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Cheating & Plagiarism

Policies and Information

Preventing, Detecting, and Responding to Plagiarism

Episode 3 in the CFT podcast features an interview with Michelle Sulikowski, Senior Lecturer in Chemistry, about how she uses the plagiarism detection service SafeAssign not to “catch” her students but to teach them about proper citation and the nature of academic writing.
  • Syllabus Statements – Although students can be expected to know about cheating and plagiarism in the abstract, they’re not always clear on what they can and can’t do in particular courses and on particular assignments. It’s a good idea to spell that out for your students in your syllabus. For example, the syllabus for CFT assistant director Derek Bruff’s first-year writing seminar includes a brief statement about academic integrity.  Andy Van Schaack (HOD), a faculty panelist at the CFT’s March 2011 conversation on preventing plagiarism, provides his students with a syllabus that discusses cheating and plagiarism in his course in more depth.
  • SafeAssign – Vanderbilt subscribes to a plagiarism detection service called SafeAssign. Faculty can access SafeAssign through OAK, our Blackboard-based course management system. See the SafeAssign instructor manual and student manual for more information, or contact your college or school’s OAK support provider for help. See also the POD Network Essay on Teaching Excellence “Student Plagiarism: How to Maintain Academic Integrity” by Ludy Goodson of Georgia State University for more on the use of plagiarism detection tools.
  • Rational Ignorance in Education: A Field Experiment in Student Plagiarism” – In this working paper Thomas Dee (Swarthmore College) and Brian Jacob (University of Michigan) report on a study indicating that explicit instruction on plagiarism can reduce the incidence of student plagiarism.
  • Ethical or Not? and Plagiarism or Not? Clicker Questions – CFT assistant director Derek Bruff used a series of classroom response system (“clicker”) questions in his fall 2010 first-year writing seminar to help his student learn about plagiarism and academic integrity. Derek asked his students to weigh in on a series of activities, asking whether each should be considered ethical (for some activities) or plagiarism (for others). Using clickers allowed each student to weigh in independently on each question and also to view and react to the group’s opinions. Follow these links to see the questions Derek used and how they played out in the classroom.
  • Suggested Anti-Plagiarism Activities – At a March 2011 CFT conversation on preventing plagiarism, Roger Moore (director of the College of Arts & Science’s Undergraduate Writing Program), shared a few suggested activities designed to teach students about academic writing. See this CFT blog post for a list of those activities.
  • Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers – In this essay written for teachers, Robert Harris provides anti-plagiarism strategies of awareness, prevention, and detection as well as links to a few other useful resources. See Harris’ book, The Plagiarism Handbook, for further strategies. This book is available at the Vanderbilt Library; see its ACORN entry for details.
  • Student Plagiarism: Are Teachers Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem? – In this POD Network Essay on Teaching Excellence, Chris M. Anson of North Carolina State University writes about teachers’ responsibilities in preventing plagiarism.
  • Why Do Students Cheat?” – In this CFT blog post, assistant director Derek Bruff identifies four possible reasons students cheat, drawing on recent news articles on cheating in higher education.

Resources to Share with Students

  • Student Handbook: The Honor System – The online version of the student handbook provides information about the Vanderbilt Honor System from the student’s perspective, including definitions and examples of plagiarism. See also the Undergraduate Honor Council’s page of information for students. Students are expected to be familiar with this information.
  • Library Research Guides – This Vanderbilt Library web site provides advice and tips for undergraduates doing library research with resources categorized by topic. Particularly relevant to cheating and plagiarism are their pages on citing sources and avoiding plagiarism.
  • Vanderbilt Writing Studio – The Vanderbilt Writing Studio provides a writing consultation service to Vanderbilt undergraduates, and their consultants are trained to address questions of plagiarism. Online resources from the Writing Studio include style and citation guides, handouts, and tips for avoiding plagiarism.
  • Indiana University Plagiarism Tutorial – Andy Van Schaack (HOD), a faculty panelist at the CFT’s March 2011 conversation on preventing plagiarism, mentioned that he requires his students to visit this tutorial and earn a certificate of completion by passing a test about plagiarism available on the site. Passing that test requires students to answer the questions 100% correctly, and Andy has his students turn in the certificates they receive. This not only educates his students about plagiarism, but also provides him with documentation that they are clear on what constitutes plagiarism.
  • Honor Council Video – The five-minute video embedded below was produced by the Undergraduate Honor Council as a way to communicate the seriousness of academic integrity to students at Vanderbilt.

Other Resources

  • In Focus: Generation Cheat?” – This January 2011 article from the student newspaper at Northwestern University explores the landscape and history of cheating at Northwestern from multiple perspectives, including the use of SafeAssign. Students, faculty, and staff at Northwestern are quoted in the article (some under the condition of anonymity), and opinions from outside experts are included, as well.
  • Plagiarizing Yourself” – In his October 2010 Chronicle of Higher Education column, English professor James M. Lang of Assumption College, questions the “rule” that students shouldn’t be able to reuse a paper from one course in a subsequent course, a practice some call “self-plagiarism.” See the 50+ comments on the article for additional perspectives on this issue.
  • Line on Plagiarism Blur for Students in Digital Age” – In this August 2010 New York Times article, reporter Trip Gabriel explores the notion that students’ notions of plagiarism, intellectual property, authorship, and originality are changing as students consume and create digital media in new ways. See Inside Higher Ed‘s November 2010 article, “Cheating and the Generational Divide,” for more on this theme.
  • High-Tech Cheating Abounds and Professors Bear Some Blame” – In this March 2010 article, Chronicle of Higher Education reporter Jeff Young reports on recent research by David E. Pritchard, a physics professor at MIT, indicating that students frequently copy answers to online homework problems in science courses. Instead of looking for matches between student answers and homework solutions posted on the Web, Pritchard measured how long it took students to submit answers to online homework problems.  Anything under a minute for a sufficiently difficult problem was considered cheating.

“[Pritchard] and his research team found about 50 percent more cheating than students reported in anonymous surveys over a period of four semesters. In the first year he did his hunting, about 11 percent of homework problems appeared to be copied.”

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