New Tutorial Helps Students Avoid Plagiarism

August 29, 2022

by Jules Arensdorf, Instructional Design Librarian

Many campuses, including UW-Madison, noted an increase in reports of students cheating during the pandemic. While the reasons for this are nuanced and undoubtedly related to the pressures and challenges the pandemic surfaced, this moment offers an opportunity to provide greater support to students in learning about how to use and incorporate outside sources in their research. To support this effort, the UW-Madison Libraries, in collaboration with the Writing Center, the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, and International Student Services, introduced significant updates to an online tutorial that helps students understand and avoid plagiarism.

The tutorial, which was first released by the Libraries in 2016, addressed a concern expressed by faculty instructors: students were both using other people’s words and ideas without citing them and were using quotes out of context. The new version of this tutorial, Intro to Plagiarism, builds on these concepts and draws on the Libraries’ expertise in supporting research and leading information literacy instruction. Instead of the typical approach to plagiarism which emphasizes citation styles and outlines punitive consequences, the tutorial anchors the topic within the concept of scholarly exchanges: when you cite someone, you are elevating their voice in the conversation. Conversely, if you use someone’s words or ideas without citing them, you are essentially appropriating their ideas as your own, and erasing them from the conversation. This framing encourages students to be mindful of not only when and why they should cite, but also of who they are citing.

As Jules Arensdorf, Instructional Design Librarian in the Libraries’ Teaching & Learning Programs Office and lead for the project reflects, citing sources is about so much more than not getting in trouble with your professor. “As beginning researchers, it can be challenging for students to get a sense of the reasons behind all of the periods, commas, and page numbers,” Jules notes. “What this tutorial aims to do, is show students that they are participating in this larger, scholarly exchange and that their voice, like the voices of other scholars, matters.”

In another important shift, the revised version of the tutorial also centers on the experience of international students, who may have had instructors with different expectations for citations before attending UW-Madison. Kacha Fischer, International Engagement Coordinator with International Student Services, shares that the new Plagiarism tutorial is already included in the virtual modules of the International Student Orientation for all new international students at UW-Madison. Kacha notes that “these modules cover important topics like maintaining visa status, health, wellness, safety, academic success, and academic integrity—including plagiarism.” Kacha emphasizes that “understanding plagiarism is an extremely important part of academic success for international students who are adjusting to expectations and cultural norms in the classroom which may be very different from their home countries.” The scenarios in the tutorial particularly help students apply abstract concepts like academic integrity to real-life situations they may encounter in their classes.

Introducing students to the concept of plagiarism early and within the different course, contexts can also have a positive impact. Tonya Schmidt, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, says that “the plagiarism tutorial is a helpful tool to point both students and instructors to. The tutorial can be used preventatively before writing assignments are even assigned. We will recommend that all instructors link it to their syllabus and even quiz students on its contents. In addition, it can be used as an educational restorative activity for students who participate in our Badgers AIM (Academic Integrity Matters) circles.”

Similarly, Dorothy Mayne, Teaching Faculty with the Writing Center, is deeply familiar with the nuance around citations that can vex students: “I work one-on-one with students across levels and departments. Many come to the Center for support on papers where they’re using many kinds of sources and in ways, they haven’t done before. Through my conversations with students, I often see (and experience myself) confusion with the grey areas of summary, paraphrase, quotations, and using citations.” This tutorial is unique in that the scenarios and feedback students encounter will help them sift through those situations that are less than straightforward.

Dr. Mayne adds that many students don’t want to plagiarize but may not be sure how to paraphrase or when, how, and how often to cite: “They may also have been told conflicting things about these issues, so when I work with them, we talk about the grey areas and nuance of these issues so that they can give authors credit in the ways required in their courses but also not be in violation of academic integrity values.”

The Into to Plagiarism tutorial is an additional tool that students can use to help them navigate the tricky situations they may encounter throughout their career at UW-Madison. Dr. Mayne says that she hopes students who complete the plagiarism tutorial develop confidence in the choices they make in their writing. “I want them to think about summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting, and generally citing sources as tools they can use to engage with published work rather than things they must do to avoid plagiarism.” Toward that end, the Writing Center features the plagiarism tutorial on their workshop’s website. They will also use it to train new graduate instructors and refer students to it when they are concerned about using sources in their papers.
The Intro to Plagiarism tutorial, along with many other tutorials that support students in finding, evaluating, and integrating sources into their research, can be found on the Libraries website. Instructors are encouraged to share these resources with their students to support their engagement in scholarly conversations across the diverse array of courses and disciplines at UW-Madison.