May 2009 SOM

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June 2009 Site of the Month

All About Plagiarism tutorial

Authors: Matt Lisle and Meghan Sitar
Institution: University of Texas Libraries

Interview with:Meghan Sitar and (where noted) Matt Lisle

Interviewer: Duffy Tweedy

Tutorial Description:The All About Plagiarism tutorial helps students to better understand what constitutes plagiarism, the consequences of plagiarizing, and strategies for avoiding plagiarism in their own work. Six short modules incorporate videos and interactive elements to promote active learning. Each module can be embedded into a course website and a quiz is available for instructors to upload into Blackboard. The tutorial also displays an RSS feed highlighting plagiarism in the news.

Q. What was the impetus for developing a tutorial on plagiarism? If there was a need for some kind of plagiarism education/prevention product, were other formats (e.g., handouts, workshops, lectures) considered?

A. The Libraries have been collaborating with the Undergraduate Writing Center on a drop-in library workshop designed for students about avoiding plagiarism. The workshop was developed knowing that students are unsure of what plagiarism is, what it looks like, how to avoid it, and where to get help. We wanted to provide students with an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the issue and ask questions. The workshop was popular when we offered it each semester and we frequently had requests for the materials provided during that session from people who were unable to attend. The session attracted not just students, but also faculty and staff who had questions about avoiding plagiarism in their own work.
At the same time we also began working with the Students for Academic Integrity Committee, the First-year Interest Group (FIGs) program, and Student Judicial Services on developing a plagiarism prevention program. This program would be delivered through the FIGs by the peer mentors assigned to each group. With the popularity of the workshop and the need to create additional materials to support the FIGs initiative, we decided it would be a good time to create a tutorial that could be used across campus by anyone who needed it. The content of the tutorial was drawn from the workshop.

Q. You have only yourself and two other people listed in the credits, all from the library. How did this team come together?

A. I work in Library Instruction Services (LIS) and Matt works in Technology Integration Services (TIS), which is a unit that supports web development, usability, and instructional design across the Libraries. Matt is our Instructional Designer and has collaborated with LIS on numerous projects. I provided the workshop content that I had developed working with an Assistant Director of the Undergraduate Writing Center, and Matt was able to look at that content and immediately see how it could be transformed into the smaller, interactive pieces that make up the tutorial. As head of Library Instruction Services, Michele Ostrow provided invaluable feedback throughout the design process.

Q. What was your project timeline? When did you start this project and how long did it take?

A. We began work on the tutorial at the beginning of the summer of 2008 and it was completed in October 2008.

Q. Are you able to gather statistics on usage of this tutorial? Can you gather statistics on usage for individual modules?

A. We are able to determine the number of unique page views. Since its launch, the tutorial has been accessed by 1600 unique visitors. However, we cannot determine the usage of the individual, embeddable modules.

Q. This tutorial can be used as a Blackboard test by instructors, and individual modules can be easily embedded into other web pages. Do you know how popular these options are?

A. We do provide a quiz that can be uploaded to Blackboard and used by instructors who want to require the tutorial in their courses.
While we don’t have statistics about its use by faculty, we do have numerous anecdotes from individual faculty and particular programs that have assigned it. For example, a number of faculty who are teaching in our new undergraduate core curriculum are assigning it at the beginning of the semester in the first-year Signature Courses that they teach. We’ve also seen it used in an introductory business course, and it’s frequently used by Student Judicial Services as a tool when they’re working with students who have been accused of academic dishonesty.

Q. Did you foresee any of these uses?

A. We anticipated that the tutorial would be used by Student Judicial Services and the Signature Courses. Student Judicial Services had contacted us about sending students to the workshops and had been looking for other tools to educate students about academic dishonesty. Many of the Signature Courses are writing-intensive, interdisciplinary classes taught by professors from across academic departments. Because of that we suspected that the program might welcome a tool that addressed plagiarism outside of particular disciplines, especially a tool with a first-year audience in mind.

Q. Coming from such a small group, the tutorial has a remarkable variety of styles and approaches to the subject. The Consequences of Plagiarism video, for instance, couldn't be more different from the Note-taking video. How did the creative design process work, in terms of deciding how a particular module would look?

A. Once Matt suggested a modular design, we decided to structure each part in the way that worked best for that content. We jokingly referred to the design concept as the “plagiarism busy box,” recalling the baby toys that promote engagement by providing different structures for content and interaction. We created placeholders for each of the six objects and then worked on each one, allowing the content of each part to guide the creative process.
The Consequences of Plagiarism video took on a pretty straightforward narrative structure since the goal was to tell a few stories and demonstrate the results of plagiarism in each case. With the note-taking module, we struggled at first with how to visually present the strategies we wanted to describe. Matt did a great job of taking the script I provided and pairing useful illustrations to both clarify the words in the narration and engage multiple learning styles.

Q. You say that "The content of the tutorial was drawn from the workshop." Were there difficulties in taking classroom content and adapting it to an online, interactive format?

A. Some of the content that we try to keep conversational during the workshop, such as defining plagiarism and the consequences of plagiarism, was a little difficult to fit into the online version at first. We tried a few different formats for each module before discovering the solution that worked best at both presenting the content and promoting the kind of interaction we were able to achieve in the workshop.

Q. Has this tutorial taken the place of the workshop on plagiarism prevention? If not, how do the workshop and the tutorial complement each other?

A. We still offer the workshop since we know an online tutorial isn’t the best way for everyone to learn. The tutorial provides instructors on campus with a tool that they can use in their classrooms without requiring students to attend the workshop, which is only offered once or twice a semester. We promote the tutorial at the end of the workshop as a takeaway that can be shared by attendees with their peers, whether they’re faculty, students, or staff.

Q. Has the tutorial had an impact on the demand for classroom plagiarism instruction, or the frequency of your workshop offerings?

A. We’re still offering the workshop once or twice a semester, the same frequency as in the past. Since the workshop is really only offered as a part of our drop-in workshop program and has never been something that’s been in demand outside of that program, the tutorial hasn’t had an impact on that form of instruction.
The tutorial did provide a solution to how we would work with the Senate of College Councils to offer plagiarism prevention instruction to students in the First-year Interest Groups (FIGs). Initial suggestions to offer more classroom instruction options for this large group of students immediately prompted us to develop this online tool as well as other materials that the peer mentors for the FIGs could use with their students. We would never have been able to fulfill the instruction needs of a group that large with the small number of librarians in Library Instruction Services.

Q. Is the current version of the tutorial largely unchanged from its debut? I'm wondering if there were any technical problems when it first came up, as well as any content or design changes that you effected after it went online.

A. It is unchanged. We haven’t seen any technical problems or changes in the content that have required further updates.

Q. Do you have any plans to change or update the tutorial?

A. I think that eventually, we may want to update the examples in the Consequences of Plagiarism video. Similarly, we’ll want to stay on top of changes to any of the additional resources that we provide through the Links tab. Beyond those changes, I don’t expect to do any major updates in the near future.

Q. How have you publicized this tutorial?

A. We’ve promoted the tutorial a number of ways. Once it was launched, we emailed offices on campus that we had worked with on plagiarism and academic integrity issues in the past, such as the Undergraduate Writing Center, the International Office, and Student Judicial Services (SJS). SJS now features the tutorial as a spotlight item on their website. We offer a class on preventing and detecting plagiarism for graduate student instructors through a program coordinated by the Division of Instruction Innovation and Assessment. The tutorial is promoted through that class as a tool for those students to use in their teaching. In our work with the new undergraduate core curriculum, we’ve promoted the tool to faculty, teaching assistants, and peer mentors connected to the program as a way to incorporate the topic into these first-year courses. We’ve also incorporated the tutorial into the plagiarism training materials we’ve provided to First-year Interest Group peer mentors.
Upon its launch, the tutorial was introduced to the three main student government groups on campus and they have done additional promotion for it through some of their academic integrity initiatives. It is also featured in a revolving spotlight on the Libraries home page.

Q. Did you conduct usability testing, and if so, what was the result?

A. Matt: We asked our user experience colleague, Jade Anderson, to review the accessibility of the tutorial and perform a heuristic evaluation, a low-cost expert review based on usability rules of thumb. Jade is an information architect with a library science background whose responsibilities include information design, integration of accessibility, and user testing for the Libraries. She works with me in Technology Integration Services.
Her findings were that the tool was well-organized and appropriate for the identified audience, and that the modular nature worked well to make it clear and easy to understand. The tool was navigable via keyboard and the video transcripts ensured that hearing-impaired users could access all the content. She was also looking for consistency in labeling, correct pop-up message style, and links and buttons that were styled to be clearly clickable. She suggested minor changes, such as aligning the instructional text to the left to improve readability.

Q. The "Plagiarism in the News" section is interesting. What was the purpose behind it, and how does it work?

A. Matt: That section was created using the Google News Search widget at To implement the widget, we had to enter a search expression into the wizard and use the generated code. Our search expression is “Academic Plagiarism”. It occasionally turns up odd results that do not fit in with the tutorial, but the large majority of news results are very relevant. By using this widget, the tutorial is constantly updated with the latest news stories about plagiarism with minimal effort on our part.

Q. What software was used to create the various modules?

A. Matt: The interactive quiz modules are created using Adobe Captivate. The videos were edited with Windows Movie Maker and are presented using the JW Flash player

Q. Did you encounter any unexpected technical problems during development, and if so, how did you solve them?

A. Matt: We created a JavaScript based interaction where the user was challenged to paraphrase a paragraph effectively. As you typed, it gave feedback based on how well you restated the content in your own words. However, it proved too difficult to get reliable feedback, so we decided to leave this module out of the tutorial.

Q. Are there any last comments you’d like to make?

A. We’re both honored to have the tutorial included in PRIMO and would be happy to provide additional information to anyone working on a similar project.

June 2009 PRIMO Site of the Month