Monday, March 31, 2008

Cheating and plagiarizing and bears, oh my!

I attended a very interesting conference last week sponsored by eCollege -- CiTE. The conference was focused on designing and teaching in eLearning environments. One thing that surprised me was how many presentations about plagiarism and cheating were delivered. Even the presenter of a session I attended on serious games used the cheating/plagiarizing issue as the context for demonstrating a serious game! I have rarely had this issue with students (at least to my knowledge), so I do not have any war stories to share as many of my colleagues do. There was the time when I assigned a book review and received one that has been "lifted" from I digress.

Awhile back, I was asked to share guidelines for discouraging university student cheating and plagiarism (particularly in eLearning environments). These are the ideas I came up with, sorted into three categories: general class management, refocusing student work, and using quizzes and exams.

General class management
  1. Reference the university’s policies (as well as your own policies) on cheating and plagiarism, and clearly state the ramifications of not following these policies.

  2. Use a tool such as to check submitted work -- you can simply copy and paste excerpts of text from the paper into Google and see what comes up (check out for access to a lot of fantastic resources on this issue, including other detection suggestions). Note: Use the Measure of Software Similarity site to detect plagiarism in students’ software programs.

  3. If you suspect plagiarism, look carefully at the paper and gently confront the student with your concerns. Sometimes, the student may not realize the infraction, and needs some instruction on the topic (see next bullet).

  4. Provide students with some instruction on cheating and plagiarism. Besides the instructional benefit for students, they will realize that you know how to detect problems and will be less likely to cheat or plagiarize. -- mentioned above -- provides access to very helpful materials for instructing students on this topic.

Refocusing student work
  1. Use different assessments throughout course – projects, quizzes, papers, products, and so on.

  2. In using papers or reports, focus on the process of writing. Require a project/paper proposal, an annotated bibliography, an outline, an abstract, drafts, and so on. It is hard to find work to plagiarism for these intermediate steps, and once students do all of this work for themselves they might as well write the paper/report.

  3. Avoid “choose any topic” papers. Tie the topic to the goals of the course. This helps make the paper topics unique to your course, and therefore more difficult to find readily available as a pre-existing final product.

  4. Require students to use material from class lectures, presentations, discussions, and other class activities in their graded assignments. This makes finding papers to plagiarize or swipe more difficult. 

  5. Require students to use original data/information in their papers/reports. For example, have them conduct an original survey or interview as part of the assignment. The survey or transcripts of the interview are included as an appendix.

  6. Require a description of the project/research process with the final draft.

  7. Get to know your students. Require a writing sample during the first week of class. Have the students do this in their “best written style” and make it personalized and customized to them. Keep these samples on record for comparison purposes as the semester progresses.

Using quizzes and exams
  1. Use problems and case studies rather than questions that require memorization only.

  2. Change quiz and exam questions each semester.

  3. Give different questions to different students.

  4. Limit the amount of time the test is available.

  5. Use proctored exams.

  6. Follow-up exams with random synchronous discussions with individual students to verify their understanding of the content.

  7. Consider using quizzes and exams for student self-assessment purposes instead of points towards final grade.

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