An Interactive Tool to Help Students Avoid Plagiarism
Students in virtually any college course that includes oral and written assignments are confronted with the concept of plagiarism. In spite of repeated exposure to policies and guidelines, many students still struggle to fully grasp what plagiarism is, especially when committed unintentionally. In order to increase student awareness and autonomy in regard to plagiarism, Cégep Marie-Victorin’s Service du développement pédagogique, des programmes et de la recherche has elaborated a visual, interactive tool that helps students make the critical decisions necessary to avoid plagiarizing. It is available in both French and English in PDF format. The IT REP Network has also produced editable versions of the tool, in French and English, so users can modify the documents based on their needs.
Educating students to respect intellectual honesty
This tool, presented at the November 2017 IT-REP (REPTIC) meeting by Julie Verdy (analyst) and Catherine Paquin-Boivin (pedagogical counsellor), is the fruit of a close collaboration between teachers and administration, and based on a review of good practices in the field. The college also organized a pedagogical day on the theme of plagiarism in January 2017. The tool is an integral part of the college’s strategy to educate and guide students, rather than penalize them for errors and misjudgments they are often unaware of.
Most definitions explain plagiarism as the act of “stealing and passing off the ideas or words of another as one's own” (Merriam-Webster). Cégep Marie-Victorin has rather opted to work with the concept of intellectual integrity, and more specifically the Université du Québec en Outaouais’ vision of this being “an attitude that one adopts and develops, an act of learning-to-be and learning-to-do that respects the ideas and the creations of others […].” [our translation]
The tool supports both teachers and students in their shared responsibilities toward intellectual integrity. More specifically, it serves 5 distinct purposes:
- Students use it for self-assessment.
- Teachers can use it to educate students.
- It acts as a reference guide.
- It serves as a graphic organizer.
- It becomes a binding contract.
5 essential questions
The tool, presented as a PDF document, is constructed around 5 questions students are invited to ponder before submitting any assignment. These questions, formulated in clear and plain language, tackle the multiple problems that may arise when using external sources, more specifically when quoting or paraphrasing, integrating visual support, or outright copying (the “classic” interpretation of plagiarism).
Based on their answers, students are redirected to follow-up questions and statements. These are accompanied by clickable links that lead to further explanations in the form of texts or video tutorials.
- Have I reused part or all of one of my previous assignments, or one belonging to someone else?
- Objective: ensuring the assignment is an original production
- Link: the Institutional Student Evaluation Policy
- Have I used an image, a drawing, a photo, a graph, music, or a video?
- Have I used copy-paste?
- Objective: using direct quotes correctly
- Link: referencing guidelines
- Have I reformulated ideas or passages found on the Internet or in a text
- Objective: developing sound paraphrasing techniques
- Link: referencing guidelines and Mondiapason
- Have I worked alone or in a team?
- Objective: recognizing team worked and shared responsibilities
Placing Students Center
The original document is laid out as a decision-making tree. It invites students to literally place themselves at the very heart of the decision-making process, by asking them to insert a photo of themselves at the center of the 5 questions.
Students are encouraged to personalize the interactive tool by inserting a photo of themselves.
This strategical nudge to get students to take responsibility for their decisions is reinforced by a final step, which is to sign the document. In this way, students pledge that they have truthfully answered the methodology questions, and that their assignment respects intellectual property. Teachers may ask students to include a signed copy of the tool with each assignment they submit.
Students acknowledge full accountability by signing the document.
Based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning, another version of the interactive tool is laid out in a more linear fashion, allowing students with dyslexia and other language-related difficulties to consult the document more easily.
A more linear version of the tool is adapted to students with language-related difficulties.
A Tool to Be Shared and Adapted
Cégep Marie-Victorin published the original interactive tool with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. This means other institutions and individual teachers are welcome to use the tool and adapt it to their own students’ needs, as long as they give credit, and share their modified version for free, with a similar Creative Commons license. You may modify the layout, phrasings as well as the hyperlinks included in the document. Cégep de Matane and Collège Lionel-Groulx have already published their own modified versions.
If you have produced your own version of the tool, or intend to, please feel free to share a weblink in the comments!