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International Center for Academic Integrity Conference 2021 Panel Recaps Part 2 of 2

Cultural Differences and Plagiarism Detection

Christine Lee
Christine Lee
Content Manager






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The International Center for Academic Integrity held its annual conference online in March 2021, offering up research on academic integrity. It was a rich experience offering student, educator, and administrator perspectives on topics ranging from emerging trends to strategies to solution audits. We provided a recap on two panels (Contract Cheating and Proctoring) in an earlier blog post--and we want to offer recaps on two more panels.

In this post, we replay two panels that discuss methods of plagiarism prevention. One focuses on bridging cultural differences in academic integrity via an educative and supportive approach. And the other is a critical audit of existing plagiarism detection tools. Both highlight the fact that a punitive approach to plagiarism is the least effective way to uphold academic integrity.


This one is a feel-good story.

It’s important to know if your students come with a different understanding of academic integrity, or if they’re familiar with the concept at all. In a previous post, we outlined the ways in which cultural differences manifest in academic misconduct within western institutions.

Elaine Khoo’s panel, Investigating Undergraduates’ Perception of Academic Integrity and its Relationship to Their Reading-Writing Practice, focused on how to support ELL students previously unfamiliar with academic integrity. Khoo, an Associate Professor and Teaching Stream Coordinator at the University of Toronto Scarborough, focused on an academic integrity success story involving 145 undergraduates in a one-month co-curricular writing program.

This was an excellent panel for those who wanted specific insights into how to support ELL students. The need for ELL student support was made especially acute because Khoo opened with the fact that “85% of the cases of plagiarism involved students with limited Academic English proficiency” (Marshall & Gary, 2006) and “ELLs are over-represented in contract cheating” (Bretag et. al., 2019).

As a result, Khoo said, “Reactions have been increased surveillance and detection. But recently, increased empathy has pivoted towards the thinking that challenges shouldn’t be conflated with perceived lack of morality. But eurocentric values and interpretation of ELL ‘borrowing’ have been dealt with as transgressions.” What’s missing, according to Khoo, is a more supportive and educational approach.

For example, paraphrasing is challenging. Simply telling students who can’t determine the difference between text that should be paraphrased and text that contains common knowledge that they’ve not paraphrased properly is inadequate for promoting learning. Pivoting from punitive tactics towards educational approaches is most effective in helping students understand how to paraphrase properly, according to Khoo.

A punitive approach, said Khoo, is telling students, “You transgressed.” An educative approach is telling students, “Here’s how to not transgress.” Khoo promotes an “educative plus language development plus empowerment (ELDE) approach, which sends the message, ‘Let’s do risk-free practice to achieve your goals.’”

“Time and practice,” they said, is the most crucial factor. Explicit instruction, or telling students to cite sources, is not enough. “Missing is the recognition that students with limited academic language proficiency need support and feedback and practice and [it] takes time [for students to learn].”

Khoo’s approach was student-centered with no grading, no risk, and no penalty, alongside personalized support. They said this led to the “voluntary practice of academic integrity,” with “more writing and less misconduct.”

So what did that support look like? The program entailed daily 40-minute course readings and 20+ journal writing opportunities in addition to practice in summarizing, paraphrasing, in-text citation, critical thinking, referencing a list of sources, inference, and analysis. Students expanded their academic vocabulary and practiced Academic Language usage. Students were paired with instructors who conducted frequent one-on-one meetings and engaged feedback loops to guide students towards inquiry and academic integrity. Participation was entirely voluntary, and no students dropped out. (Boom).

The students, in the end, wrote anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 words a month in the program and Khoo says their feedback showed that students “appreciated the opportunity of a sustained practice and empowerment.”

Khoo demonstrates that assessment with integrity ought to occur in both directions--students should produce original work but in turn, educators ought to model integrity with supportive scaffolding and relevant instruction.

We all read about pedagogical best practices and research recommendations. And it’s always great to see that in action with excellent student learning outcomes.


Testing and Use of Support Tools for Plagiarism Detection, led by Debora Weber-Wulff and Tomáš Foltýnek, was a straightforward review of existing plagiarism checking software solutions along with the methodology utilized to reach findings. They tested fifteen systems from November 2018 to April 2019, focusing on coverage evaluation and usability.

Coverage evaluation, or how much of the known plagiarism was found, spanned eight languages and sources like Wikipedia, Open Access journals, online articles, and student theses. They also tested methods of plagiarism, like copy-paste, synonym usage, and translation.

Usability was defined by the understandability and usefulness of the software’s report. They examined each solution’s workflow (whether or not multiple documents could be uploaded, metadata requirements, any word limits, and filenames, and so on) and the ways in which results were presented (whether or not a report could be saved, downloaded, matching text was highlighted, as well as any false positives, etc).

Based on these two major points, the research found that Ouriginal and Turnitin rated highest on both coverage and usability, though Weber-Wulff made clear even the highest-ranked solutions weren’t without fault.

Weber-Wulff made recommendations based on findings. They included:

  • Employ semantic analysis (detect paraphrase and translation plagiarism)
  • Clearly identify the location and source, not just “internet source”
  • Do not require metadata
  • Distinguish false positives

They also recommended that certain sites be allocated more points--for example, that Wikipedia be allocated more points than a blog post copied from Wikipedia.

Weber-Wulff concluded by stressing that plagiarism detection is “just a tool”--and not something to wholly rely upon to deter plagiarism. Their research was published in the International Journal of Educational Technology in July, 2020 and offers more details.

In sum, plagiarism detection isn’t a complete solution to academic misconduct.

The common thread between these two panels was that punitive approaches to plagiarism alone are ineffective when compared to more educational and supportive methods of teaching and empowering students to uphold academic integrity. It’s important to sustain feedback loops and provide formative assessments that increase transparency into student learning. The best way to uphold academic integrity and student learning outcomes is via assessment design, support, and education.

And often, that support can come in the form of a coaching conversation that focuses on revision and accurate citation. Interested in learning more? Check out our webinar on Coaching Conversations on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, at 3 pm (CT). It will feature Larissa Wright-Elson, a Language Arts Curriculum Coordinator from Anchorage, Alaska. She will offer thoughtful insight and actionable suggestions on structured, coaching conversations for every type of writing need.