Preventing Plagiarism: It's More Common Than You Think

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Are you checking? Receiving plagiarized content from subject matter experts is a common phenomenon and one that needs to be openly addressed. This session presents the reasons why plagiarism occurs, provides strategies for checking content, and discusses ways to work through these situations to maintain rapport while maintaining content standards.


Alan Orr is an instructional designer who has a teaching background in teaching English language and literature at institutions of higher education. He has taught in the US, Turkey, and Thailand. At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Worldwide (ERAU, WW), Alan is an instructional designer of professional education courses and MOOCs by day. He moonlights an adjunct curriculum developer of aviation English courses.

Extended Abstract

Are you checking? In the age of freely available information on the Internet, a common misconception among subject matter experts is that content for one’s course, whether from websites or from published textbooks, can be freely appropriated without attribution. In online institutions where courses are created in templates and repeatedly copied, this unattributed content is then disseminated and passed off as one’s own, which constitutes plagiarism. The goal of this presentation is to bring awareness to this invasive phenomenon by explaining some of the cultural influences of why this practice exists and to promote strategies for checking content before it is uploaded into a course. Further, the presentation provides advice for handling these situations with subject matter experts to ensure that plagiarism does not continue to take place.

The presentation begins by detailing reasons why plagiarism can be a tempting practice for subject matter experts. The TEACH Act, the culture of information sharing, and definitions of plagiarism in relation to ‘common knowledge’ will be discussed. When plagiarism takes place, it may not be an intentional or conscious act, and for that reason proactive strategies for identifying unattributed copied content and working through these situations with subject matter experts are necessary.

The strategies for identifying plagiarized content that will be featured are the use of the Turnitin similarity-matching service, Google search, and intuition. The technical procedures for using Turnitin will be presented, and by drawing upon the presenter’s background in writing instruction, strategies for using targeted Google searches and developing intuition by inspecting commonly plagiarized sentence constructions will be presented.

What is just as important as identifying plagiarism is the handling of these situations with subject matter experts. One of the key aspects of course design and development is the maintenance of rapport to ensure project completion. Ideas for working through these situations with subject matter experts will be shared, and this topic will be one of the key areas for audience participation toward the end of the session. Discussing plagiarism with subject matter experts is perhaps the most challenging step to resolving these situations because the topic of plagiarism can be sensitive and carry with it a connotation of accusation.

Attendees will leave the session with an awareness about the occurrence of plagiarism in the course development process. They will learn strategies for identifying it, they will have an initial set of ideas for handling situations when plagiarism occurs. In an age when nearly every text is available online and information is re-distributed in a multitude of formats, the notion of originality seems to be challenged; however, this session advocates for original content from subject matter experts that reflects well on institutions and promotes attribution for borrowed content to give credit where credit is due.