What Academic Honesty Means for Online Students

What Academic Honesty Means for Online Students


Online students are expected to complete their own work and follow the school’s code of conduct, which includes rules for academic honesty. What this means is that any time you post a message, submit a written assignment, or take an exam, it is expected that this is your product. To better understand academic honesty, let’s look at the most common forms of academic dishonesty that online instructors find, along with the potential consequences.


Plagiarism occurs if you use the words of an existing author without acknowledging or giving credit for that source of information. Any time that you find sources to add to your discussion board postings or written assignments, the expectation of your instructor (and your school) is that you will acknowledge the use of those sources, whether you paraphrase that information or use a direct quote.

There are two forms of plagiarism that students need to be aware of: accidental and intentional. Accidental plagiarism is the least severe form of dishonesty because it was unintentional. An example of accidental plagiarism would be a situation where you forgot to include an in-text citation within the body of the assignment, but did include your source in a reference list at the end of the paper. As an online instructor, I consider this type of plagiarism to be a teachable moment, especially for students who are new to APA guidelines or rules for working with citations.

Intentional plagiarism, on the other hand, is the most severe form of dishonesty because it is done with the purpose of deception. With intentional plagiarism, a student knowingly submits work that is not his or her own. However, this is usually caught. As mentioned in my post "How Online Instructors Evaluate Your Performance," instructors regularly use review services to monitor papers for originality. Intentional plagiarism is discovered through the plagiarism report when sentences within your paper are matched to existing sources, and more importantly, when a reference list and in-text citations are not provided. Online plagiarism review services monitor billions of Internet pages, including online paper mills, so that means that even if you buy a school paper, you’ll still likely get caught.  

But that’s not all – intentional plagiarism also includes incidents where you use information from a source and only change a few words to make it appear like you wrote it, without providing an acknowledgement or citation. Instructors may also conduct a spot check, using search engines to check phrases and sentences from your postings and assignments for originality. Keep in mind is that instructors can quickly spot plagiarized information because they know your writing ability from prior written assignments. This means that if something you turn in doesn’t sound like your writing style, your instructor will likely check it for plagiarism.
The last form of plagiarism that is identified by most online schools is self-plagiarism, or using a paper from a prior class. This is also detected by plagiarism review services because student papers are retained within the database and included in the scanning process when a paper is submitted for review.

But is there ever a time when a citation is not required? The answer is yes for cases where you’re writing a factual report that involves gathering factual information. In addition, you do not need to include a citation for anything that is considered common knowledge, such as facts, events, and people that are commonly known, along with common phrases and sayings.

Copyright Infringement
This form of dishonesty occurs if you have utilized a source that is protected with a copyright without the owner’s written consent or permission. But students can utilize a source under the Fair Use guidelines, which means you can quote or paraphrase information from that source for a class assignment, provided that you have included a citation. In addition, according to copyright laws, you cannot utilize that source in its entirety and you cannot rewrite it as your own paper.

Collusion and Cheating
Most online universities define collusion as working with someone else to help you complete your assignments. The only time that collaboration with other students is acceptable is for a group or learning team assignment. If you have any questions, be sure to clarify the instructions with your instructor. Cheating can be viewed as a much more serious form of collusion. It occurs when a student has allowed someone else to take their exam or write their assignment, or if it has been determined that a student copied another student’s exam or assignment.

Consequences of Academic Dishonesty
For most incidents of academic dishonesty, typically excluding accidental plagiarism, your instructor will notify the school and impose a penalty. In my experience, I deduct points on the basis of a formatting error for students who commit accidental plagiarism. But intentional plagiarism receives much harsher punishment, with most instructors issuing a zero for an assignment where this form of plagiarism was used. The Academic Affairs department of your school reviews all incidents and determines if further sanctions are warranted, which includes issuing a warning letter, giving you a failing grade for the course, implementing additional disciplinary actions, or making a notation within your school records.
The question then is if there are guidelines in place for academic honesty and students are aware of the code of conduct, why does academic dishonesty occur? One of the most common causes is running out of time, and during a moment of panic, using sources or information that is not your own. From my experience in working with online students, dishonesty often occurs because students are not familiar with the specifics of the school policies. This means that it’s good practice to review the rules your school has established and ask your instructor if you have any concerns or questions. Don’t risk making a mistake – be informed about academic honesty, be prepared by budgeting your time wisely, and know the rules for working with citations.

By Dr. Bruce Johnson

Photo by jscreationzs via FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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