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


6 thoughts on “Copy/Paste: Plagiarism Prevention and Detection

  1. Hi Mary,
    Great posting. I have never heard of some of the plagiarism tools you discussed. I can’t believe how many tools are available for instructors. When I first started out with online classes, the only and most popular detector tools was Turnitin. I was always dreading turning my papers in because I always feared of having a high percentage of words from other sources because I do a lot of researching online. I felt better once I watched the required video Plagiarism and cheating because Dr. Palloff and Pratt stated that it is ok to use online resources for your work. When I was completing my capstone, I had to revise and revise because the detect kept saying I had too much information from the web. I finally figured out how to get it right.
    In my own profession, I am not too concern about students cheating on test because in nursing, you have to demonstrate those skills and use your critical thinking. Students who have been suspected of cheating, usually do not make it because they haven’t developed those critical thinking skills. Have you had any problems with students being dishonest academically and if so how have you handled it.

  2. Hi Stephanie,
    Yes, working in a computer lab, I saw a number of students who were plagiarizing. Some of that comes with high school territory, but some was outright cheating. One girl was taking an online quiz and was looking up websites that posted answers to the questions. I saw her searching for that, so I went up to her and told her she could take the test without online help, or she could continue and I would just inform her teacher. She ended up opting not to take the test. (This was an extra credit test, so not taking it wouldn’t hurt her grade.) The test was supposed to be for a book she read which she obviously hadn’t. Anyway, it was always a situation that I handled on a case-to-case basis.

  3. Mary, I have seen that happen also. I don’t know if there is too much that can be done about it. Do you think that having open book tests would actually help with a problem like this because you will still need to know your information. If you don’t know the information, you will run out of time for completing the test that is if the test is timed. I think timed test will also help with the problem you describe above.

    • Hi Stephanie,
      Yes, open book tests were used at the school as well, however, if the student didn’t read the book in the first place, it doesn’t help. Mostly what our teachers did was have students do essays or activities that would take knowledge of not just plot points but themes and writing styles, etc. for students to explore. For example, one teacher had students do a “book in a box” activity where the students had to decorate a box with important points from a book. Then they had to put things in the box that were symbolic to the writer, story, and theme of the novel. The kids had a lot of fun with this. They had to present it to the class, so they were working on oral presentation skills. It was a way to work on the material and give them a break from essay writing.

  4. Hi Mary, lovely piece of work as usual!

    Let me say I find the idea of locking the assignment till students pass the test is brilliant and I would definitely do that in my introductory class if I were to teach one. What activities would you design if you were to contribute to a corse on on academic writing that includes plagiarism prevention? I mentioned some ideas in my blog if you are feeling nosey 🙂

    • Hi Yulia,
      Your videos and your plagiarize-palooza was a great idea. I liked the idea of a quiz to identify the different ways of plagiarizing because, as I said, most of the students don’t know they are cheating when they copy off the internet; they don’t seem to connect that real people wrote that information. Some of the problem is their own lack of sophistication when writing. Also, they just want to finish the assignment and move on, so they are not used to spending a lot of time thinking and assimilating the information. This is all activities that need to be done as part of the assignment, I think.

      Thanks for the comments!


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