December 2020

While Plagiarism Detection Software (PDS) – such as Turnitin – has proven to be a useful tool in my classes for identifying clear violations of academic integrity, an unexpected side effect of using the integrated functions within Canvas has been an increase in student anxiety. While my understanding of the color-coded flags and the percentages presented in Canvas provide me with a quick visual way to identify student papers with potential issues; for students, those numbers are like flashing warning signs of wrongdoing, especially when the numbers are above 40-50%.

I learned very quickly that students didn’t understand what the numbers meant, nor how to actually read their Turnitin report. Instead, students would see the high percentage and immediately send a panicked e-mail that expressed concern they would be accused of plagiarism and asked what they needed to do (e.g. offering proof that they did not plagiarize, offering to redo the assignment). But what really stood out about the e-mails was that students clearly did not understand what Turnitin was telling them, or that even proper citation could lead to a high similarity percentage.

Possible Solutions

In response to these e-mails I began to brainstorm ways to use the Turnitin Report as a teaching tool. This resulted in three concrete steps I take when using PDS in the online classroom:

  1. I include an example of a Turnitin Report with the grading rubric and instructions for assignments where students tend to need a high number of outside sources. These examples were designed to help students identify what to look for in the report for those specific assignments, in terms of what to ignore and what not to ignore.
  2. For students who have a high percentage of similarity on an assignment, I share the report along with their grade, pointing out areas of concern within the report or emphasizing why there was no concern.
  3. For students who struggle with citing, I include their Turnitin report and indicate where they correctly cited sources and when they incorrectly used a source without proper attribution.

While these initial efforts have shown signs of alleviating the fears of most students, two of them are after the fact methods that do not eliminate that initial fear response and rash of panicky e-mails. As much as I would like to believe that students review the example Turnitin report that I include with the assignment, course analytics suggest few students access these example files. With this in mind, I’m planning to create a separate “How to Read Your Report” module or video as a required and graded course activity. It is hoped that this required module will increase student awareness and preparation once they begin their assignments; and decrease anxiety when they are presented with their Turnitin percentages and reports.

Final Suggestions

While using PDS within an online class can lead to unintended negative reactions from students, it is not suggested that faculty not use the system. In addition to the steps above, other methods for easing some of the growing pains that may come with using PDS include:

  • Offering students a “no questions asked” option to resubmit the assignment. If a student sees their assignment flagged as being highly similar, review it, and realize that they did not properly attribute sources to support their work, they can make changes and resubmit the assignment without needing to contact the instructor. As long as the assignment is turned in on time, I simply grade the final submitted file and ignore the original submission. This technique has the added benefit of encouraging students to not wait until the last minute to submit their work.
  • Including PDS reports with grade comments for all students on all assignments, regardless of whether there are concerns with their similarity percentage or not. This works to normalize students looking at the report and also allows the instructor to encourage proper attribution of outside work by all students.
  • Teaching plagiarism avoidance OR teaching a specific citation method (e.g. APA, MLA, etc.), not both. You can either focus on using PDS as a tool to help students understand how their work may or may not represent proper paraphrasing, summarizing, or quoting; or you can teach students how to properly cite using a specific citation method. But trying to do both can be confusing for students.

Just remember, Turnitin and other Plagiarism Detection Software are tools. The benefits of those tools come from proper application by the instructor.

Many, perhaps most, students engage in academic dishonesty, and many factors can contribute to these behaviors. Because cheating is often impacted by the situation, we can use what we know about the factors that impact academic dishonesty to design courses that support integrity and structure student success. 

The connection between course design and impact factors such as high stakes assignments, workload, and procrastination is evident. Standard scaffolding can support students and guard against those factors, but expanding scaffolding to include reading can broaden the impact and further mitigate risks related to academic dishonesty. 

Scaffolding  

Scaffolding assignments, writing assignments in particular, by breaking them into process steps is a well-known best practice. Scaffolding can structure skill-building activities through low-stakes tasks that deepen comprehension, practice application, and construct larger assignments. It’s clear to see how scaffolding (or a lack thereof) can impact procrastination and how procrastination can impact lack of preparedness and anxiety. Taken together, students can easily find themselves in a perfect storm of poor performance that perpetuates low academic self-efficacy. 

Since students are more likely to cheat on written assignments, scaffolding writing assignments is an important way to support academic integrity and student success. Scaffolded writing assignments often begin by submitting a topic, outline, annotated bibliography, or early draft, which overlooks the opportunity to focus on a key component of student success: Reading. 

Scaffolding Reading   

When we assign reading without assigning a point value, we are sending the message that reading is pointless. When we assign reading without a support structure, we are assuming that students have the time management skills needed to prioritize reading, which they may find difficult, boring, or pointless. If students do complete the reading independently, we are assuming that they are reading closely and critically, identifying key elements, and connecting them to assignments and objectives. If our assumptions are incorrect, students can fall behind and end up struggling to complete assignments without comprehending the content.  

Structuring student success is especially important now that many students are learning online, including many who would not have selected online sections if given an option. Students who were able to get by without reading and supplement their learning with class discussions are now required to complete the reading and to do so alone. For our online sections of first-year writing, we expanded our design to scaffolded reading through the steps of collaborative reading, reading quizzes, and discussion posts. Collaborative readings allow students to comment on the content readings with their peers, and reading quizzes and discussion posts allow students to earn points for engaging the readings.

Collaborative Reading

All of our content readings are distributed as Google Docs, and students are required to comment on the readings. Collaborative readings allow students to engage content and practice active reading strategies with peers. Students can ask their peers questions and help each other by answering and adding context. In online sections, it is particularly critical to create opportunities for students to interact with their peers, and collaborative reading provides a peer audience:

Collaborative Reading 1

Collaborative readings allow instructors to discuss reading practices and to direct reading by adding their own comments before students complete the readings, which they can use to demonstrate annotating techniques, highlight key terms and takeaways, and ask leading questions.

 Students can also access recordings of the readings in Youtube:

Collaborative Reading 2

Readings include a time on task estimate students can use for planning. Students are encouraged to pay attention to their time on task, schedule breaks as they learn their reading patterns, contact their instructors if something is taking considerably longer than estimated, and stick with the task if they haven’t put in the estimated amount of time.  

Reading Quizzes 

After students complete the collaborative readings, they take a ten-question reading quiz. The goal is not to test comprehension or retention but to facilitate reading, help students identify important elements, and provide points for engaging the reading.

“The reading quizzes are designed to facilitate comprehension of course content. Understanding the reading material is essential to successful completion of the assignments. Quizzes highlight important points from each reading. Feel free to reference the readings as you work on the quiz. Reading quizzes are not timed and can be taken once.” 

All quizzes are automatically graded in Canvas, and answers become visible after the quizzes are due.

 Discussion Posts

After students complete the reading quiz, they submit a discussion post, which deepens comprehension and provides points for commenting, engaging peer comments, and summarizing content. All discussion posts are threads so that students have a peer audience. The questions are the same for all readings:

Discussion Post

Instructors do not need to review student comments on the collaborative readings because they can see them in the discussion posts. Evaluation should be approached as check/minus, but question five can be answered to encourage communication, especially in online courses.

Outcomes

Our scaffolded reading structure was deployed for Fall 20, when all sections of ENC 1101 and 1102 were online. The results of our student surveys are overwhelmingly positive—even higher than the F2F format—with over 95% of respondents agreeing that they are better writers for having taken the course. Students noted benefiting from seeing peer samples and responded well to that concept of showing their work to earn points for reading. Completion and retention results were also positive. We will continue to track outcomes connected to academic dishonesty, and we plan to evaluate the impact of scaffolded reading on FTIC, FIF, URM, and Pell-eligible student populations. 

Opportunities

Scaffolding reading provides structure for online sections and increases peer interaction among students. Reading that is actively engaged and instructor mediated is considered direct faculty instruction. Scaffolding reading can also ground hybrid/hyflex sections or facilitate flipped classrooms. Assigning quizzes and posts before class meetings helps students get more out of discussions and activities. Scaffolding readings also provides assessment content to demonstrate SLOs connected to reading (e.g., identify, recognize, discuss) and allows instructors to identify students who are not completing the readings and provide intervention opportunities.

Elements of this approach can be utilized independently. Standard scaffolding can be expanded to include the submission of any course content or lectures. If an outline or annotated bibliography is assigned, students could submit an annotated article each week for a few weeks before the annotated bibliography is due. If textbooks do not include pdfs or digital copies, students can still communicate in a collaborative notes doc and submit summaries, share takeaways, and post comments in a graded discussion thread.

Scaffolding Support

Scaffolding reading through collaborative readings, quizzes, and posts prepares students for success in subsequent tasks, which can decrease procrastination and build confidence, and advances critical reading skills, which can transfer beyond the content and the course. All quizzes and posts are due at the same days and times and create low-stakes assignments that add up over the term and provide a foundation of points. The consistent structure provides a clear path to success that values participation and effort while avoiding the anxiety associated with high stakes and poor performance.

References:

Lee, S. D., Kuncel, N. R., & Gau, J. (2020). Personality, attitude, and demographic correlates of academic dishonesty: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 146(11), 1042–1058. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000300

McCabe, D. L. (2005). It takes a village: Academic dishonesty and educational opportunity. Association of American Colleges & Universities, Liberal Education, 91(3). It Takes a Village: Academic Dishonesty and Educational Opportunity | Association of American Colleges & Universities (aacu.org)

I owe the title and the overriding theme of this blog to Salt-N-Pepa’s 1990 song about sex.  Now that I have your attention, what does this possibly have to do with Chegg?  Well, simply put, we need to talk about it.

Chegg, and other tutoring sites, are more the purview of students than faculty members.  I find that many faculty have only recently become acquainted with Chegg, CourseHero, StudySoup, TutorMe, and the like.  In fact, in several recent academic integrity hearings, I have had to give a brief introduction to these websites for the edification of the faculty hearing board members.  The student hearing board members have never needed an explanation.  Nevertheless, there are many issues regarding Chegg and other tutoring websites that are worthy of exploration.  Here are a few thoughts:

Faculty considerations:

  • Are my instructional materials being distributed?  Checking these sites regularly for “leaked information” has become normal in many institutions.  Protecting your materials with copyright is recommended, and Chegg will take them down if requested.
  • Has my exam been compromised?  Were the test questions and answers viewable during the time students were taking the exam?  You can file an investigation with Chegg (https://www.chegg.com/honorcode) in order to find student emails and computer IP addresses from students who accessed test questions and answers during certain time frames.
  • If students are seeking help from outside sources, what does that suggest about my own instructional methods?  Am I offering enough supplemental assistance, office hours, TA support, scaffolding of assignments, etc.?  As an administrator, we often hear from students who are frustrated with online courses, don’t feel comfortable reaching out for help, or are struggling somehow.  Many students feel these online resources are their only pathway to success.

Student considerations:

  • If I’m using Chegg, or another online resource, have I compromised my own integrity?  Getting help from a tutor about general concepts is fine, and Chegg does offer legitimate assistance through tutors.  However, getting an answer to a test question is an entirely different animal.  Many students find this distinction understandable only after they have faced an unfortunate academic integrity violation. 
  • If a test is open notes, why can’t I use Google?  When the whole world is computer-based, it just seems logical to use it whenever you need it, including in a test environment.  Students need to learn course expectations early on, and continue to hear messages that reinforce the use of institutional resources, rather than outside resources, which may or may not be reliable or legitimate.
  • If I post a test question, what does that have to do with copyright laws?  Many students do not realize that they are violating their professor’s rights if they share protected information without owner permission. 

There are many faculty members and academic integrity staff out there who consider Chegg.com (and other tutoring sites) the bane of their existence, but I encourage you to look at the broader context.  These sites and the pandemic will come and go, but it is up to us to explore these issues with students in a way that promotes personal integrity as key.  While continuing Chegg investigations, please talk about these critical issues.  We may be specialists in the disciplines of English, Chemical Engineering, and Accounting, but we are all responsible for ensuring students graduate with more than disciplinary knowledge.


[1] Salt-N-Pepa.  “Let’s Talk About Sex.” Blacks’ Magic.  Next Plateau Label, 1990.

I met my first conspiracy theorist in March 2020 as a result of the global pandemic. The Conspiracy Theory derives from a 2010 Alex Jones claim about Bill Gates. This conspiracy theory is noted as False on Snopes. I was unsettled by this conversation with an adult who could willingly and uncritically accept conspiracy theory as truth and expect an audience to approach this false narrative without critical thinking. I watched Conspiracy Theory videos; I watched John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight videos on Conspiracy Theories and Alex Jones. I researched: I began to piece together why both conspiracy theory and academic integrity hold together and fall apart.

What impressed me was that the conspiracy theorist knew the conspiracy theory and recited it chapter and verse; there was no mention of the origin or timing or evidence related to this conspiracy theory. It is a sticky idea as conspiracy theory (C. Heath and D. Heath, 2007). Immediately, I thought about the passionate intensity of the conspiracy theorist and, secretly, hoped students at my institution could recite parts of our Academic Integrity Policy with similar and uncanny accuracy.

Additionally, this conspiracy theory works by language codes (conspiracy theory frameworks) that are successful. One form of success: “Conspiracy theories may promise to make people feel safer as a form of cheater detection, in which dangerous and untrustworthy individuals are recognized and the threat they posed is reduced or neutralized” K. M. Douglas, R. M. Sutton, A. Cichocka (2017) who are summarizing research by Bost and Prunier. (p. 539). I wished that students viewed the Academic Integrity Policy as “cheater detection,” a protection from students who harm the campus community by academic misconduct.

I examined the ways students approach the Academic Integrity Policy. It sits on a webpage; there is no context provided for the policy. It does not prime students to read the Academic Integrity Policy analytically. One reason is the length of the Academic Integrity Policy. A misstep might be that the accumulation of details within the Academic Integrity Policy reads as battle scars.

I appraised how the fail rate of academic integrity policies (students self-report academic misconduct) is a contrast of those who affirm the value of academic integrity policies. Is there a connection between fail rates in academic integrity and conspiracy theories? “So far, therefore, empirical research suggests that conspiracy theories serve to erode social capital and may, if anything, frustrate people’s need to see themselves as valuable members of morally decent collectives.” (Douglas, K. M., Sutton, R. M., & Cichocka, A., 2017, p. 540) I reflected on the ways the Academic Integrity Policy similarly thwarts community trust and moves students away from “morally decent collectives,” at least at times.

Is there brevity in Academic Integrity? “To begin, when policy information is easier to understand, citizens display a greater willingness to comply with policy requests (Porumbescu, Lindeman, Ceka, & Cucciniello, 2017). Further, individuals exposed to less detailed information, such as messages shared on social media, have higher levels of trust in government than do those exposed to more detailed information, such as messages, shared on government Websites (Porumbescu, 2016).” (Connolly, J. M., Uscinski, J. E., Klofstad, C. A., & West, J. P., 2019, p. 472). Perhaps, each college/university needs two distinct Academic Integrity Policies: one that is tweetable and one that is the big juicy.

Essential Watchable Research:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNS4lecOaAc (Last Week Tonight)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0b_eHBZLM6U (Last Week Tonight)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyGq6cjcc3Q (Last Week Tonight)

Readable References:

Connolly, J. M., Uscinski, J. E., Klofstad, C. A., & West, J. P. (2019). Communicating to the Public in the Era of Conspiracy Theory. Public Integrity, 21(5), 469–476. https://doi-org.ezcvcc.vccs.edu/10.1080/10999922.2019.1603045

Douglas, K. M., Sutton, R. M., & Cichocka, A. (2017). The psychology of conspiracy theories. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(6), 538–542. https://doi-org.ezcvcc.vccs.edu/10.1177/0963721417718261

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2007). Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (First ed.). New York, NY: Random House.

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