e-Ethics Students - Lesson 1

Lesson #2: Academic Integrity in Online Learning

About this lesson
The content of this lesson is based on the book Online Learning: Concepts, Strategies, and Application from Nada Dabbagh and Brenda Bannan-Ritland, 2005, and also on the site The Academic Integrity Tutorial from York University

To now more about this content, consider visit the following links:


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Academic Integrity in Online Learning
What is Academic Integrity? Based on The Academic Integrity Tutorial form York University means the "adoption of of principles or standards that consistently govern how you pursue your school work"

Academic integrity means that a student has earn his degree through true accomplishment, hard work and genuine learning.

Academic integrity requires the improvement of skills to perform research, writing, and documentation. Academic integrity involves making good choices in school. Situations such borrowing other's people ideas, avoid “cheating”, and use work from previous courses involves ethical decisions.

One of the biggest problems on online environments is “cheating”. Next section provides a description of what is copyright and intellectual property.


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Copyright and Intellectual Property

According to Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland copyright and intellectual property have been used interchangeably. Intellectual property has been identified in three criteria and each one has a legal protection. The following table describe these criteria, and which law correspond to it.

CriteriaLegal protection
An author's original creation expressed in any medium, including pictorically, lexically, or recorded by digital or analog means Copyright law
A new invention that has utilityPatent Agreement
A text and/or graphic that identifies a provider of services or goods. Trademark or service mark statutes.

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Copyright Act of 1976

Based on Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland, "Copyright protects only the expression of an idea, not the idea being expressed". In educational context, not all intellectual aspects are protected by law.

According to this law, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to use, deny or grant his work. This grant can be for free or in exchange of a payment. When somebody uses a work without authorization, he is violating the federal law and committing infringement. When somebody uses a work without proper attribution is plagiarism.

One way to avoid plagiarism is to cite all the references and authors of the work being used. However, it is recommended to ask for permission to avoid committing infringement.


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Plagiarism in Online Environments

One of the great advantages of online environment is the easy access to documents. Students who enroll in online courses have skills navigating and researching in Internet. This skill provides an advantage, compared to other students, to obtain information faster. The disadvantage is that the temptation to commit plagiarism is stronger in this environment. It is easy to copy, and distribute images, text, references, etc.

One argument used to justify the use of documents is that everything that is published without copyrights can be used freely. According to the law, this is not true. When a case of plagiarism exists, it treated under fair use section. The Section 107 identifies four condition to accept the use of unauthorized use of work:

  • The purpose of character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • The effect of the use on the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

As per the origin of Fair Use, it was originally created to address the photocopying for classroom use (Section 107 of the Copyright Act). Section 110 exempted media such videotapes and audiotapes for educational use. At the time these laws were created, the online environment were not considered. It is in 2002 when TEACH (Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization) Act is written. Besides others, this law allows to:

  • Transmit of copyrighted digital media over Internet as part of an instructional course offered by a nonprofit educational organization
  • Display media as part of a class "session" within the scope of regular\“mediated instructional technology"
  • rovide copyrighted media only to students enrolled in the course and must be accessible by these students of only a limited time.

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Copyright Law and the Online Learner

Some recommendations have been provided by Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland for the students in terms of copyright protection:

  • Copyrighted materials for a project connected to their coursework ar not exempt from intellectual property law.
  • Fair use generally applies
  • Student's work published on the Internet may not be eligible for fair use exceptions
  • Follow institutional guidelines
  • It is student's responsibility to stay informed about changes in the law, interpretation, and organization's policies.

The Academic Integrity Tutorial form York University provides a guideline to instructors on how to prove plagiarism. As students, you can use the same guideline to evaluate your course work.

  • Ask yourself about the content, main points, research strategies, and sources used in the paper.
  • Use commercial or free tools to detect plagiarism such:
  • Use Internet search engines – as few as 4 to 8 words can be traced back to the original source using Google or other search engines.
  • Search library databases.