December 2015 Site of the Month

Understanding Plagiarism Tutorial

Authors:  Larraby Fellows and Michael Braun Hamilton

Institution: Community College of Vermont

Interviewee: Larraby Fellows
Interviewer: Rebecca Maniates

Tutorial description (provided by the author):

Understanding Plagiarism is an interactive tutorial that focuses on familiarizing students and faculty with examples of unintentional plagiarism.  The tutorial covers common student pitfalls such as self-plagiarism, understanding what common knowledge is, using personal opinion, and navigating fair use.

Q: What led to the creation of the Understanding Plagiarism tutorial?

A: In 2008, our Academic Dean asked the librarians to create a tutorial about academic honesty to be used as an instructional element in the disciplinary process for “first strike” incidents of plagiarism. The library had recently created several new interactive tutorials for various research methods (using Adobe Captivate) and the Assistant Library Director and Academic Dean determined that it would benefit the institution to have a similar tutorial that the Dean’s Office could use for the disciplinary process; she felt it would help student advisors talk about plagiarism from a “teachable moment” perspective and make the overall discipline experience less negative, particularly when most of the incidents of plagiarism were unintentional.

After a few years, librarians learned that a handful of faculty were using the tutorial as an instructional tutorial in their teaching. While the content of the academic honesty tutorial was appropriate, the tone (specifically the language) suggested plagiarism has already occurred. We also realized we needed to update the tutorial so it made sense to revise the original and create a new tutorial which faculty could use to help students avoid plagiarism in the first place: that became the Understanding Plagiarism tutorial.

Q: Who was involved in the creation of the tutorial? What was everyone’s role?

A: All of the Community College of Vermont librarians had a brainstorming meeting to come up with the basic content and the topics that should be included. I then created an outline of those, found images from our institutional repository (provided by our Marketing Department), created images for the more specific elements (like “proofreading”), and wrote the content. Our Web Design Librarian, Michael Braun Hamilton, created the menus and overall architecture for the tutorial and worked out the quizzing elements (such as buttons) and also helped with layout and formatting.

The Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College share a library and library services so we also wanted to design a tutorial that worked for their students.  A duplicate of the tutorial was created for Vermont Tech as well, since links for academic support would need to go to institutionally specific pages.

Q: Did you collaborate with any stakeholders outside the library as you developed the tutorial?

A: We had lots of detailed input from the Academic Dean on both the revised Avoiding Plagiarism tutorial (the one associated with the disciplinary procedure) and the Understanding Plagiarism tutorial. We were asked to present both at a meeting of the Academic Council which is made up of program committee chairs and faculty members (positions that are similar to department heads). We also worked with our Marketing Department to get high-resolution images of our own students that could be used.

Q: Who is the intended audience, and what is the primary intended use of Understanding Plagiarism Tutorial? Is it integrated into classes, workshops, assignments, etc.?

A: The intended audience is first and second year students. The English Composition class is an obvious fit for the content so we targeted the Arts, Communication, and Humanities Committee to get the word out to faculty about this new tool. We also incorporated a link to Understanding Plagiarism in our list of optional library tutorials that faculty can add to their Moodle course.

Librarians do not assign or guide students through the tutorial in library instruction sessions. We have incorporated the tutorial within a customizable package of library resources and tutorials that faculty may also select for easy integration into their course page, whether they teach online or in-person.

Q: Are there existing video tutorials on the web that inspired you? If so, which ones?

A: I intentionally didn’t watch other institutions’ videos or tutorials because I am so familiar with the basic content we wanted to include. I find that when I start viewing what other schools have done, it’s hard to create original content.

Q: What technologies do you utilize for this tutorial? Why did you choose them?

A: The tutorial is built in Joomla, an open-source content management system (CMS). Joomla was chosen because the library was already using it as a platform for other web resources, but we made significant use of the Joomla menu system to sequence pages and generate the navigation menu.

The content is basic HTML/CSS, with JQuery used for interactive elements (quizzes, etc.)

Q: From planning to launch, how long did it take to complete this project? Was it more or less time than you originally had planned?

A: It took approximately six months, which is longer than our other tutorials took. I was working on both the Academic Honesty tutorial and the Understanding Plagiarism tutorial at the same time to make sure the content was aligned but not duplicated (or at least duplicated in a way that made sense and used the same language or concept). The feedback from various stakeholders meant a longer timeline but it was integral for the tutorial.

Q: Is the Understanding Plagiarism tutorial related to any of your other tutorials (e.g., Research Basics or TILT)?

A: All of our tutorials are created with the same branding, terminology and often images to give the sense that they are all part of the same collection. We intentionally use the same color schemes and font and have the same person (myself) write the content so the tone and language is similar in all of them. Conceptually, Understanding Plagiarism can be used in combination with any and all of our tutorials or used completely on its own.

Q: Can you tell us more about the Library’s relationship with eTutoring, the CCV Learning Center and the CCV Writing Center?  In particular, do you collaborate on projects like Understanding Plagiarism if there is a need identified through student interactions?

A: The Hartness Library serves all Community College and Vermont Technical College students. The library is on the Vermont Technical College campus and has a full staff to serve Vermont Tech and all 12 CCV academic centers; there are also three CCV-specific librarians (including our Assistant Director) who work at the Community College administrative office in central Vermont and a CCV librarian who works at the largest CCV location in Winooski, VT.

Each Community College location has a Learning Center where students get face to face help from faculty members who work in Learning Centers and peer (student) tutors. They can get basic library instruction, foundational math skills, and writing help at Learning Centers. This means CCV librarians try to provide as much training for Learning Center staff as possible. We don’t formally collaborate with Learning Center staff for library tutorials or instructional materials, though we do often get feedback during our workshops and instruction sessions with them.

The CCV Writing Center is a collection of web-based resources and is not staffed. eTutoring is an online service provided by CCV faculty and faculty from other colleges in the Northeast which makes any collaboration hit or miss. eTutors who are associated with CCV may know to send students to the library for help finding sources, but we don’t have a formal training session or relationship with eTutors and they don’t provide any input for library tutorials.

Q: Were there any best practices and/or accessibility guidelines you tried to follow while creating this tutorial?

A: We strive to follow W3C web standards as well as accessibility guidelines (Section 508, WCAG) in all our online resources.  During the development process we test our sites using the WC3 validator (, as well as the WAVE accessibility evaluation tool (

Q: Did you encounter any difficulties or unexpected challenges along the way?

A: One of the challenges was finding images that could be used without permission. Even though the purpose of the tutorial is to reinforce the idea of citation and using information responsibly, I didn’t want the screen to be cluttered with citations for images, if I could help it. That meant creating many images myself using my smartphone!

Q: Have you assessed the effectiveness of the tutorial in meeting your established objectives/goals?

A: Our objective for this tutorial was to provide faculty with a low-stakes instructional tutorial which students could use to learn about basic pitfalls which are common at the undergraduate level. It has been effective in deterring faculty from using the Academic Honesty tutorial which was part of the disciplinary process.

Q: How have you been promoting Understanding Plagiarism to your students and faculty?

A: As with most of our instructional tools, we highlight it at faculty workshops and direct faculty to it on an as-needed basis. We have also included it in our list of tutorials that are available to link to from a library content block in Moodle. This is part of our new initiative called Library in Moodle, or LIM, which you can see here.

We have recently been working with the college’s Faculty Advisory Committee on Technology to promote all of our Moodle-based library tools and instructional materials. While none of our materials are Moodle-dependent, we find that they are best adopted and utilized when linked to from specific classes and made part of specific assignments.

Q: Have users provided any feedback?

A: The faculty members who have used this have all provided positive feedback. There was actually some surprise about the “self-plagiarism” concept and it served as a good teachable moment for one instructor who didn’t know this was an issue. Some faculty members want there to be more of a “high stakes” element, meaning a quiz for class credit or a required pass/fail. We may eventually develop a Moodle-based quiz that can be imported, though there isn’t a big demand for that at this point.

December 2015 Site of the Month