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Cheat Sheet: Are you really turning in your own work?

You’re slammed. Class project deadlines loom. Children need your attention. If your spouse is deployed and you’re solely responsible for keeping the household together, that’s yet another stressor to wear you thin. Something’s gotta give. 

Based on a recent Pew Research Center report, it might be your sense of ethics about your schoolwork. “The Digital Revolution and Higher Education” found that 55 percent of college presidents surveyed say plagiarism is on the rise; 89 percent of those presidents say the Internet has played a major role in that increase.

It’s the same ethics issues students, professors and administrators have always wrestled with, said Chris Harrick, vice president of Marketing at Turnitin, a company that offers products to combat plagiarism.

“While the availability of resources has increased with the rise of the Internet, I don't think the definition of plagiarism has changed,” Harrick said via email. “Plagiarism is that act of presenting some one else's work or ideas as your own. Online or offline, it's the same.”

Lynn Bala, facilitator for Bryant & Stratton College Online’s Orientation and First Year Experience, says she and other members of the Bryant & Stratton College community work to educate students about online ethics.

Because students come from such diverse backgrounds, it’s important to explain the details and importance of ethics clearly and early in their academic careers, Bala said.

“Someone out there wrote something and took time to think about it and research it,” she said of existing source material. “That belongs to them (and) certainly you can use it … but it wasn’t your original thought. If it wasn’t your original thought … if it didn’t come from you, you have to give credit where credit is due.”

Paraphrasing still requires proper APA citation, she said. Rephrasing someone else’s work without crediting them can still amount to plagiarism, she said.

Students’ interpretation of source material, however, counts as original work, Bala said.

“The big idea here is that they have their own thoughts and put their own spin on research when they’re combing it over,” she said.

But in this information age where all the answers are just a search term away and content is shared across multiple platforms, who really “owns” all that material?

“Certainly some sources of information are owned (and) are clearly claimed (news organizations, publications, journals),” Harrick said. “Those sources are frequently the most reputable/credible sources for information.”

Any time you present work without properly attributing your sources, you’re plagiarizing, Harrick said.

The line of acceptability is set by the instructor,” he said. “Best practice is to always clearly cite or indicate your sources.”

Another best practice: prevention. “Prevention takes preparation and follow through,” Harrick said. “Students need to understand what cheating is and what the consequences of cheating will be.”

The best source for that is your professor.

“Instructors need to articulate those terms (definition and consequence) to students, be aware of cheating that may be taking place, and diligent in addressing the situation when cheating arises,” he said.

Bala recommends students turn to Bryant & Stratton’s Smart Thinking tutoring service. Students will receive feedback either in real time or within a few days with suggestions on how to improve the paper, she said.

Good communication in the classroom – be it brick-and-mortar or virtual -- is critical to keeping students from crossing the line. If you’re not sure where that line is, ask your instructor.

“We hope we’re catching them before (cheating) happens,” Bala said. “It’s really very much prevention and support.”

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