Higher Ed – Role Models for Plagiarism?

Plagiarism brand Dog Food

I’ve been doing some contract work for a college by building them a 5-module orientation for new online students. One module is an introduction to online learning which includes a section on the characteristics of a successful online learner. Another module is on academic honesty, which includes a great deal of information about plagiarism.

While scouring websites for resources that might be helpful when forming the list of characteristics of successful students, I saw a disturbing trend. Maybe more of a tsunami and less of a trend.

One of the characteristics that I’ve seen before but never totally accepted goes a little something like this: “Be open-minded about sharing life, work, and educational experiences as part of the learning process.” Personally I think that this should not be a one-size-fits-all sort of suggestion. In fact, sharing too much about your life and especially your work can sometimes put you in a tough spot.

However, the purpose of this post is not to debate whether this is good advice, but whether colleges and universities are eating their own dog food when it comes to academic integrity. To that point, I am simply amazed at how many college websites have used this 16-word phrase, word-for-word, without any attribution to where they got it.

Not all colleges that use the phrase are offenders. A good example of how it should be done can be found from  my friends at VCU where they have a page that references different collections of characteristics of successful online students, with full attribution to sources ECAR and ION. Kudos to them.

The goofy little graphic below comes from one of the offending schools. Let’s just say that their initials are CCC. Funny (to me), but this little “Don’t Plagiarize!!!” admonition is placed on the same page where they plagiarize a great deal of information from other sites. “You must give credit where credit is due.” Unless you’re us, of course.

This community college says don't plagiarize, while they do just that.

I’m kinda pretty sure (or a little less) that the original source for this 16-word phrase about being open-minded is the Illinois Online Network (ION). Unless, of course, it isn’t. Most of the websites that use the 16-word phrase in question also use much of the rest of the ION language from “What Makes a Successful Online Student?”

You will get over 1,200 hits in the Google search results if you use the quotation marks with the phrase “Be open-minded about sharing life, work, and educational experiences as part of the learning process.” Of those 1,200+ hits – most of the top 100 are from educational institutions of some sort – mostly higher ed. As best I can tell – about 20% of them cite the source of this phrase. The other 80% provide no citation – and of course, they claim their own copyright to these pages.

I was going to provide a list of some of those schools where you can (easily) find this exact same sentence (and usually much more than just the one lifted sentence) and where no attribution is given. However, I decided against that. Anyone who has an interest can easily do the same thing. Along with a couple of Big12 schools, you’ll find lots of community colleges, some for-profit proprietary colleges, some K-12 virtual schools, and lots of other varieties of educational institutions. You’ll also find a few individual faculty syllabi where you would think they would know better.

In closing – let me draw attention to a few of the schools that DO give some sort of attribution.

  1. Isothermal Community College – attribution given to UW-Stevens Point
  2. UW-Stevens Point – attribution given to ION
  3. Iowa State University – permission given and attribution to ION
  4. Bloomfield College – attribution given to ION
  5. Walters State CC Math Division – attribution given to ION
  6. Brescia University – attribution given to ION

The other 80% could learn a lot from these schools listed above who are giving credit where credit is due.