New article:”Comparative Analysis of Institutional Policy Definitions of Plagiarism: A Pan-Canadian University Study”

January 18, 2017

interchange I’m pleased to share the news with you about my latest article, published in Interchange. The title is: “Comparative Analysis of Institutional Policy Definitions of Plagiarism: A Pan-Canadian University Study”.

Here is a link to the online version of the article:

Funding for this study was provided by  the University of Calgary Werklund School of Education Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Grant.

Related post: “New project: Investigating Academic Integrity in the School of Education”


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New project: Investigating Academic Integrity in the School of Education

January 9, 2017

I’m excited to tell you about a new research project I am working on.

This project investigates how instructors, teaching assistants (TA’s) and administrators perceive and act upon cases of plagiarism or in the Werklund School of Education (WSE) at the University of Calgary. Academic dishonesty continues to present a major problem in higher education.

Research team for "Investigating Academic Integrity"

Research team for “Investigating Academic Integrity”

The WSE “Process for Reporting and Responding to Plagiarism” will be used as a tool to engage participants in focus groups and interviews to facilitate dialogue on the topic of academic integrity.

I have the privilege of working with four fabulous research assistants on this project. To the right is a photo of our research team.

Recommendations will be provided as part of the final report.

Here’s a research brief I wrote on the project:

Eaton, S. E. (2016). Investigating academic integrity in the Werklund School of Education: Process, policy and perceptions: Research Project Brief. Calgary: University of Calgary. Retrieved from

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New article:”Comparative Analysis of Institutional Policy Definitions of Plagiarism: A Pan-Canadian University Study”


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Why do we make our students write essays?

September 13, 2012

Recently a friend sent me a link to a website called I have written about services like this in an earlier blog post. This site is a regular paper mill, with a twist.

They mock the entire educational system. Here’s a screen shot from their “About Us” page:

In case you can’t read that, the juicy bits say that education is…

“a scam, a charade. Professors can only stay in business if they force students to write essays, within their disciplines, that will do nothing to contribute to their own education or edification… the system spit the professor out the same way it will spit out any student who cannot write his or her own paper on the symbolic significance of baboon mating within the confines of Gramsci’s theory of the sub-altern, or any other mundane matter you might be asked to write about. That’s the endgame – that’s why we’re here.”

That got me thinking, why do we have students write essays? Is it really because that’s how the system “spit us out” and now we are doing the same to our students? Well, for some instructors, there may be an element of truth there. Some academics and teachers think that things should be done the way they have always been done because that it the tradition.

But really, that’s not good enough.

To me, we don’t ask students to write papers because that’s part of the “scam” of the system, or because our students have to go through what we went through in order to be initiated into the hallowed halls of the university.

We ask students to write papers so they can learn how to write. The topic and content areas are secondary. Knowing how to write cogently and construct a written report that has elements like an introduction, a body and a conclusion is a useful skill to know. It is also useful to know how to construct sentences, form an argument and persuade a reader.

Why? Because when you leave school and get a real job, you may have to write something. A report. A letter. A policy. Whatever. You may need to convince someone that you actually know what you are talking about. You may need to show someone (your boss, for example?) you can string together ideas with some semblance of logic and coherency.

I did a post a while back on the International Adult Literacy Skills Survey that showed that 2% of Canadian-born university graduates scored at the lowest levels of prose literacy. In other words, 2% of folks who are born in this country and who make it through University can barely identify or decode words and numbers. Most seven-year olds can do that. (Check out this post on what the literacy levels of IALSS are.)

If we are focussing on having students write on a particular subject, we are missing the mark. (Pardon the pun). Not only is it more about learning to write well than it is about expounding on any given subject, it is also about learning to take pride in your own work and creation. It is about going through the entire process of creating a piece of research writing from beginning to end.

It’s also not about a grade. If the focus is just on getting a good grade and not on learning, heck, why wouldn’t students use these services?

What would happen if we said to our students, “OK, folks, your grade is based on learning, not just on production, or on completing an inane assignment. Show me what you’ve learned, how you’ve learned and it and why you think it has any relevance at all to the real world.”

How would that change what we do as teachers?

How would it change our students’ view of their assignments?

We don’t make our students write papers so they can learn about “the symbolic significance of baboon mating within the confines of Gramsci’s theory of the sub-altern”. We have students write papers so they can learn the art and craft of writing and more importantly, to “learn about learning” and to learn about themselves as students and human beings. Hopefully they grow and expand their own minds in the process.

If students’ minds aren’t expanding, we are not doing our job.

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5 clues your students are plagiarizing

June 25, 2012

As a teacher, it breaks your heart to discover that a student has copied another’s original work word for word. But as educators, we need to know how to tell if students are plagiarizing. Here are some telltale signs that maybe your student’s work isn’t their own:

1. Writing varys dramatically in tone and style

If one paragraph contains short, choppy sentences with simple words and the next contains long, complex sentences with multiple subordinate clauses, this may indicate that your student has cut and pasted someone else’s work.

2. Highly unusual vocabulary

If your student talks like Beavis in class, but hands in a paper that woud put the British Prime Minister’s vocabulary to shame, you may want to ask yourself why. A word or phrase seems to pop up out of nowhere that is highly theoretical, sounds like jargon or is very obscure, this could be a red flag that it is not your student’s original work.

3. No clear topic, research question or argument

A paper starts with a clearly articulated topic. If you receive a paper that seems like a bunch of paragraphs loosely linked together under a vague theme such as “world peace”, this could indicate that your student has copied others work without clearly developing his or her own clear topic or research question.

4. Missing references

If a student has cited previous studies in the body of his or her paper, but has not put them in the list of references at the end, it could be a simple oversight. It could also mean that they have cut and pasted someone else’s research work right into their own paper and have failed to cite the original research themselves.

One trick I use is to cross-reference all citations the student has noted in the body of their paper with their bibliography or list of references at the end of their paper. I make a list of any in-text citations that are missing from the bibliography. The more missing references there are, the more cause for concern there may be.

5. Data or statistics that seem out of place

If you are reading along and suddenly find yourself confronted by an entire paragraph of data or statistics that seem to have popped up out of nowhere, there is a chance that your student may have “parachuted” in a paragraph or two of someone else’s work in order to make their own paper appear more scholarly than it really is.

It is important for us to teach students how to reference and cite others’ work propertly. Even if the student attempts to cite others’ work properly, but makes some mistakes in referencing, this is still better than cutting and pasting without acknowledging that the work was originally done by someone else.

There is no single way to tell if a student has plagiarized or not. These are simply a few “symptoms” that may lead you to dig deeper. Before accusing a student of plagiarism, it is important to find the original source of the information and document it.

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Success Strategy for Students: How to Cite Class Notes

June 20, 2011

During the course I taught in Effective Learning at the university, the students had to do group presentations. One group, chose to present on time management. As part of their presentation, they drew a diagram on the board that I recognized immediately. At the end of their presentation, I asked where the diagram came from. The students looked at me blankly.

“Where did you get that diagram?” I repeated.

One of the students answered, “One of my profs talked about it in class and drew it on the board.”

“Did the prof tell you where it came from?” I probed.

“I can’t remember.”

“Well, I can tell you where it came from. It’s from Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

As it turned out, none of the students had read the book. But for anyone who is familiar with Covey’s work, the diagram is easily recognizable. Covey talks about diving tasks by their importance and their urgency and then using those criteria to determine which tasks need to be done and in which order.

In case you’re curious, this is the diagram they drew on time management:

We had talked previously in class about plagiarism, but it never occurred to them that informal sources of information could be plagiarized. We had a discussion about always, always, always citing sources, even if they are informal sources, such as class notes. There are various schools of thought on whether students should cite class notes. This is a perfect example of why they should. In this case, the student couldn’t remember if the prof cited the original diagram. If she’d cited her class notes, she would at least have been showing the intent to give credit where it is due.

Here’s a quick, 3-page resource handout that I made for my students on how to cite class notes properly. It contains a brief explanation of how to cite class notes, and some examples, too.

Feel free to share it with your own students:

View this document on Scribd


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Outsourcing is the new plagiarism: What teachers need to know

September 28, 2010

In a recent post, I gave some resources for teachers to find out if their students are plagiarizing. I’ll be blunt though. Plagiarizing is soooo 20th century! (Yawn.)

Some students make a game of staying one step ahead of “the system”. In the 21st century, the really clever cheaters aren’t plagiarizing, they’re outsourcing their assignments. It’s kind of like getting your Mom, Dad or best friend to do your homework for you, only more sophisticated. Any student with a credit card  can do it.

(And if you think you’re safe because your students are too young to have credit cards of your own? Think again. The pre-paid credit card Aunt Mabel gave to little Johnny last Christmas will work just fine, thanks very much.)

So, how do they do it?

There are Internet services out there who sole purpose is to match those who provide freelance or outsourced services with those who need them. (I won’t list them here, as that might be considered unethical for someone who is employed as a part-time university faculty member.) Legitimate small business owners will use such services to find virtual assistants, transcribers, typists, graphic designers, web designer and other providers of easily outsourced work. Such sites post all kinds of disclaimers about what type of work is or isn’t allowed to be offered or solicited. That doesn’t stop people from plainly saying what services they want or will provide.

For someone who lives in a developed country, outsourcing your work to India, the Philippines or other countries where workers get paid much less has become the norm in some businesses. Leaving the ethics and politics of globalization aside, the key message here is that it’s not just companies who are outsourcing work any more. Students are, too.

I recently saw an ad that looked something like this:

“Assignment: Write a 10-page history paper for a 300-level university course on the military strategies employed during the American Civil War. The paper must be ten double-spaced pages, written in Times New Roman, 12-point font with one-inch margins. At least 15 references are needed and citations are required in APA format. Must be written in perfect English, spell-checked and grammar-checked. Due: three weeks from the posting date of this ad.”

Suppliers bid on the project. At the time I saw the ad, bids had come in from a variety of countries and hovered around $30 USD. India seemed to be a popular country for outsourced academic papers, it seems. But suppliers from a variety of other countries were evident, too. Some bidders stated that they had PhDs themselves and would guarantee a well-written paper. It is safe to say that those who bid on such projects are  likely highly educated, fluent in academic English and think that $30 USD is worth the effort.

This is all done, of course, using anonymous e-mail addresses that can’t be traced back to the student. The work is all done on line. It’s not plagiarized. Rather, it is custom-written by an outsourced ghost writer thousands of miles away.

The paper is e-mailed to the student by the supplier, making all the plagiarism detectors that I mentioned in the previous post completely irrelevant. Those papers can never be found on the Internet. They haven’t been purchased by a service who has a bank of papers on numerous topics, ready to be shipped out to buyers. Instead, outsourced papers are specifically written according to the exact criteria given by the student (who re-iterates what his or her instructor has told him).

Let’s do the math:

A student works at a local pizza take-out and makes $15 per hour. If we take taxes and other payroll deductions into account, that students would have to work for about three hours – or maximum, four hours – to earn about $30 to pay the outsourced paper writer.

How long would it take him to write his own paper? At least 10 hours, but more likely 12 or 15, if he writes an excellent paper that merits an A grade.

Simple economics shows that the student benefits financially from outsourcing his paper. The supplier to whom the paper is outsourced benefits, as he is making a decent wage in comparison to whatever he or she might earn in a comparable time period in their local currency. Who loses? Well, the student loses out on the opportunity to learn research techniques and skills involved in writing a paper, of course. But mostly, it’s the current academic system and those who work in it who lose. The ideals that they hold regarding ethics, integrity and academic honour are thrown out the window.

Once the student has established a relationship with his outsourced ghost writer, he can contract the same academic-on-demand to write all his papers for the same course, thus ensuring that there is consistency in the tone, writing style and research skills of all his assignments.

My guess is that academic papers will become a thing of the past. Only those who sincerely enjoy research and the process of learning will be encouraged — or perhaps even allowed — to undertake academic research. Rather than demanding that students produce papers for marks, we may reserve the right to teach advanced research skills to those who are willing to commit to and engage in the entire process.

The question isn’t “How do we stop our students from plagiarizing or outsourcing?” but rather, “How do we teach students the value, joy and benefit of learning for themselves?”

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Are your students plagiarizing? Here’s how you find out

September 26, 2010

Plagiarism is a hot topic among educators today. The Internet has revolutionized how students research, find and relate to information. Plagiarism used to consist of copying word for word from books. Nowadays a few simple key strokes will cut and paste information from any website into a student’s papers.

There are a number of ways teachers can figure out if their students are plagiarizing. There are a number of websites and programs that will help you do just that. You type in a portion of your student’s paper and run it through a plagiarism checker to see if those words appear elsewhere on the Internet. If they do, your student may have plagiarized. Check out these free online resources:

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