Using virtual lectures to educate students on plagiarism
First Monday

Using virtual lectures to educate students on plagiarism by Laura A. Guertin

Plagiarism is a concern on all university campuses. Some of the main issues pertaining to plagiarism violations are student misunderstanding or inconsistent and lack of instruction. Virtual lectures are an electronic resource available to students throughout the semester to aid them in proper citation and avoiding academic integrity violations. The technological tool of virtual lectures is also useful for communicating rules of ethics and other regulations for industry or other areas of employment outside of academia.


Why use virtual lectures
How to create and distribute a virtual lecture
An example template for a virtual lecture on plagiarism
Follow–up assessment on plagiarism
Can a virtual lecture make a difference?





Academic integrity is an issue of widespread concern that plagues colleges and universities worldwide. Arguably, the largest violation of academic integrity that occurs is plagiarism. Many universities have policies that define expectations and what constitutes a violation of academic integrity, specifically plagiarism, and what the penalties may include. Faculty even include statements in course syllabi that warn students against violating the rules of academic integrity. Unfortunately, a warning statement in a syllabus or on a course Web site is likely to be ineffective as a tool to modify actual cheating behavior (Brown and Howell, 2001). In fact, poor college policies on academic dishonesty can unintentionally contribute to cheating (Dowd, 1992).

The root of plagiarism violations at university campuses is that many students do not understand the policies and procedures, or how to cite sources properly. Research studies support that students do not clearly comprehend what constitutes plagiarism and may not recognize it as such unless it involves copying large segments of a work (i.e., Overbey and Guiling, 1999). In fact, once a student has plagiarized successfully, he is likely to try it repeatedly (Galus, 2002). If faculty begin to focus the majority of their time concerned with academic integrity and preventing plagiarism, then faculty become the enemy instead of the mentor of students, and the "student–teacher relationship" is replaced with a "criminal–police relationship" (Howard, 2001).

Does this mean there is a need for university faculty to teach students how not to plagiarize? Which students need instruction on plagiarism? There are inconsistencies as to when and how plagiarism and academic integrity are taught to students — some students are taught at the elementary level, while others do not receive instruction until the university level (Taylor, et al., 2004). This is especially true with many first–year university students who report never having received instruction about forms of plagiarism and proper citation (Wilhoit, 1994). Although the Newstead, et al. (1996) study found cheating was reported by younger, male, lower–achieving, and science and technology students, arguably all students can benefit from instruction. For example, one institution established a formalized plagiarism prevention policy and found that undergraduate student awareness of plagiarism improved after being required to sign a certificate of authorship on the title page of all written assignments completed outside of class (Sims, 2002).

Once a student has plagiarized successfully, he is likely to try it repeatedly.

To confirm that academic integrity and plagiarism are also issues of concern at the institution where this investigation was conducted, students were surveyed in introductory–level Earth science courses over a two–year period about academic integrity and plagiarism on the first day of class. One hundred–twenty students completed the survey. When the students were asked if they were aware that plagiarism was part of the university’s academic integrity policy, 100 percent of the students responded yes, yet only 79 percent of the students knew what would happen if a professor caught them plagiarizing.

The majority of the students (79 percent) had received formal instruction on plagiarism from a middle school or high school teacher. In addition, the majority of the students (75 percent) had received formal instruction from another university professor about plagiarism. This statistic is a little disturbing, for all university professors at this institution are required to discuss academic integrity and plagiarism with their students, and with just 88 percent of the students surveyed being at the sophomore through senior level, this documents inconsistencies across the education and practice of making students aware of plagiarism.



Why use virtual lectures

Brown and Howell (2001) have found that having the students "read a carefully worded statement about plagiarism" is an effective way to change the perceptions of plagiarism. Although many universities have detailed policies and procedures when it comes to plagiarism, they are not always written in a language or tone that is easy for the students to understand. In addition, the statements that faculty place in their syllabi relating to academic integrity are typically fragments of a much larger statement, thereby taken out of context. This places the responsibility on the student to become familiar with definitions and expectations. As a consequence, this may have a negative impact by having the instructor show that plagiarism is not a significant enough topic to discuss in class. Data suggest that providing instruction about avoiding plagiarism results in students taking a more serious view of the issue and has positive effects on future behavior (Brown and Howell, 2001).

There are many concerns with providing a classroom lecture on academic integrity and plagiarism. First, it takes in–class face–to–face time with students when the discipline content of a course would typically be covered. Since a lecture on plagiarism would occur early in the semester, some students may be adding a course late and therefore miss the lecture on plagiarism, causing non–uniform instruction on the topic. The in–class lecture is a one–time event. Students would need to rely on notes taken during that lecture to clarify any misconceptions or questions that arise later on in the semester. Also, the instructor may be inconsistent with the delivery of instructions against plagiarism from class to class, from semester to semester.

A virtual lecture is a product created by the instructor available to students outside of class at any time throughout the semester. Available for access through a variety of methods, the information delivered is consistent every time the student views the lecture. A virtual lecture can free up in–class time to cover discipline material and be available to any student that may have not yet signed into a course the very beginning of a semester.



How to create and distribute a virtual lecture

There exist several different methods and software packages available to create virtual lectures. This section will detail very simple methods and discuss other options available with commercial software. One method is for the instructor to stand in the front of a room or sit at his/her desk and videotape himself as a "talking head" communicating the material verbally. Similar to a format one would see on a CNN newscast but without visual aids, the video can be placed on reserve in the university library, burned on CD and distributed to students, or placed on a Web server as a streaming video through the Internet. With today’s students constantly being bombarded with multimedia movies and videos, this simple recording format and presentation may not keep the attention of the student for the duration of the instructional video.

Another method would be to create a basic Microsoft PowerPoint presentation with the desired content and record audio with each slide. Some laptop computers have built–in microphones, while some desktop computers require an external microphone to be plugged in. Once the audio input levels are tested on the computer, audio can be recorded in the PowerPoint file. With the file containing the PowerPoint slides open, look at the menu across the top of the page and click "Slide Show." As that menu pulls down, there is the option to click "Record narration." This allows the instructor to record the audio on each slide and control the slide timings and transitions. Once the file is saved with the imbedded audio, the PowerPoint file can be burned to CD to distribute to students or placed on reserve in the library, or the file can be placed online in a course management system for students to view.

There are applications available that allow the PowerPoint file to be placed in a template with navigation tools. Microsoft Producer is a free download and plug–in available for Microsoft PowerPoint. Microsoft Producer takes the PowerPoint file and creates a table of contents with the title of each slide allowing for easy navigation. Students can also start and stop the presentation at any point and repeat slides to reinforce material. The Producer file can be of just the PowerPoint slides and a table of contents, or the instructor can combine a "talking head" video on one side of the screen with the PowerPoint on the other side. A Producer file can also be saved on CD or published online for student viewing. Microsoft Producer will only work on a PC computer in Internet Explorer.


Figure 1: Screen shot of a virtual lecture created with Microsoft Producer.

Figure 1: Screen shot of a virtual lecture created with Microsoft Producer.
Note the navigation bar and controls to the left with the Microsoft PowerPoint slides on the right.


Other applications are available for a fee that allow the instructor to create the same PowerPoint–with–audio but with varying navigation through the presentation. Qarbon ViewletBuilder and Macromedia Captivate are examples of two applications that are designed for creating virtual lectures from Microsoft PowerPoint files and/or instructional videos.


Figure 2: Screen shot of a virtual lecture created with one of Qarbon–s applications.

Figure 2: Screen shot of a virtual lecture created with one of Qarbon’s applications.
Note the navigation bar and controls to the left with the Microsoft PowerPoint slides on the right.




An example template for a virtual lecture on plagiarism

The following is an example of how an instructor can pull together information on academic integrity and plagiarism. Begin with a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation on the content to be covered. Depending on how much information you may want to communicate about the university’s academic integrity policy and plagiarism, these can be broken into two separate PowerPoint files and therefore two separate virtual lectures. Have the PowerPoint file include slides with text at an understandable level for the students on how their university defines academic integrity. Include screen shots of the World Wide Web pages with this information, then include links to these pages on a World Wide Web page for students to have easy access and have familiarity with the policies. Clearly define with text on slides what constitutes a violation of academic integrity. Then go through the procedure of what will happen if an instructor suspects a student of violating the academic integrity policy. Again, a screenshot of any forms that would be filled out may be helpful for students to see. Be specific with timelines and deadlines of the procedure. Let students know about confidentiality of the information during this process, and what will happen to these reports and records after they graduate.

Next, either in the same virtual lecture or a new one, create PowerPoint slides that define plagiarism. Give examples of what is plagiarism, and what isn’t plagiarism. One online document helpful to pull information from for the virtual lecture is the "Avoiding Plagiarism" site from Purdue University Online Writing Lab [1]. Additional university Web sites that provide clear examples and discussion for students on plagiarism include Indiana University’s "How to recognize plagiarism" [2] and Capital Community College’s "Guide to writing research papers" [3]. Links to these Web sites should be linked on course sites. It is helpful to include a discussion as to the consequences of plagiarism and provide examples of some violations, as presented on a Web site maintained by an attorney called "Plagiarism in colleges in USA" [4].

In the PowerPoint presentation, go through an exercise of presenting a paragraph from published text and provide examples on how to paraphrase, use direct quotes, not rearrange or change words, etc. The instructor may also want to include an example of how to properly cite an Internet source, since this is a very common error in documenting sources. This is especially useful to clarify a particular referencing style the instructor may use or refresh a student on MLA or APA style of documentation. The instructor may want to remind students that there are several websites that detail proper citation formats, such as Diana Hacker’s "Research and Documentation Online" [5].

Unfortunately, one issue in regards to academic integrity that cannot be resolved is if the original material a student finds online is itself plagiarized. Many documents published on the Internet are documents that have been plagiarized and not properly referenced to the original document (Hoad and Zobel, 2003). With students increasingly utilizing the Internet as a primary source for papers and presentations, this only adds to the plagiarism problem and can leave a student an innocent victim. An instructor may want to make mention of this issue during the virtual lecture or in writing on a handout so that students use caution and carefully evaluate their Internet sources.



Follow–up assessment on plagiarism

Students have a tendency to plagiarize because of a genuine misunderstanding of the rules and formats for citing sources (Wilhoit, 1994). After having students watch a virtual lecture on academic integrity and plagiarism, it is critical to have students responsible for the content communicated in the lecture. A variety of exercises and assessment techniques can be incorporated as a follow–up to the material.

Students have a tendency to plagiarize because of a genuine misunderstanding of the rules and formats for citing sources.

Students can be given an in–class quiz on the material. The quiz may contain true/false or multiple–choice questions, and a writing sample. The instructor can provide students with a brief article and ask students to summarize the main points with correct in–text citations and format for the reference.

There is a need for active–learning exercises devoted to the prevention of plagiarism. At some universities, students participate in a plagiarism detection in–class discussion at the beginning of the semester (see Feldman, et al., 2001). An example of an out–of–class assignment would be to give students three related articles to read and write a synthesis paper, paying careful attention not to plagiarize. Another assignment can be to give students a list of Internet links and titles to books and magazines. Have students create a reference list in the proper citation style that will be used in the course. Choose sources that students will be accessing as the semester goes along, so that students are already familiar with the location of the source and how to document similar sources. With these and other continued writing exercises throughout the semester, including a cautionary note about plagiarism with each assignment, students receive practice and reinforcement throughout a course.



Can a virtual lecture make a difference?

At the university where this study was conducted, the instructor was able to track students accessing the virtual lecture on academic integrity and plagiarism through the course management software. Each semester, approximately 90 percent of the students watched the lecture, some students as many as five times throughout the semester. The quiz scores did not indicate complete learning of the material. Students consistently score an average of 77 percent (out of 100 percent) on the plagiarism and academic integrity quiz, signifying that students cannot learn all there is to know at the beginning of the semester but will have to incorporate tips and information about plagiarism throughout the semester. One quiz does not appear to be enough to instruct students on this topic.

After incorporating the virtual lecture with a quiz, documenting resources assignment, and other written papers, the 120 students were surveyed again at the end of each semester. When asked if they feel that now they have a good understanding of the concept of plagiarism and how not to plagiarize, 97 percent responded yes. When asked if they feel that now they have an understanding of why plagiarism is wrong, 98 percent responded yes. This is an improvement from the responses at the beginning of the semester. The writing assignments may have the greatest impact, as self–reported by students. When asked what was the "coolest" topic covered in the semester, some students responded the documenting resources assignment was the most valuable topic they learned about because they can use that knowledge and skill in other courses.

Included here is a cautionary note to be on the look out for plagiarism in a lecture versus laboratory setting, especially in science and technology courses. Del Carlo and Bodner (2004) found that students differentiate with attitudes and behavior in academic integrity between the two settings. Certainly plagiarism and integrity are not just academic issues but also impact students and professionals in business and government jobs and funding (see Nitterhouse, 2003). Additional virtual lectures can be created to instruct students on ethics and issues with these particular environments and disciplines.




The existence of rules and policies for academic integrity and plagiarism does not prevent academic integrity violations and plagiarism from occurring. There is still a need for instruction on academic integrity and plagiarism, no matter what course or what grade level. Resources such as virtual lectures can be made available to students semester–long and an assignment can reinforce the materials and concepts being taught. End of article


About the author

Laura A. Guertin is an assistant professor of earth science at Penn State Delaware County. She received her Ph.D. in Marine Geology and Geophysics from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Her research focuses on integrating new and innovative technology into teaching and student learning in introductory–level geoscience courses for non–science majors.



The author wishes to thank Matthew J. Bodek, Instructional Design Specialist for Academic Affairs, Penn State Delaware County, for the technological assistance in creating the virtual lectures.










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Editorial history

Paper received 15 July 2005; accepted 18 August 2005.
HTML markup: Diana Duncan, and Edward J. Valauskas; Editor: Edward J. Valauskas.

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Copyright ©2005, Laura A. Guertin

Using virtual lectures to educate students on plagiarism by Laura A. Guertin
First Monday, volume 10, number 9,

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