How does digital culture affect and/or reimagine the concept of plagiarism?

  • Plagiarism on Twitter

    Jamie Henthorn's picture
    by Jamie Henthorn — Catawba College view

    Below you will find a Storify of a conversation the front page editors had on Twitter about plagiarism and digital culture. 


  • Plagiarism in an Age of Anxiety

    This post is by Robert McEachern of Southern Connecticut State University. 

    I believe that digital culture has had less of an effect on student plagiarism than it has on our perceptions of student plagiarism.

    In 2011, Pew Research published the results of a survey of college presidents. One of the findings was that 55% of the respondents said that there was an increase in plagiarism among students over the previous 10 years. Of that group, 89% believed that technology was to blame for the increase.[1] However, the report was somewhat ambiguous about how the presidents determined this increase. Did their universities keep longitudinal statistics? Were the presidents discussing their own classroom experience?

    Or was this based merely on their perceptions?

    I can offer my own perception as someone who has been a teacher, department chair, and writing program director in the last 10 years: The increase in the amount of student plagiarism during that time has been insignificant. Indeed, Gary Moorman and Carla Meyer’s March 7 piece from this series points out that they could find no research that shows that students are plagiarizing more today than they have in the past.[2]

    I will offer another perception: I have seen an increase in the number of teachers who take student plagiarism personally. A composition instructor came to me recently to report a case of very obvious student plagiarism. Frustrated, she said to me, “Does this kid think I’m stupid? Did he not think I would find out?” Her emotions echoed Marilyn A. Dyrud’s reaction to her own students’ plagiarism: “angry, disappointed, and offended.”[3]

    I will admit to my own personal reaction when I find the case of student plagiarism. Not so much anger that it happened, but a kind of joy when I catch the plagiarist. There is definite satisfaction in using digital tools to catch a digital native at his own game.

    So what is the connection between the perception of increased student plagiarism and increased emotional reaction to it?

    The Pew survey asked additional questions, and one is particularly relevant: 51% of the presidents thought an online course would offer as good an educational experience as a course in a classroom. In a companion survey of the general public, only 29% of respondents believed that this was the case. As the presidents fret over the use of technology, they also revel in its promise.

    Teachers may have good reason to be emotional. MOOCs have enrollments 10 times the number of students in my entire university, where we are under pressure to use technology as one strategy for increasing the number of students that can be taught by a single instructor. Is it any wonder that instructors perceive technology as much an enemy as a friend?

     Perhaps the effect of the digital age on plagiarism is less a matter of increased practice by students, and more a matter of increased perception by teachers. Plagiarism becomes less about student skills and student values, and more about feeling a loss of control.

    [1] Kim Parker, Amanda Lenhart, and Kathleen Moore. “The Digital Revolution and Higher Education.” Pew Research Social and Demographic Trends. August 28, 2011.

    [2] Gary Moorman and Carla Meyer. “Rethinking Plagiarism in the Digital Age: Inferences for Instruction.” Media Commons: A Digital Scholarly Network. March 7, 2014.

    [3]Marilyn A. Dyrud. “Introduction: Plagiarism and Its Discontents.” Business Communication Quarterly 74:2 (June 2011): 138-140.

    Image on front page by Devon Christopher Adams via Flickr



  • What counts as original?: Digital Culture, Remix, and Re-vision

    Chvonne Parker's picture
    by Chvonne Parker — Old Dominion University view

    “This is the remix” was a popular phrase in hip hop during the 90s. The phrase signaled that the song to follow was going to be a recreation. In hip hop this meant anything from a new beat to guest lyricists to an entirely new song. Hip Hop, now a significant part of mainstream music, is grounded in the ideas of sampling, mixing, and remixing. Now, there are artists, like Girl Talk, who are famous for mashup-style remixes that utilize samples from several songs to create a new song. It is within this environment/culture that students’ perceptions of plagiarism, originality, authorship, and ownership are developed. Lawrence Lessigcaptured this culture best when he stated, “We watched TV; they make TV.” Contemporary culture is a participatory culture. There are myriad examples in digital culture of mashups and remixes, including fan-made remixes of songs and of Internet memes and gifs. This culture may, like hip hop culture, see using information as a form of flattery or paying homage to the original. However, it is not grounded in the idea of giving or receiving credit, but in sharing and expanding.How does one approach plagiarism in this time with students that may have this perspective?

    A possible approach is a move away from the traditional definition of plagiarism. Digital culture pushes us to reimagine other concepts and aspects of life; therefore, it is possible that through digital culture, we can reimagine and redefine what counts as plagiarism. Consider Virginia Anderson’sargument that in joining information, ideas, and words that were not originally together, we now have new uses of old ideas; thus, we may need a new definition for what counts as original or new. Anderson examines the discourse around authorship, presenting Howard’s argument that writing is collaborative and ideas of ownership/origination cannot be applied to it. However, as this is accepted on one hand, on the other hand, instructors present that plagiarism (and hence ownership) does exist and it is wrong.  Building on the idea of ownership, Anderson uses Burke’s idea of “perspective by incongruity,” which presents the idea that words belong to specific categories and through strategic planning can be metaphorically moved to a different category. Perspective by incongruity can be interpreted as a way of twisting or remixing readers’ perceptions of the message/text/video. This approach allows students a more dynamic use of text and ideas that aligns with changing cultural perceptions about what counts as new and original. This also allows instructors to open dialogue about ownership and origination in digital culture.

    Redefining (remixing/re-visioning) plagiarism may be a necessary step in embracing digital culture and meeting today’s students where they are.

    Image on front page by ines saraiva via Flickr

  • Playing in Someone Else’s Sandbox

    Sarah McGinley's picture
    by Sarah McGinley — ODU and WSU 1 Comment view

    Internet use, fandom practices, and digital labor are this post’s context for how students may interpret plagiarism. This is a speculative and sincere series of mini-attempts at grasping an alternate point of view. Most of us, including our students, use Facebook, twitter, blogs, visit aggregators and Wikipedia, and so on—enough to consider it a shared backdrop of our lives, and for us all to be both users and “content providers.” We spend time in virtual worlds participating in quests and economies. We build aspects of those worlds (Second Life’s sandbox), play in them off-line (cosplay), rewrite (fanfic), and even adapt and distribute (scanlation). The everyday interactions of digital and participatory culture make the unattributed sharing of ideas a norm. An insistence on receiving or giving credit violates that norm.

    Digital culture is already a conversation.

    Our students write a lot and most of it is a conversation: they text, post, and tweet. Writing is expected to be reciprocal, and, naturally, not everything on the screen is by you. Students are primed for a mutually owned piece of writing.

    We are all content providers now.

    We work for free for Facebook, Reddit, and Fark.We put our ideas there, and the sites’ values increase. We collaborate with others—often unknowingly. We adapt ideas. Ours are adapted. Single authorship is a rarity. Our work is part of the vast bricolage of the web. If we do not own our words and images, how should we attribute the ownership of others?

    Mashup or patchwork?

    A new song almost instantly morphs into YouTube parodies and mashups. There’s no need to credit the original because everyone (who matters) already knows. It’s an act of creation—not plagiarism.The transformation is theirs, but no one claims they created it from scratch.Students frequently overestimate their readers’ (us) contextual knowledge and assume we know what they are using. We see unacknowledged source; they see obvious use of an idea that surely their prof has encountered. We see patchwriting where students intend a mashup where all parts are recognized.

    The author is dead;long live the virus.

    A successful mashup goes viral.Memes self-replicate and spread from host to host.No one is the author.Our culture is a petri dish, not the digital social network we imagine.It’s not for nothing that we say “viral”—we’re just patient zero, not the author.Ideas, to students, can seem equally ownerless and random in their origin and spread. Their paper is just another host as the idea spreads.

    Look what I found!

    Ironically, given that likes, shares, and retweets are the validation of an idea, the originator is often left in the dust.We display what we find at Pinterest with no intent of claiming it as ours. It’s obvious we are showing something we found—not that we made. Often, we have no meaningful source since we received the idea at 20th hand! And trying to retain ownership of a meme or a joke—what could be sillier? There are sites that ask for pingbacks, credits, or some acknowledgement of the labor, but in general we do not know who the originator is to acknowledge them. We may be more likely to acknowledge the most recent finder (the “via” or “shared from”) and reward those who find and share the most interesting material.

    Look what we can do!

    Many digital enterprises are collaborative. When we crowdsource, we pick the collective brain for an answer, build a project together, sign a petition, bankroll a creative project, donate to cover vet bills—we achieve the goal. Being anonymous is the default reward—we must opt in or name ourselves for public acknowledgement. Crowdsourcing may be dismissed (as slactivism for example), but it’s also a validation of social good, an acknowledgement that our collective work, while valuable, is not for individual kudos.To say “I built it” would be an unseemly taking of collective credit for oneself.

    Live, work, play in our sandbox

    The participatory culture of fandom has percolated throughout digital culture such that sharing others’ creativity / intellectual property is a norm. It may be an involuntary collaboration on the part of the originator, but, to fan participants, there is a qualitative difference between participatory culture practices such as fanfic, cosplay, or scanlation, and that of “sharing” through BitTorrent or piracy. A fan’s digital labor and creation are involved and value is accrued. When we labor on something, we feel a sense of possession. The work we have transformed feels partly ours—a fanfic story, a meticulously re-created costume, or hours spent scanning and translating a manga—these did not exist before. Those involved in participatory culture do recognize that someone else has created the text/world, and that they are, as fanfic writers often say, playing in someone else’s sandbox, but the creator no longer has the final say over their creation. Students may see a paper as a transformative work—they can say the end result is theirs while simultaneously agreeing that aspects of it were not created by them.

    Our digital culture students are not unwarranted in seeing plagiarism as an alien, even unreasonable, idea, and an insistence on citing and acknowledging is old-school and territorial.

    Why would anyone even think the content we include is our own?

    Suggested reading:

    Scholz,Trebor, ed. Digital Labor: The Internet as PlaygroundandFactoryNew York: Routledge, 2012. 

    Image on front page by USFS Region 5 via Flickr

  • Navigating the Rough Waters of Plagiarism in Contemporary Composition

    Megan McKittrick's picture
    by Megan McKittrick — Old Dominion University 2 Comments view

    In contemporary conversations about plagiarism, Danielle Nicole DeVoss and James E. Porter point out two sides: “on the one side we have the fierce protectors of long and strong copyright control of digital material (like the RIAA), arguing that copyright is a necessary mechanism for protecting vested economic interests. On the other side we have an emergent culture of young people (mostly) who live in (and at times, create) networks encouraging widespread sharing and distribution of digital material” (185). This clash underlies the confusion that so many of our students have as they move from a filesharing social community to a copyright-bound academic and professional community. Instructors, ultimately, play an important role in helping students navigate their transition from one sphere to the other. 

    The challenge of defining and enforcing intellectual property rights is not a new one, as reviewing the literature indicates. While the type of composition and our ability to access it has changed dramatically over the years, the legal concerns that surround that access are timeless. Robert Verhoogt and Chris Schriks, exploring the history of copyright issues, point out that “the introduction of new media constantly [results] in new legal questions of intellectual property. Or should we say the same legal questions over and over again” (83)? New communication technologies lead to a repetition of copyright and citation debates, presenting ongoing challenges for students and instructors alike.

    Filesharing technology has created a significant challenge for the development and enforcement of intellectual property legislation across the globe. The American government has been keeping a careful eye on maintaining intellectual property rights because the value of U.S. intellectual property is priced at roughly 5-5.5 trillion dollars and makes up 45% of our Gross Domestic Product (Shapiro and Hassett 2). Statistics show that piracy costs “companies as much as $638 billion a year, losses greater than the total GDP of all but 12 countries” (Shapiro and Hassett 3). Because digital information can be accessed worldwide, intellectual property is a global issue that all countries have a stake in. What we teach in the classroom, therefore, impacts more than our students and more than our own Gross Domestic Product; it’s part of a global discussion with both ethical and economic implications.

    Like every important educational issue, there are several perspectives on how we should teach intellectual property. Some compositionists, like Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Stuart Selber, DeVoss, and Porter argue that the remix approach to composition can be helpful in encouraging creativity, and they urge teachers to adopt a filesharing ethic into their pedagogies. Scholars like Sonia Bodi and Martine Courant Rife, respond to a perceived unawareness that students have about plagiarism by calling for teachers and students to adhere strictly to copyright laws and to teach them in the classroom. For this MediaCommons discussion, I invite responders to share their own experiences in navigating the rough waters of copyright and intellectual property issues in the higher education classroom. How do you address this global concern? How do you localize it to the concerns of students and their own assignments? And how do digital texts shape and reshape student productions and citation patterns in your classroom?



    I would like to thank Ella Marie Hicks for her help in co-writing a version of this paper for presentation at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in 2009.


    Works Cited

    Bodi, Sonia. "Ethics And Information Technology: Some Principles To Guide Students." Journal Of Academic Librarianship 24.6 (1998): 459. Business Source Complete. Web. 20 Mar. 2009.

    DeVoss, Dànielle Nicole, and James E. Porter. "Why Napster Matters To Writing: Filesharing As A New Ethic Of Digital Delivery."Computers & Composition 23.2 (2006): 178-210. Education Research Complete. Web. 20 Mar. 2009.

    Johnson-Eilola, Johndan, and Stuart A. Selber. "Plagiarism, Originality, Assemblage." Computers & Composition 24.4 (2007): 375-403. Education Research Complete. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.

    Rife, Martine Courant. "The Fair Use Doctrine: History, Application, And Implications For (New Media) Writing Teachers." Computers & Composition 24.2 (2007): 154-178. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.

    Shapiro, Robert J. and Kevin A. Hassett. The Economic Value of Intellectual Property. Sonecon, 2005. PDF file.

    Verhoogt, Robert and Chris Schriks. “Reflecting Media: A Cultural History of Copyright and the Media.” The History of Information Security: A Comprehensive Handbook. Oxford, UK. Elsevier B.V., 2007. Print.  

    Image on front page by Robert de Vido via Flickr. 

  • Possessive Individualism and Dynamic Texts: Reconfiguring Plagiarism

    Dr Wendy Sutherland-Smith's picture
    by Dr Wendy Sutherla... — Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia 2 Comments view

    To me, one thing that is interesting with the advent of digital culture is the challenge to the very notion of identifying who is an author and who is a reader. Furthermore, there is the issue of whether you can ‘own’ text/images in such a dynamic space. “Possessive individualism” – the belief that individuals can own or protect the product of their intellectual labours (as defined in various national and UN intellectual property laws for example) is, I believe, challenged in digital spaces and more recently by the cultural commons movement.

    This is particularly true where readers can also become writers, therefore authors, and the individual can swap between roles within the same digital space (such as contributors to Wikipedia). Where digital spaces allow for dynamic and changing texts and images and also allow multiple contributors to work on a particular textual representation – it is difficult to see how the legal notions of authorship citation that grew up from English common law in the 1700s apply. The tension between the traditional notions of authorial attribution from the print text era and the networked environments of the cultural commons, can be particularly difficult for students to understand and navigate.

    It appears to me that the tension between these competing ideas plays out in university plagiarism policies, procedures and outcomes. On the one hand, plagiarism policies are there to protect folk from the ‘cut and paste’ theft of work and to encourage a culture of honesty in academic endeavour. On the other hand, sometimes such policies and processes become so rigid and inflexible that they are excessively punitive, and little room is left for the growth of learning or making citation errors. With increased use of Web-based materials in both teaching and research, it is difficult to envisage how scrutiny of plagiarism can keep pace, without turning teachers into surveillance police – even with the advent of technological text-matching software.

    Perhaps one way to ‘reimagine plagiarism’ and balance the protection of individuals’ rights to intellectual property with allowing digital innovation in collaboration, is to view it as an issue of ethics and integrity. A number of institutions have introduced ‘ethical behaviour’ scenarios and activities within units, courses and programs in both teaching and research spaces. These initiatives are designed to shift the emphasis from focussing on punishing unethical behaviour (defined as plagiarism, cheating and collusion) to engaging in practical ethical behaviour in learning. Many universities are also trying to encourage an institution-wide adoption and adherence to a culture of academic honesty and integrity, amongst students and staff. In altering the lens from punishing kidnappers of text to instilling awareness of the ethical correctness in acknowledging authors of prior work seems, to me, to be one way to work effectively in the shifting sands of plagiarism in the digital age. What are others ways out there that work?

    1. Image on front page by Matt Cornock and available on Flickr
  • Analog Versus Digital Consequences of Plagiarism: Honor and Reputation in the 21st Century

    Jeff Karon's picture
    by Jeff Karon — The Honorable Classroom 2 Comments view

    Until very recently, most humans who lived in settlements tended to stay in those settlements: in village or city, people spent their entire existence within the boundaries of at most a day’s walk or ride. Explorers or marauding armies ranged much farther, but life for most people involved tight physical and social boundaries. Privacy was the possession of the rich, if indeed anyone could claim it. Reputation and social standing could fluctuate quickly given the velocity of gossip.

    But with increased mobility, we could “start over,” rebuilding our reputations (and characters). If we messed up in high school, we could remake ourselves in college, and if we messed up in college, we could change colleges. We could move to a new neighborhood, new city, switch jobs or careers, reinventing ourselves if possible.

    Digital culture really has changed the nature of our decisions: in theory, something we post online while in elementary school follows us for the rest of our lives, preventing a “do-over.” The immediate reverberations a face-to-face encounter once produced often now are delayed and disconnected.

    I have focused previously in my writing and workshops on how to approach plagiarism in a positive manner that strengthens students and teachers ( But when we do alert students to negative consequences, what would be the most effective ones to cite?

    I suggest that we explore with students the concepts of honor, authority, and reputation. In the 21st century, honor has become the possession of anyone, not just landed males or aristocracy. We understand also that it involves concrete behavior that increases or decreases the “face” or dignity of others.

    Lots of interesting research shows that subjects are less likely to cheat (plagiarize?) if small environmental changes are made, for example, by placing a mirror in the room. Likewise, students need a mirror for their digital lives, something that will help them focus on minding their reputations far earlier than other non-digital generations had to. I have a few suggestions.

    I have found that providing carefully constructed—even beautiful—course materials to face-to-face students makes them more receptive to caring for their reputations over the course of a semester or year, as though they were extending metaphorically the qualities of those materials to their own lives. When we appear careful in our manner and materials, are students more likely to transfer this care to their daily decisions?

    While teaching online courses recently at the University of South Florida, I employed principles from game design in order to create an online environment called The Four Gates that helps students master essay writing: as they reach a new stage of mastery, they are released into a simulated “gate,” each of which is identified with a different chapter of The Book of Five Rings. Students remarked that the course design encouraged dignified behavior between students and teacher as well as between the students themselves. Can online courses be developed in a way that emulates the physical markers of honor and reputation?

    Humans across cultures think of honor, dignity, and reputation as nearly tangible things that can be increased or decreased from a limited store.  Suppose I built a brief game that visualizes how plagiarizing and other forms of academic dishonesty affect one’s reputation and authority and thus how a player functions in some suitably defined game space. I already am working on such an idea. What other tools could we use across the lifespan, from elementary school onward, to help students master an honorable version of digital culture?

  • Views on Plagiarism Often Depend on the Circumstances - Can Digital Culture keep us Honest?

    Robert J. Youmans's picture
    by Robert J. Youmans — George Mason University view

    My first teaching assignment as an Assistant Professor was at a large public university teaching research methods, a course that covered writing papers in APA style. One of the challenges of teaching the course was curbing plagiarism. An informal department investigation had found that as many as 40% of students’ papers contained plagiarism. To help address the program, the college purchased turnitinsoftware, a computer service that scans student papers to determine how much of the writing is original. Adopting the software was controversial because it was expensive, and because the legality of the system was in question (see Barakat, 2008). Still, many faculty characterized turnitin as a powerful deterrent against plagiarism. As one faculty member put it, the system might become a ‘silver bullet’ to eliminate plagiarism. What student would plagiarize if they knew turnitin was being used?

    The hypothesis that increasing the chance of detecting plagiarism would prevent it was interesting to me, and I designed some studies to test it. At the beginning of the semester, I told students a cover story that the university had purchased a trial version of turnitin that allowed only some student papers to be submitted. The rest would be graded traditionally, but I emphasized that the penalty for plagiarizing was a failing course grade regardless of how they were graded. In reality, all the students’ papers were scanned by the system, which revealed that, regardless of whether or not students were aware their paper would be scanned, both groups still plagiarized at very similar rates (see Youmans, 2011). I had to fail three students, all of whom knew their papers would go through the turnitin system – so much for a silver bullet.

    A few months ago, I was peer-reviewing a paper for a prestigious journal (now somewhat less so in my eyes), and I realized that the submitting authors had plagiarized from an online version of my own PhD dissertation. I notified the editors, and they allowed the authors to remove the plagiarized material from their work and resubmit the paper. The decision was generous; it allowed the authors a second chance to report, in their own words, the prior work that provided the content validity for their current research. I agreed to re-review a new version of the paper, but I was disappointed.  The authors had replaced the plagiarized sections of their paper with vacuous, general statements, and then had cited literally dozens of articles in reference to those statements. It was a lazy fix, and I objected, but the editors argued that reporting the original research was important and accepted the paper anyway.

    In talking with students who plagiarize, many report doing it because they are trying to save time, often on parts of a paper that, they feel, are not very important. The editors who accepted the plagiarized journal article might agree – after the plagiarism had been expunged from the article being reviewed, they felt it was more important to publish the results of the research than to punish the plagiarism with a rejection. How has, and how will, our digital culture affect plagiarism in the future? I am not convinced that these changes have made individuals more or less likely to condone plagiarism, but it has made it easier to commit and detect. And while some people will continue to plagiarize, my hope is that technology will facilitate conversations, such as this one, about what people believe is right and wrong when it comes to plagiarism, the value of original ideas, and scholarship.


    Barakat, M. (2008). Students appeal ruling favoring plagiarism detection service.

    Youmans, R. J.(2011). Does the adoption of plagiarism-detection software in higher education reduce plagiarism?. Studies in Higher Education, 36(7), 749-761.

    Image on front page by Joseph Kent via Flickr. 

  • Rethinking Plagiarism in the Digital Age: Inferences for Instruction

    Gary Moorman's picture
    by Gary Moorman — Appalachian State University 1 Comment view

    This post is co-written by Gary Moorman and Carla Meyer

    There can be little doubt that plagiarism is common among American students. In a survey of 2,294 high school juniors, McCabe (2005) found that 34% submitted work that was copied nearly word for word from written sources, and 34% copied a few sentences without citation. For Internet related plagiarism, 16% of the students reported turning in a paper secured on the Internet and 52% admitted to copying a few sentences without citing the source. However, research on current frequency levels of plagiarism is equivocal. Scanlon and Neumann’s (2002) survey of 698 students in nine colleges found that only 8% reported frequently copying text without citation, 3% copying a paper without citation, and 2% purchasing a paper online. Interestingly, respondents believed 50% of others frequently copied text without citation, 28% copied a paper without citation, and 21% purchased a paper online. It appears that there is a common perception that others plagiarize more frequently than evidence would support. And importantly, we could find no research that indicates today’s students plagiarize more than students from other generations.

    Most honor codes outline consequences for plagiarism. Yet, students are seldom engaged in instruction or discussion about what plagiarism is, why it is a problem, and how it can be avoided. When an incident of plagiarism occurs, consequences can vary greatly, ranging from severe punishment to a verbal warning. There seems to be little correlation between the degree of punishment and the degree of plagiarism.

    A review of the research on plagiarism suggests a number of factors may contribute to acts of plagiarism including an underdeveloped sense of integrity, lack of maturity, lack of experience with a particular genre of writing, lack of interest in the assignment, observation of peers’ behaviors and attitudes toward plagiarism, and the pressure to earn or maintain high grades (Ma, Turner & Wan, 2007; McCabe, 2005). In particular, a lack of interest in assignments that they see as irrelevant may entice today’s students to plagiarize just to get it done. Or, if the assignment is vague, their lack of understanding may cause them to turn to plagiarism in order to maintain their grade point average. Plagiarism is viewed as an act of self-preservation rather than an act of dishonesty. Paradoxically, students feel forced to steal something that they don’t really value.

    We have two suggestions for confronting the issue of plagiarism. First, today’s educators need to engage students in extended, explicit discussions about plagiarism. Examples ranging from egregious to trivial should be examined. Second, educators can discourage plagiarism by developing meaningful assignments in which they mentor students in the inquiry process. We need to realize that times have changed, students have changed, and ways of accessing, reading, writing, communicating, and assessing information have changed. Direct instruction and modeling should be used to demonstrate how to engage in effective research and writing without the need to plagiarize.

    In conclusion, we offer these questions for discussion:

    o   In your experience, what is the frequency of plagiarism?

    o   How should incidents of plagiarism be dealt with?

    o   What tactics do you use to discourage plagiarism?



    Ma, H., Lu, E., Turner, S., & Wan, G. (2007). An empirical investigation of digital

                cheating and plagiarism among middle school students. American Secondary

                Education, 35(2), 72-84.

    McCabe, D. (2005b). It takes a village: Academic integrity. Liberal Education,


    Scanlon, P., & Neumann, D. (2002). Internet plagiarism among college students. Journal of College Student Development,43, 374-385.

    Image on front page by woodleywonderworks and available on Flickr.

  • Rethinking Plagiarism in the Digital Age: Theoretical Concerns

    Gary Moorman's picture
    by Gary Moorman — Appalachian State University 1 Comment view

    This post is co-written by Garry Moorman and Carla Meyer.

    Writing about plagiarism brings a discomfort to us as authors about whether we are plagiarizing. We need to acknowledge upfront that many of the ideas we post here are based on the paper Rethinking Plagiarism in the Digital Age,published in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy in September of 2012. You should also note that we have limited references; for those interested in where our ideas come from, please consult the article.

     It is clear that the digital revolution and the Internet in particular demand a reevaluation of the concept of plagiarism. In the history of literacy, the concept is relatively new. It coincides with the wider distribution of text resulting from the printing press as well as a capitalist view of property and ownership. Historically, the concept did not appear until the 18th century. This view assumes that written ideas have value and can be owned, bought and sold.  Moreover, cultures conceptualize plagiarism in very different ways. For example, in China, there is no ownership of intellectual ideas, and the Amish see no problem with copying directly from text (Fishman, 1981). 

    Our view of plagiarism is not compatible with the capitalistic viewpoint. It is based on a social constructivist perspective. We believe that all ideas have a social history and therefore ownership of ideas is impossible to determine. Knowledge is constructed through language use over time by multiple thinkers who use language to build common understandings. Learning occurs when individuals become active participatory members of “communities of practice” (e.g. Rogoff & Lave, 1999; Wenger, 1998). The influence of digital technologies, particularly the Internet and social networking media, such as Facebook and Twitter, has resulted in a shift in how these communities construct, share, and evaluate knowledge. An open dialogue among educators as well as between teachers and students is definitely in order.

    Clearly, today’s students view plagiarism differently because they do not have the same perceptions of the value of intellectual property. They have come of age during an era in which the sheer volume of information available via the Internet makes definite ownership nearly impossible. They don’t see taking words or ideas from a collective of intangible authors as stealing intellectual property. In addition, much of the content on the Internet is free. In their lives outside of school it is second nature for youth to download, copy, and paste. Their concept of ownership is quite different than the one their teachers and professors have grown up with and come to take for granted. Intellectual property, a complex idea to begin with, is in need of additional analysis and definition by both students and faculty.

    Given these ideas, we would like to propose the following questions for discussion:

    ·      Is there a common agreement on what constitutes plagiarism?

    ·      If all ideas have a social history, what is the line between common knowledge and plagiarism?

    ·      How has Internet changed current views of plagiarism?


    Evering, L., & Moorman, G. (2012). Rethinking plagiarism in the digitalage. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56,35-44.

    Fishman, A. (1981). Amish literacy: What and how it means. Portsmith: Heinemann.

    Rogoff, B., & Lave, J. (1999). Everyday cognition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Wenger, E. (1998).Communities of practice: Learning as a social system.

    Image on front page by fintbo and available on flickr

  • Beyond “Copy-Paste” : students' perception of the plagiarism within learning activities

    Ileana Rotaru's picture
    by Ileana Rotaru — University of Resita, Romania 1 Comment view

    Two years ago, there was a large debate started in Romania when the actual Romanian Prime-Minister was accused of plagiarism on his PhD thesis by media. He is young and he graduated his PhD when he was a very young politician. There were scholars and professors frustrated and incriminating their colleagues for this situation. Several universities’ commissions and Ministry of Education Commissions were conducted to analyze where, if and how much of the thesis was copied (plagiarism). Their conclusion was irrelevant and ambiguous formulated. The issue has remained open. Few months ago, a State Secretary of Ministry of Education was accused, again, of using plagiarism on her Master thesis. She was asked to resign by the media. Perhaps, there were to be established other commissions and other conclusions to be ambiguous formulated for the public opinion. She resigned few weeks ago for political reasons as her political party left the Government.

    In this context I was interested in conducted a research of a local level with minimum resources. As a sociologist and as a scholar, I was interested in the matter of how students use plagiarism within their learning activities. I will present some important aspects of this research and its main findings.

    My research forwards a quantitative survey conducted in a Romanian state university regarding the use of the Internet by the students in their learning activities. In this analysis context, we monitored the degree in which students admit to plagiarism from on-line sources, starting from the hypothesis that a teacher’s low control degree leads to an increased use of plagiarism in the learning activity and in completing learning tasks. What are the causes of plagiarism? How is plagiarism perceived by teachers? We investigated if this practice exists in close connection with the degree of Internet use or if it is triggered by a lack of control / competency from the part of the teacher.

    The main research technique was the questionnaire. The final instrument was elaborated with a number of 14 items containing mixed and pre-coded questions. The type of self-administration of the survey was written and it was applied for 10 to 15 minutes during the course activity. The research investigation was performed in the period February – May 2013.

    The results are the following: the students use the “copy-paste” command often (score 4) whenever they have the opportunity, in proportion of 44%; when they do not understand the assignment to solve– 52%; when they have no other resources besides the on-line ones- 56%; when they do not have time – 52% and when they are aware that the homework is not checked by the teacher – 56%. The lack of teacher control and the lack of resources appear to be the principal causes for the use of the „copy-paste” command. The other possible causes did not registered high scores (5 – always) or 1 (never).

    The main result indicates that the most important role in fighting against this pathology was the teacher. If we correlate the students’ answers, we may observe that the teacher’s profile is clearly determined and it does not matter his/her major (Engineering, Social Sciences and Economics). We argue furthermore that is a duty above a competency, a duty that involves ethics and general human values. This fact can be caused also by the professional competency of the teacher, the professional ethics and the relation teacher-student in the process of fulfilling the learning tasks.

    Plagiarism, under all its forms, is admitted by the students as being used in the learning activity. The fact that it exists as such, irrespective of the frequency, form and degree of use, represents a line of the education system reform, both individually, and institutionally.  It requires ampler intervention strategies and at the same time focused on concrete situations. We think that the positive reforming vision may trigger more efficient results in the long run, so that it can reach the creative dimension of the human nature.

    From the methodological point of view, the research presents certain limits due to the local context, the subjects sample and the complex correlations among different variables. The purpose of the research was only to open this line of research in a Romanian state university, in the context of intense debates on the topic of plagiarism when it comes to ensuring quality in the Romanian higher education. From the perspective of the sample size, the research is exhaustive and has an exploratory character. Further investigations may open new directions of analysis by interpreting the correlations among certain independent variables and the use of the Internet in the learning process both locally, in the education institution, and globally, on a macro level.

    From the epistemic viewpoint, the originality of research resided in the initiation of an investigation about the issues of plagiarism as a negative consequence of the inappropriate use of the Internet in the student’s learning activity.  The research however raises some questions regarding the necessity of the teacher’s media competency. The dangers the student is exposed to due to the poor exercise of youth competencies  regard first of all the scarcity of the means and procedures of performing self-assessment and sufficiently fine and accurate evaluation of personal necessities; second, the necessity of a hyper-knowledge for the identification of the necessary resources  (it is necessary to provide at least general orientation frames, and this role is preponderantly assigned to the teacher); and also the loss of motivation and interest for learning in the context of the teacher’s “replacement” by the new technologies or over saturation in the context of the excess of media and informational consumption.

    Image on front page by Esther Vargas and available on flickr. 

  • Introduction: How does digital culture affect and/or reimagine the concept of plagiarism?

    Jamie Henthorn's picture
    by Jamie Henthorn — Catawba College view

    It is no question that claiming another’s work as one’s own also takes place outside of learning environments. Cheating assumes many forms, but in academic circles discussions of cheating focus on plagiarism. Plagiarism in one form or another has always been a problem within the academy, but technology and new teaching environments have changed both the ways that cheating is done and caught as well as how we think about plagiarism. New learning environments, like MOOCs, also change the discussion. What does it mean to plagiarize on an assignment where the student receives no course credit? Also, what are experimental studies finding out about undergraduate, masters, and professional academic perspectives on plagiarism? What is the difference between paraphrasing and patchworking? What does it mean if classes demand that students turn in individual work, but many workplaces and digital encouraging borrowing, sharing, and collaboration? Are citation methods keeping up with technology and operating in a way students and scholars understand? What does plagiarism look like across the disciplines of the humanities?

    For the month of March, the Front Page Survey will take a look at plagiarism in the academy, how we are identifying it, teaching students about it, and taking into account digital cultures. The question we have asked our contributors to respond to is: How does digital culture affect and/or reimagine the concept of plagiarism?

    Our survey will run from March 10th through March 28th and include new contributions as well as former content from MediaCommons. We hope you join us in a discussing a topic we all face in the classroom.


    Below is a list of the scholars who will be helping us in surveying the topic of plagiarism.

    Ileana Rotaru, University of Resita, Romania 

    Gary Moorman, Appalachian State University

    Carla Meyer, Appalachian State University

    Robert Youmans, George Mason University

    Jeff Karon, independent scholar

    Wendy Sutherland-Smith, Deakon University

    Chvonne Parker, Old Dominion University

    Megan McKittrick, Old Dominion University

    Rebecca Moore Howard, Purdue University

    Sarah McGinley, Wright State University

    Robert W. McEachern, Southern Connecticut University


    Image by Will Lion and available on Flickr.