Copy/Paste: Plagiarism Prevention and Detection


Illustration by Mark Airs

It’ Friday morning in the computer lab. A big assignment on The Great Gatsby is due: both the general English classes and the advanced placement classes have a packet on the book to turn in. It includes an essay, a historical description of the jazz age, and a biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Class doesn’t start until 7:30 AM, but my lab at 6:50 is swarming with panicked students typing furiously, copying and pasting from the Internet, and trying to find a good Fitzgerald biography they can use from online. Not all the students are plagiarizing, some are typical teenagers who just waited until the last minute. Others, though, are doing their best to cobble together an essay from material they find online.

What’s Behind It and What Can Deter It

As long as I have been in education, counting my K-12 years, students who found it easier to cheat have been part of the picture. The twenty years I spent as a high school computer lab supervisor, I have seen a plethora of ways students tried to get around actually doing the work. I believe some of the behavior was due to poor planning; they didn’t make time to do the work on their own; insecurity, they believed they couldn’t write well enough, or do other work correctly on their own; and sometimes the sheer pressure of keeping up their grades, or salvaging a failing one, motivated their choice to use someone else’s work as their own. With the availability of the Internet and smart phones, the option to plagiarize is tempting. It would seem that distance learning would be a more susceptible setting for plagiarism because the Internet is already at the student’s fingertips. However, Palloff and Pratt, (2010), comment that studies show it is no more prevalent in distance classes than it is in brick and mortar classrooms. Very often, the offending students are not aware that copying and pasting from an Internet source is plagiarizing. Some of this problem is rooted in a lack of experience with authoring on the Internet. But as Jocoy and DiBiase, (2006) comment, ignorance of the rules does not mean plagiarism hasn’t occurred. They suggest that educators make the focus of teaching students to value the work of contributing scholars whose work appears online, rather than simply explaining the rules of citation and copyright law. They even mentioned a teacher who set up homework that will not unlock until the learners work through a quiz to assess their understanding about plagiarism. Taking this step communicates that correct citation and acknowledgement are important values and it puts the issue out in the open and is one way to deter cheating.

Tech Tools That Help

Another method to deter cheating that is commonly used at the higher education level, and at some high schools, is commercial technology to identify plagiarism. There are software packages that use search engines to scan the document to compare with documents online to detect and identify plagiarism, (, EVE2, iThenticate, and Dupli Checker to name a few, (“Top 8 plagiarism detector tools for teachers,” 2011)). There are also free options to use online (Viper’s Scan My Essay, Paper Rater, The Plagiarism Detector, (“Great web tools to detect plagiarism in students’ works,” 2011). If instructors do not have access through the institution to detect plagiarism, they can use the online versions or simply try “Googling” the questionable section of the essay. Whatever detection method the instructor uses, if plagiarism is detected, the next step is to try to educate the student about the unacceptable methods they used.

Assignment/Assessment Options

Most importantly, the goal is to create assignments that will challenge the students to apply the information they learn into authentic projects that require their original input and not something they can simply copy and paste. Palloff and Pratt suggest that teachers create assignments that mirror real-life situations and expectations. In addition, they recommend student collaboration because that is what will be expected in the work world. The employee is expected to find the answers from asking other workers with more experience or find the resources online. They believe the classroom should reflect that dichotomy. I think a good instance of this concept is how the English teachers at our high school used a variety of techniques to reduce plagiarism: essay questions that required the students to apply their own experiences to the themes in literature, application of concepts in art, for example, visual methods to define poetry terms, and role playing. This way the students had to demonstrate their understanding, not simply regurgitate the information. I think this approach holds true for online classes. The assignments and assessment should be authentic, mirroring reality (Laureate Education, 2010). I like the idea that at Walden, we aren’t tested, instead, we have a variety of projects and assignments where we are required to apply what we are learning. I find this more challenging, and a more effective way to remember the concepts we cover in class. When I study for tests, I am more apt to cram and forget the material shortly after I am no longer responsible for knowing it.

What I Take Forward

This last piece in a set of online strategies is one that I think I will remember most. As the instructor functions more from the sidelines, designing activities that challenge the learner to put the puzzle together makes the most sense pedagogically, and because the assignments are created to superimpose the real world into the learning environment, cheating or plagiarism, are not as strong an option. The goal, instead is for the learner to emerge with an understanding of the concepts and the ability to apply them in reality.


Airs, M. (2013). Plagiarism. [Artwork.] Retrieved from

Great web tools to detect plagiarism in students’ works. (2011, 2014). Retrieved from

Jocoy, C., & DiBiase, D. (2006). Plagiarism by Adult Learners Online: A case study in detection and remediation. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 7(1), 1–15.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Plagiarism and cheating [Video file]. Retrieved from

Top 8 plagiarism detector tools for teachers. (2011, 2014). Retrieved from