Online Blogucation

Plagiarism and Research-When does the teaching and learning stop and the cheating begin?

When I start out to write these blog articles, more often than not, I do not have a topic in mind. I find it interesting how sometimes, it just all comes together. Monday, on our lunch break, one of my colleagues mentioned how her daughter, who is in third grade, is learning how to take notes. This evolved into a discussion about learning how to research, take notes, and academic writing.

I consider myself lucky in this respect because I distinctly remember learning how to take notes and research in 5th grade, 7th grade and 9th grade. In 7th grade, I was enrolled in a zero hour- type class that was scheduled for a 20 minutes a day break. We used that time to conduct a year-long research project. We used the Reader’s Guide to find current articles on our topics. We used note cards for note-taking with the bibliographic details at the top, a direct quote on the front and a paraphrase on the back. I remember struggling with the paraphrasing. The fact that we used the same process in 9th grade helped a little bit but I don’t think I got a follow-up or re-teaching of the concept until I was working on my master’s degree. I fear many of my paraphrases in the many papers I wrote in high school and undergraduate work were more quotes with a few words changed rather than true paraphrasing.

Even with that scenario, I feel lucky that I had such scaffolded teaching on that topic throughout my K-12 years. I seemed to be way ahead of my peers when it came to academic writing in college courses. My colleagues at the lunch on Monday confirmed that some experienced direct teaching of researching, note-taking and writing while others just sort of figured it out. That is probably why, early in my teaching career when I taught 7th grade geography, I made them do a research paper and I graded all 125 papers for content, grammar and citations. It is only with practice, feedback and more practice that individuals learn to write academically and learn to correctly cite all sources.

So this discussion at lunch was then followed by reading an article in the Cornell Daily Sun about professors at Cornell University and their different perspective on using a plagiarism tool such as TurnItIn as part of the process for academic paper submissions. Reading the article, you can see that some professors do not like such tools because it says to the students that you know they are cheating/plagiarizing and you are going to catch them. It creates a relationship founded on mistrust from the beginning.

I actually disagree with this point of view and tend to agree more with Professor Peter Katzenstein who is quoted in the article. He says: “I don’t regard Turnitin as a tool for detecting or monitoring student plagiarism. It is, rather, a tool of great use to professors, graduate students and undergraduates for verifying authenticity and originality of scholarship.” Just like we need to teach our students how to research and write throughout their K-12 learning, that teaching needs to continue through their higher ed years. Earning a liberal arts degree, I completed many research papers in my 7 years in higher ed. I would have loved to have a tool like TurnItIn to help me to check my citations to be sure I have done it correctly. It is nice to have the tool available for each professor to decide when and how to use it. From a student perspective, I would like to have the tool. I don’t think I would view it as catch me cheating software.

I’m guessing the colleague’s daughter in 3rd grade who is learning how to take notes will probably be a pretty good academic writer by the time she completes her schooling. The more tools she has and the more opportunities she has will allow her to hone those skills. Don’t we wish all students arrived their freshman year of college with a good foundation in research writing? It is nice that we don’t have to use note cards and Reader’s Guides any more. The software opportunities are endless. Let us hope that our institutions see the value is such programs and makes them available for use by faculty and students.

Pamela Kachka, M.A.Ed.
Academic Trainer & Consultant

Cited Sources:

Purdue online writing lab--paraphrase: Write it in your own words. (2011). Retrieved from

Rathore, M. (2011, November 16). Professors differ on effectiveness of plagiarism software. The cornell daily sun. Retrieved from

Readers' guide to periodical literature. (2011, October 29). Retrieved from'_Guide_to_Periodical_Literature

Turnitin--about us: Newsroom. (2011). Retrieved from

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