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Exploring the Perceived Spectrum of Plagiarism: a Case Study of Online Learning


Scholarship on faculty and student perceptions of plagiarism is plagued by a vast, scattered constellation of perspectives, context, and nuance. Cultural, disciplinary, and institutional subtitles, among others in how plagiarism is defined and perspectives about it tested obfuscate consensus about how students and faculty perceive and understand plagiarism and what can or should be done about those perspectives. However, there is clear consensus that understanding how students and faculty perceive plagiarism is foundational to mitigating and preventing plagiarism. This study takes up the challenge of investigating its own institution’s student and faculty perspectives on plagiarism by testing whether students and instructors differentiate between different kinds or genres of plagiarism, and measuring differences in their perception of seriousness or severity of those genres. Using a device modified from the ‘plagiarism spectrum’ published by Turnitin®, the researchers implemented a campus-wide survey of faculty and student perceptions, and analyzed the data using two different methodologies to ensure results triangulation. This study demonstrates both students and faculty clearly differentiate between kinds of plagiarism, but not on their severity. This study demonstrates both students and faculty clearly differentiate the severity between kinds of plagiarism, but not on the specific rank or order of their severity. Further, this study’s novel methodology is demonstrated as valuable for use by other academic institutions to investigate and understand their cultures of plagiarism.

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  1. iParadigm’s The plagiarism spectrum: Instructor insights into the 10 types of plagiarism (2012) claims to have utilized, “both higher and secondary education instructors to take a measure of how prevalent and problematic these [examples] of plagiarism are among their students” (p. 9) in their rankings. However, no further descriptions or details of the study’s population and sample, data collection methods, datasets, or analysis methods are provided.


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Correspondence to Valerie Denney.

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Denney, V., Dixon, Z., Gupta, A. et al. Exploring the Perceived Spectrum of Plagiarism: a Case Study of Online Learning. J Acad Ethics 19, 187–210 (2021).

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  • Academic integrity
  • Plagiarism
  • Cheating
  • Ethics
  • Turnitin
  • Survey