Week 6: Safety, Copyright, Plagiarism

Teachers regularly deal with the ethical and legal aspects of plagiarism and copyright in their work. The decisions are tough and not always clear, whether it be identifying that a student’s work contains plagiarized material and deciding what should be done about it, or making a decision about using resources you have found in digital or non-digital formats in your classroom. What is clear is that you need to try and understand what the rules are and then model good ethical behaviour for your students.

Safety is constant theme in the use of the internet with K-12 students but there are also concerns for some post-secondary and other adult education situations. Online safety can mean controlling your personal information or being able to discuss sensitive topics in a secure environment.


The Internet may make it easier for students to cheat by copying and pasting from the Web and by paying for papers. Google and software like Turnitin can also make it pretty easy to discover what students have found by searching and then tried to pass off as their own work. Most teachers have a pretty good notion of what their students are capable of, and a simple Google search for a selected phrase is often all it takes to make the plagiarism connection.

Here are some tips for identifying plagiarism in the digital age:

  • The work seems to be out of character for the student: for example, when your C+ student hands in a paper that contains no spelling errors, high-level vocabulary, and complicated ideas. But, remember, when students are in a hurry, they may even use work that is below their capability, so that is another clue to watch for.
  • There is a change in writing style midway through.
  • There are no citations, even though you require them.
  • The formatting is inconsistent: copying and pasting can result in formatting that doesn’t match and is hard to fix. Also, check for hyperlinks within the text.
  • The work is way off topic. Desperate students will often find and use information that doesn’t match the topic well.
  • There are references to information that seems outdated.

Preventing Plagiarism

The best way to prevent plagiarism by students is to discuss and model good practices related to using other people’s work and respecting intellectual property. Your classroom, department, or school must have a policy for dealing with plagiarism, and students and parents need to be made aware of that policy and the consequences of plagiarism.

Here are some tips that can help prevent plagiarism:

  • Provide and discuss examples of plagiarism. Show how the plagiarism was detected.
  • Don’t accept photocopies.
  • Have students include documentation of all steps in their work including drafts and citing references.
  • Allow students to prepare their work at home and in class, but require them to write the final product in class from time to time.
  • Show students how to find and credit materials that are freely available for reuse and explain your rules for using such materials to them. You may have some assignments that you want to be completely original and others where research, reuse, and remix is perfectly legitimate.
    Allow collaboration on some assignments.
  • Use peer review during and after the writing process.
  • Require the students to give an opinion in their paper.
  • Give students the opportunity to discuss their papers with you. Ask them what they thought they did a good job on and what they had trouble with.

Academic Honesty Lesson

University of British Columbia. Digital Tattoo. Academic Honesty.


The copyright environment for online educators in Canada is complex and difficult to navigate. The important principle to take from this week on copyright is that your use of materials as an educator serves as an example to your students. As they move into the 21st century working world they will need to communicate using digital tools. And they will need to be able to do that lawfully. Similarly, personal interactions on the internet can also be plagued by issues of appropriate use of media created by others. What is acceptable? What counts as ‘fair’? These are important questions for you as an educator.


Safety in online environments is a popular topic in the media. The approach to dealing with online environments is similar to that you would undertake with any other activity. In the past I have trained youth in rock climbing, rappelling and mountaineering, and I’ve had supervisory responsibility for lifeguard training, flight training and small ship operations. These are all potentially hazardous tasks, undertaken in unforgiving environments. But they can be safely tackled with a system for identifying and dealing with risk. The safety lesson this week will concentrate on the analysis of online environments and the development of safety plans to allow your students to learn.