“Is It Plagiarism or Collaboration?”

pla·gia·rism (noun): the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person

col·lab·o·ra·tion (noun): a form of the intransitive verb collaborate: to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something

What is the difference between plagiarism and collaboration? According to the dictionary definitions, the difference seems almost black and white. Plagiarism is intellectual theft; one person takes and uses another person’s words or ideas without permission. Collaboration is not theft because a person gives permission to use their words and ideas.

However, what happens when one person claims plagiarism and the other claims collaboration? Or, more importantly, how can someone distinguish between plagiarism and collaboration? An article published on MindShift, “Is it Plagiarism or Collaboration” by Jennifer Carey, begins to explore these questions.

Technology has made it easier to plagiarize. Just a quick Google search, CTRL+X and CTRL+Z and poof! instant paper. And that isn’t even mentioning the access to “essay writing” sites that will write the paper for you…simply add your name to it (they guarantee it’s original!) and poof! instant paper. However, technology has made catching plagiarizers easy and efficient. Sites like turnitin.com allow submitted papers to be indexed as well as checked against a database of known published documents for similarities.

The interesting thing is that most projects in the “real world” are collaborative rather than solely individualistic. Students need to learn how to work collaboratively with one another and not just break up a large project into parts so that each person does only a small part, individually and one person makes the PowerPoint. Students need to learn (and practice!) the difference between collaboration and plagiarism.

Technology has enabled group projects to be more collaborative. Documents can stay in a central location on cloud storage sites Google Drive or Dropbox and teachers are able to see the log of who does what and when each student logged in. This reduces the chance that the work will be plagiarism because students are giving permission for their thoughts and ideas to be used in the collective document.

Can something be both collaborative and plagiarized? The group could take words from someone without giving attribution. A student’s tutor could nearly do the project for the student but only the student’s name appears on the project.

Is there a zero tolerance approach to plagiarism or is there degrees of acceptance before it crosses the line? Technology has brought this question forward and, in my opinion, it is not one that is going to be answered soon.


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