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What Are the New and Emerging Plagiarism Trends?

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As schools and universities around the world prepare to pivot towards remote learning, it’s important to take note of the new challenges and opportunities to uphold integrity in student work.

While online learning environments have always been vulnerable to academic misconduct, as more schools participate in online learning activities, instances of academic misconduct may rise commensurately. An April 2020 Boston Globe article states, “Cheating has always been a problem for colleges, whether students bought term papers or illicitly shared the answers before a test. But COVID-19…has meant that the tests that professors would have administered in their classrooms and lecture halls are suddenly being taken remotely and with potentially greater access to banned outside help. The new environment may provide students with more opportunities to cheat.”

So what are some new opportunities for plagiarism and academic misconduct in online learning environments?

  • Contract cheating: engaging a third party (for free, for pay, or in-kind) to complete an essay assignment and representing that work as their own. Essay mills have increased in number, often targeting vulnerable students via social media.
  • AI-based writing: using an AI-based tool to finish writing an essay assignment.
  • Text spinning or manipulation: taking content written by another and running it through a software tool or manipulating text with the intention of misleading plagiarism detection software.
  • Source code plagiarism: copying or adapting source code without attribution to the original creator.
  • Spyware: using technology like hidden earpieces, smartphones, software that screen captures tests, and online test banks to gain answers to exams.
  • Using third parties for answers: using third party tutors to provide answers or Bluetooth devices to communicate answers on assessments.
  • Impersonation: hiring someone else to take a test or the entire course.
  • And while not new, collusion: students working in groups on work intended for individual assessment. In online environments without supervision, there may be an increase in this form of misconduct.

What can you do about these new short-cut forms of misconduct?

  1. Create a sense of belonging for your students to help them feel seen and included. Bridge inequities, too, by building learning communities, amplifying encouragement, and over-communicating in the realm of remote learning.
  2. Offer virtual office hours and one-on-one meetings to increase facetime with students, build trust, and gain student learning insights. Additionally, such meetings may allow an opportunity for your students to communicate any special circumstances that inform their unique learning challenges.
  3. Increase feedback loops to guide students in their learning and gain insight into learning gaps. Educators can then match assessment to student needs via item analysis. In doing so, teaching efficacy increases, students feel more supported, and assessments are designed with integrity.
  4. Offer a diverse arrangement of assessment types to support student-learning by including different learning styles and increasing the variety of insights gleaned from assignments and exams. While exams ought to measure learning accurately–a variety of assessment types supports the educational journey. For example, multiple-choice exams can test a wide variety of concepts in a short timespan while essays test higher-order thinking.
  5. When looking for plagiarism checkers and academic integrity tools, ensure that the tool you choose upholds best practices in teaching and learning. These best practices include feedback, an opportunity to diagnose skill gaps via item analysis, scaffolding to uphold educator and student workflows, and classroom resources beyond the product itself.

The academic landscape continues to evolve in both anticipated and unexpected ways. It’s important to keep in mind challenges facing students and to make them feel supported and seen, regardless of the learning platform. While technology both aids and mitigates academic misconduct and is the battleground for academic integrity in recent years, educators still have the opportunity to instill academic integrity and a love of learning in students through relationship building, feedback, and exam design. And it’s important to choose tools that support these pedagogical principles.

For more information on new and emerging plagiarism trends, and how to address them in your courses, check out the Plagiarism Spectrum 2.0.

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