Laura Gibbs

Re-Design to Reduce Plagiarism

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Mar 22, 2017

This is a kind of temporary blog post... kind of a promise to myself to write something in more detail and round up more resources later! I'm creating this post now in order to rescue some great materials and ideas that got shared in an Ideas item which has since been consigned to Cold Storage. If you are in the "Cold Storage" group, you can access the actual discussion here:


The point of Cold Storage, though, is to keep the contents from showing up in Search results, etc., so thanks to a great suggestions from Stefanie Sanders, I'm copying-and-pasting (oh the irony!) from that Community discussion here into this blog post in order to save it, make it available to search, and ... eventually ... to come back and examine later in more detail.

The information below doesn't reflect the flow of the conversation, but you can see that in the Cold Storage. Thanks to Linda J. Lee Dallas E Hulsey Kelley L. Meeusen Kori Schneider Hannah Vance and Jeffrey Brady whose contributions are reflected in the copy-and-paste below.


Here is the idea that started the discussion: I have had many instances where students instead of wording their own discussion will simply copy and paste information from the Internet into the discussion. I would like to see Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V and all other copy/paste commands disabled in Student Discussions. I have found when I taught High School that it is always better to prevent student from doing what you don't want them to do rather than punishing them for doing it. 


And here are some of the very useful responses that emerged:


Valid reasons for copying and pasting. 

Having taught Prep Writing for four years at my institution, I can understand your frustration with students not producing original work when completing their assignments. However, the greatest issue I would have with a blanket removal of the ability to copy/paste into a discussion board comes from my own experience as a college student and as someone who has participated in several MOOCs. I have found over the years that no matter the platform that a course is hosted in, failures will occur from time to time, such as forced log-offs and pages reloading, and sometimes student errors such as clicking submit before proofreading thoroughly . For those various reasons, I learned, as a student, to copy the instructors discussion questions into a Word document and write my discussion answers in Word before copying/pasting into the discussion (On a side note, this also allowed me to keep a copy of the instructors questions and my posts to refer back to later after the course had completed and I could no longer access the content.). So, I was constantly copying/pasting answers into discussion posts, and I don't think it would be fair to penalize those students who may employ similar methods by having them type the answer twice in an attempt to stop those who cheat.

The problem that I see with this idea is that I, as a student, always prefer to write my discussion posts in Microsoft word and then paste them. This allows me to see the post as a whole better, and also to assure that my post is saved on the computer, rather than in the text box online, that has more potential for crashing and losing your work. Another solution could be something similar to the system that currently checks for plagiarism on some assignments and papers turned in.

Here are my use cases - I copy and paste within the same assignment as part of my editing process. (Oh that sentence goes better in this paragraph or in this section.) Or copying the instructions to build my answers to make sure that I don't miss a portion of the assignment. Or when citing something, I copy and paste my citation. I think a better option would be able to track edits, logging, or static screenshots every x secs in high stakes instances (like quizzes).


Create assignments that are copy-resistant

In the long-term, encouraging Instructure to provide access to originality checking for student submissions beyond external tool assignments is one course of action. When consulting with faculty and when developing discussion board questions/topics for my own courses, I try to craft topics that cannot be answered easily or well through simple cut and paste from internet sources.

The more creative the better! I like to find assignments where students can connect up with things they really care about, their own personal passions so that they can bring their own expertise into play.  For example, "Write a plot line for your favorite TV show that would illustrate the problem of ___" (whatever the topic under discussion is). That can really work for any topic... and then because the students have different favorite TV shows, they would get different treatments by different students... but some students would also have the same favorite shows, so they could connect and see how they took different approaches even when using the same show, etc. etc. Instead of copy-and-paste, it's the power of the mash-up!

I am a big user of Canvas Discussions, and in most of my courses they count for 20 - 25% of a students grade. In order for online Discussions to really serve their purpose (replace f2f discussions in a traditional classroom) they need to be engaging, and that can be challenging - especially in the K12 environment where many topics might not meet the political correctness threshold for younger students. I teach HigherEd, and medical courses, so almost anything is fair game.I often ask students to give an opinion on a topic, then back up their opinion with research. They must cite their sources, and they are allowed brief quotes (copy/paste snippets), but they must be quoted and cited appropriately

I understand the frustration, but this is a bad idea, and it is easy to get around anyway because there are software utilities that can paste by mimicking typing. I will add that sometimes, I copy and paste the entire discussion into Turnitin to scan for plagiarism. It is a bit messy, but it works.


Other Resources Online

I am with the majority here - not a fan of punishing everybody, for the misdeeds of the few. There are many other tools/techniques. Here are seven great tips, that I hope you find helpful. Seven Strategies for Plagiarism-proofing Discussion Threads in Online Courses 

Brown University actually has a wonderful resource for faculty on Designing Online Discussions. And the Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan C) offers A Real Conversation - Making Online Discussion Awesome! The Online Learning Consortium is an awesome group, with considerable resources for online teachers, including some incredible certification courses. I've had the pleasure of knowing many of their instructors over the years.

Debbie Morrison (she blogs at "online learning sights") has done some good work on this too; this post has a useful chart and additional links to other posts she wrote on discussion board engagement:
Ten Reasons Students Don’t Participate in Online Discussions & How to Remedy Each | Online Learning Insights

This graphic by the ever-fabulous Sylvia Duckworth based on some ideas from George Couros is a good one for helping to think about school v. learning, and I think the contrasts here can be helpful in improving assignments to make them more learning-oriented. I've transcribed the graphic here:

Growth Mindset Cats: To learn, start by asking a question. 

school versus learning