Teaching How to Avoid Plagiarism

Tennyson O’Donnell, Director of Trinity’s Writing Center, asked several of us to join him this semester on ways to address plagiarism with “less policing and more pedagogy.” This seemed like a good opportunity to improve on my Avoiding Plagiarism learning exercise, which currently appears on the WordPress syllabus for my First-Year Seminar and Educ 300 Ed Reform: Past and Present courses.

My goals are to create one or more new digital tools that:

  • emphasize interactive learning to help students recognize and avoid plagiarism,
  • faculty can easily replicate, customize, and include in their existing course materials, with minimal assistance from instructional technologists

Here’s some ideas to consider, created with the assistance of Ilya Ilyankou ’18. Try the demos further below and ask yourself two questions: Is this a good way to learn? And can other faculty easily customize it for their own courses?

1) Explanation with examples: Currently, the Trinity College Student Handbook offers an explanation of plagiarism, with some examples. But to my knowledge, the only digital format is a PDF file. It’s not easy to point students to the right section. Furthermore, if you don’t like the examples or citation format, it’s not easy for faculty to customize.

Recommendation: if Tennyson and other committee members recommend a revision of the Handbook text, which seems likely, then please make the new version more easily accessible online, with a direct link, and also in formats other than PDF (such as HTML or plain text).

2) Contextual example:  Briefly, one page of a sample paper that includes examples of plagiarism and proper paraphrasing, with instructor’s comments on the side.

3) Interactive examples with tooltips: One way to enhance the explanatory text is to feature interactive examples, which ask students to float their cursors over the words to reveal instances of plagiarism. Try this demo: https://action-lab.github.io/avoid-plagiarism-tooltip/

See open-source code on GitHub: https://github.com/Action-Lab/avoid-plagiarism-tooltip   Click to open the index.html file. Faculty can make a copy and insert their own examples, or more likely, ask an instructional technologist to do it for them. This version has no grading component. 

4) Interactive 7-step form: Another way to enhance the explanatory text is to create a 5-step online form, which walks students through the stages of improperly and properly paraphrasing and citing a source. Try this demo: https://goo.gl/forms/1X1gFLf4woMSvF6E3

Basically, this version updates my existing exercise from a relatively static WordPress page into a slightly more interactive Google Form. Any faculty member with a basic knowledge of Google Drive (or an instructional technologist) can make a copy to customize for their own course.

The Google Form enables manual grading: instructors can click on “Responses > Individual” to review each student’s answers. In fact, I have set up this demo form so that anyone can click this link to see the instructor’s view.

Alternative Moodle version: I don’t know the details, but it may be possible for Trinity’s instructional technologists to translate this form into a Moodle component, which faculty could request to add to any Moodle course. Potential advantages might be the ability to connect scores to the Moodle gradebook, or perhaps the ability to insert feedback on students’ responses. But a Moodle version of this form would require Trinity to create an “open” Moodle demo site where faculty can see and test modules before deciding whether to add (or request IT to add them) to their Moodle courses.

5) Interactive multiple choice quiz: I didn’t create a demo, but you can easily imagine different versions of multiple-choice quizzes on avoiding plagiarism. Both Google Forms and Moodle (and many other platforms) support quizzes. If you like this concept, then design some thoughtful questions and add adaptive responses, so that incorrect guesses show hints toward the correct answer. And share the demo link to your quiz, as well as the underlying text and answers, so that other faculty (or instructional technologists) can customize for other courses.