Plagiarism Due to Misunderstanding: Online Instructor Perceptions

Scott Greenberger, Rick Holbeck, John Steele, Thomas Dyer


Plagiarism is an ongoing problem in higher education. This problem exists in both online and face-to-face modalities. The literature indicates that there are three ways higher education institutions define plagiarism, which includes theft, deception, and misunderstanding. Plagiarism due to misunderstanding has received less attention in the literature. In addition, research has shown that there are at least three different categories of misunderstanding, which include cultural, generational, and academic enculturation factors. In this study, a focus group of 14 online full-time instructors participated in discussing perceptions of plagiarism due to misunderstanding. The results show that instructors identified two primary causes of this kind of plagiarism, which were poor paraphrasing and incorrect citing of academic sources. In addition, the results showed that there were three primary approaches taken to address such cases, which were coaching, simply allowing the student to rewrite the assignment with limited feedback, and referring the student to a plagiarism tutorial. The findings indicate that online instructors may focus more on academic enculturation issues such as poor paraphrasing and incorrect citation and less on cultural and generational factors that may lead to unintentional plagiarism. Lastly, as part of a reflective critique, and in preparation for a pilot study, the authors constructed two vignettes as examples of cultural and generational factors that may contribute to such plagiarism.


plagiarism; online instruction; online teaching; misunderstanding

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ISSN 1527-9316