project! The student writes a paper using his/her own thoughts as the driver of the argument/discussion. Relevant facts, ideas, stories could be referenced in the paper as direct quotes or paraphrased ideas — but they must be cited properly. That means they include an in-text citation and a bibliographic entry.

How I detect plagiarism

I think most educators – either in a traditional classroom or in an e-learning environment know when a student’s work is plagiarized. Sometimes when the writing is too good, or if the context of the writing is off – or even when there is a strange font change (paper is in Times New Roman, but one paragraph is in Arial) its almost difficult to plagiarize a paper to a teacher that is paying attention. I often google a sentence from the paper in question. I will use a sentence with a particularly interesting sequence of words. I google that sentence in quotes and I generally find the article the student used.

Punishment for plagiarism

Back in the 90’s – (when I was in high school) if a student was guilty of plagiarism, he/she received a zero on that paper   –end of story–. Now days- I think instead of punishing a student with a zero- there is a tone of “rehabilitation”.  Sometimes, a student may not even realize they plagiarized because they mistakenly thought that paraphrased content need not be cited. My approach is to tell the student that their paper is plagiarized and explain to them why its plagiarized. I would let a student re-write the paper with proper citations and authorship standards. Thus, a student would only get zero on a paper if they were caught plagiarizing and refused to fix the problem once it is found.

Preventing Plagiarism

Students need to learn research skills, citing skills, and understand the idea of synthesis. Students need to see exemplars of work that is properly cited. Students need to know what plagiarism means, paraphrasing and direct quotations. They need to understand the workflow – “the right way” of doing things. It takes a lot of energy and effort – but in many places in life – there are no shortcuts. The student has to put the time and effort into their project, and a teacher has to show them the right way. In an e-learning environment, this could be done in an orientation course or in a sub-section of a module.

-Dwayne Murphy

PS: Here is a video I share with students about Synthesis:



3 thoughts on “Resolving Issues – Plagiarism”

  1. Congratulations, Dwayne! I am really enjoying reading your blog. You are bringing your own experience into the work, and that makes it a unique contribution to the knowledge building of educators who read your thinking.

    In Ontario, we also have Turn-It-In as a licensed product, but I prefer your thinking to using a computer generated plagiarism checker. Let’s teach our students to research, to paraphrase, to think critically and to write for a wide audience. As well, we can teach students to license their work through creative commons so they can take pride and be attributed when others remix their creations.

    Thanks for sharing your thinking openly!


    1. Donna, thanks for your reply… “praise from Cesar” comes to mind. I like the idea of creative commons. It ties in with the idea of Copyrighted material – which I cover in some of my courses. I will try to add that to the mix! -Dwayne


  2. Great post Dwayne! You highlighted some really great points. 1. “Students need to learn research skills, citing skills, and understand the idea of synthesis.” I totally agree, we as teachers need to make this not so daunting for them, maybe break up the work into steps or parts. 2. “Students need to see exemplars of work that is properly cited.” Yes, we need to start showing our students this as part of the research assignment so they understand what we are looking for when we say to reference something. 3. “Students need to know what plagiarism means.” A large majority of students don’t really know what plagiarism is and how and what is considered plagiarizing. That again, needs to have more of a focus so students know what is expected of them when researching and how not to steal other people’s work. Great post Dwayne, you really touched on some really important issues with plagiarism!

    Thanks, Julie


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