Studies estimate that between 50 and 80% of college students plagiarize at some point in their academic careers. Widespread plagiarism has helped spur the creation of services like Turnitin (currently subscribed to at St. John’s), which compares student papers with other student papers, web sites, and periodical articles, and highlights unoriginal material. St. John’s has subscribed to Turnitin since 2005.

While Turnitin can play an important role in a broader anti-plagiarism strategy, studies show that a large proportion of plagiarism is unintentional and results from inadequate knowledge rather than willful misconduct. To reduce unintentional (and probably the most common) forms of plagiarism, educators should therefore focus as much on educating students on how to avoid plagiarism as on imposing penalties after the fact.

One study in particular strongly suggests that plagiarism can be reduced through education. At the University of West Florida, Psychology Professor Ronald W. Belter and Communications Professor Athena du Pre developed an online module on academic integrity, which each student in the abnormal psychology course was required to complete with 100% accuracy prior to the first test of the semester. Belter and du Pré found that only 6.5% of students who completed the module committed plagiarism in the written assignment, compared with 25.8% among students who did not complete the module.

Clearly, education will not end all forms of plagiarism, especially among those who are determined not to play by the rules. Education is, however, a good means of keeping the honest student honest, especially when used in conjunction with services like Turnitin.

For helpful information about plagiarism that you can share with your students, and to set up a Turnitin account, go to http://stjohns.campusguides.com/citing.

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