Categories: Our Product

How to talk to your students about plagiarism and academic integrity

Posted on

Our Product

5 min read
student passing a note to another student in class
Posted by: itslearning, in collaboration with Turnitin

Incidents of plagiarism among students can stem from misunderstanding and a lack of preparation. Often, students are not completely aware of what constitutes plagiarism. They may not have a good understanding of the nuances of using and crediting source material.

Educators can support growth and academic integrity by taking a proactive approach and talking about plagiarism and copying upfront. In this article, we will look at how teachers can address the issue of preventing plagiarism with their students.

A holistic approach to academic integrity, with dialogue and explanation right from the beginning, can foster better student engagement.

Why should educators address plagiarism proactively?

Too often plagiarism happens after the fact and students learn “the hard way” with consequences and repercussions. While this method does have a place in academia, it does not automatically ensure that an effective learning experience takes place. A student who has unintentionally plagiarized work may not find such treatment fair, and more importantly, the act of plagiarism may be due to matters outside their control.

It’s important to remember that students come from diverse educational backgrounds. Some may have gaps or other shortcomings in their educational experience that make them less prepared for the demands of academia. This is why a holistic approach to academic integrity, with dialogue and explanation right from the beginning, can foster better student engagement.

It is important that students know the boundaries and what is acceptable. It is even more important that they know why this is the case. Sometimes, schools give out handbooks on academic integrity and ask for a signed receipt of acknowledgement that the student has received necessary material informing them about plagiarism. Our view is that students will gain much more from real conversations about academic integrity and its centrality to the learning process.

Constructive ways to deal with plagiarism

Define it properly

One of the first obstacles in avoiding plagiarism is that many students do not know what it means beyond simply copying work from someone else. They know that sometimes copying is acceptable and other times it is not, especially in school, but any gradations or refinement quickly become vague. Many issues around plagiarism stem from this oversimplification. Though every institution may define plagiarism differently, they all orbit around the notion of misrepresentation. It is necessary to communicate that to students. They especially need to know that even unintentional misrepresentation can be considered plagiarism.

Explore the purpose

Real knowledge and understanding represent a synthesis. Academic integrity exists not only to honor the achievements of others but to ensure a meaningful education for all. Students may come in with preconceived ideas about school with an object-orientated mindset, thinking that graduation and a degree are what matter most instead of the day-to-day work and sometimes subtle achievements along the way.

Educators should help students understand what school means with a growth-mindset orientation. Education is about fostering self-sufficiency, critical thinking, and creativity — none of which are supported by plagiarism. Of course, many honest mistakes will be made along the way but as long as students engage and respect the process they will grow and be better prepared.

Give students some input

Building lessons around academic integrity will foster lasting impressions. Rather than simply telling students what the consequences of plagiarism and other transgressions will be, ask them to work in groups and discuss why plagiarism and academic misconduct are problematic. Go through other parallels of the “easy-way” out versus the obvious examples such as sports and performance-enhancing substances. Compare how both seek to protect participants and maintain fairness.

Model expectations

Clear up misconceptions by showing students examples of what constitutes plagiarism and what does not. Practice summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting, and referencing in addition to creating proper citations. It is fundamental that students are comfortable with these and able to distinguish between them.

Before giving substantial assignments let students exercise their understanding — activities of defining deliberate plagiarism and detecting plagiarism can be useful. Students will come to appreciate the difference between their own voice and the voice of others.

itslearning helps educators uphold academic integrity

As itslearning is dedicated to providing a holistic learning platform for educators and learners, the LMS Assignment tool integrates with SimCheck by Turnitin to support scaffolded guidance around plagiarism. SimCheck is a web-based system for evaluating text similarity that can detect potential plagiarism in written work by comparing student submissions against a database of billions of internet sources.

Example of a SimCheck similarity report showing copied text and source.

Users get access to a Similarity Score for submissions which indicates the amount of text that may have been copied. The color-coded and easy-to-use interface allows details to quickly be identified and explored, including the potential origin of any material in question.

This way users can readily sort out whether or not any similarity is acceptable and if the original source is properly cited. SimCheck helps educators establish a culture of integrity at a scale, providing them with data-driven insights on student writing.

Key takeaways

More often than not plagiarism is a consequence of critical gaps in instructional design and curriculum rather than negative intentions. Academic integrity can be much better encouraged with a proactive approach that recognizes this instead of treating plagiarism as something that students should already understand. The key to preventing plagiarism and similar academic misconduct is not repercussions, but early and candid recognition.

Teach students the value of academic integrity by defining and exploring plagiarism in classroom activities long before it becomes a problem. This approach supports a lasting understanding and the development of critical thinking. Students will have a better appreciation and awareness of the difference between their voice and that of others, they will also be much more comfortable utilizing source material properly.

With so much already asked of educators, this can sound ideal but impractical to implement with so many other curricular obligations. itslearning users, however, can benefit from SimCheck by Turnitin that helps facilitate and streamline this process. Talk with students about academic integrity throughout the school year using SimCheck as a guide. The Similarity Score will be a clear metric to track the progress made.


This is the final post in a series of articles on academic integrity which started with Encouraging academic integrity and original thinking with itslearning.

To learn more about the anti-plagiarism tool in itslearning, get in touch with us.

Yulia Gorenko, Turnitin

Subscribe to our newsletter

Keep reading…