The 1-minute guide to plagiarism by Nicky Hockly
Nicky Hockly takes a quick look at plagiarism. Not how to do it, but how to avoid our students doing it.
Everyone does it
With easy access to the Internet, plagiarism got so much easier. Teachers frequently complain about how their students copy and paste whole chunks of text from the Internet, and hardly bother to cover their tracks. It is too tempting for students to search online for content needed for an assignment, and then to copy it, and hand it in as their own work. After all, why put in all the effort of writing something, when somebody has already written a better version of it, and it is freely available on the web? Even the German Defence Minister allegedly plagiarised parts of his Ph.D. thesis. Plagiarism has always existed, but the Internet has made it a lot more tempting, and a whole lot easier.
Plagiarism is bad. Is it?
Plagiarism is a tricky area and it does not mean the same thing to everyone. Students (and teachers) come from a range of different educational backgrounds, and the comprehension of what exactly constitutes plagiarism can vary. Although most of us agree that verbatim copying of content is plagiarism (and is unacceptable), a 2014 study* found that teachers themselves can be ambivalent about whether unattributed paraphrasing of others’ work constitutes plagiarism. The key concept for students to understand is the difference between attributing ideas and work to others (quoting your sources), and passing that work off as your own (plagiarism). Therefore, plagiarism does not only mean copying content verbatim, although this is the easiest form of plagiarism to spot. It can also mean not attributing sources correctly and making others’ ideas look like your own. This may well be unintentional on the part of the student. Clearly it is important for students to understand the variety of forms plagiarism can take (see below for more on this topic).
* Lei, J. and H. Guangwei. 2014. ‘Chinese TESOL lecturers’ stance on plagiarism: does knowledge matter?’ in: English Language Teaching Journal, 68/1: 41-51.
Plagiarism detection tools
There is a number of plagiarism detection tools available, both free and pay-for. Here are some plagiarism checkers:
– a list from Richard Byrne http://goo.gl/Lblrcz
– a list from Jennifer Scottson http://goo.gl/xltbyr
As Byrne points out in his blog post, many teachers simply copy and paste a chunk of text into Google when they suspect plagiarism. If that text is already out there in a webpage or article, Google may well find it for you, so it is a good first port of call.
Work with your students
Talk about plagiarism with your students, and sensitise them to the issues involved. Often students have not been taught at school that plagiarism is not acceptable. They may have been using sources such as Wikipedia in primary or secondary school, but nobody has ever explicitly told them not to copy from these sites, neither have they been told how to quote their sources. You can also point out the consequences. For example, in high-stakes contexts, where assessed work may lead to a certificate or degree, plagiarised work can lead to an expulsion from an exam – or even from an entire degree programme.
Here are two activities to try out with your students:
- Ask your students to look at this infographic which describes 10 types of plagiarism, and then to discuss it. You could first ask students to put each type of plagiarism from the infographic on a scale of 1 (not serious) to 5 (very serious) to encourage them to analyse their own attitudes to different forms of plagiarism. Then encourage your students to come up with a checklist of ways to avoid plagiarism in their own work.
- Get your students to play an online game about plagiarism in pairs. Produced by Lycoming College, the game takes students through a number of scenarios in which they need to identify the correct action to take. This is a playful and educational way to help your students understand plagiarism and how to avoid it.
Note: This article first appeared as a blog post on Nicky’s blog eModeration Station. This article was also published in The Teacher magazine no. 2(146)2017, pp. 35-36.
Nicky Hockly is the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, an award-winning online training and development organisation. She has worked in the field of English Language Teaching since 1987, is an international plenary speaker, and gives workshops and training courses for teachers all over the world. Nicky writes regular columns on technology for teachers in ETP (English Teaching Professional) magazine, and in the ELTJ (English Language Teaching Journal). She has also written several prize-winning methodology books about new technologiesin language teaching, many of them with co-author Gavin Dudeney. The latest of these books are Focus on Learning Technologies (2016), and ETpedia Technology (forthcoming 2017). She is a member of the Oxford University Press ELT Expert Advisory Panel, a Consultant for the Cambridge English Teacher platform (Cambridge University Press), and is a member of the NILE Advisory Panel, as well as being a member of the TESOL Journal Advisory Board. Nicky lives in Barcelona, and is a technophobe turned technophile.
You can find out more about Nicky on The Consultants-E website here, including a complete list of her publications.