Plagiarism is a hot button issue in many areas – publishing, the internet, etc., and there are few topics in the field of education that provoke quite as much outrage. Education is about fresh ideas and independent, authentic points of view from both the perspective of the educator and the student. For online students working toward a master’s degree or bachelor’s degree, this may not be news, but it also might not be utterly obvious: working via the Internet makes it far easier to plagiarize work, whether intended or not.
Avoiding plagiarism for the online learner requires organization, discipline and some common sense. Just because someone has posted their work online, that doesn’t mean it’s up for grabs. Every word, image, and frame of video posted on the Internet belongs to someone. Using images and/or text and passing it off as your own is not only unethical, in some cases it is also illegal. Every student must be aware of what they are using, reusing, and attributing (or not) accidents are possible, if methods are not put in place as preventative measures. From the time you sign up for your online education to the time you accept your education master’s degree, and into your time working in the classroom, it’s important to re-think some of your previous tried-and-true study practices.
One organizational method you can use is folders. Create the folders you will be using and keep them on your virtual desktop for easy access. One folder can be labeled “Notes” and used for text that has been copied and pasted from the Internet. Some students open a word document and paste in text for various sources, and include the urls to be able to find the source material again, if needed to quote from. Text taken from the Internet, if quoted or used verbatim, must be sourced in the same way sources are cited from books and periodicals. Another folder can be labeled “Ideas” for concepts that strike you as you are researching. Keep a third folder, maybe marked “My Work,” for your own unique writing.
To avoid the dangers of plagiarism, students also often establish personalized online learning standards for themselves. For example, decide ahead of time, before even embarking on a paper, that text will never be lifted directly from the Internet unless it is to be quoted, sourced, or footnoted. All text is to be put in your own words in your folders, before any writing is even started. The first step is to decide where you draw your own lines, and then hold yourself too them.
Online education can, at times, feel as if you are working in a vacuum, but there are many feedback loops and simple systems you can put in place. The multiple tracking programs now used by many colleges, universities and companies that can easily detect plagiarism means that online students are not alone. There are plenty of eyes on the Internet, not only protecting intellectual property, but making sure that online students are staying true to the definition of education.