What do we mean by information ethics? The short answer is: it’s the ethical use of information. The long answer is a bit more complex. Joan M. Reitz, in her Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science, defines it as: “The branch of ethics that focuses on the relationship between the creation, organization, dissemination, and use of information, and the ethical standards and moral codes governing human conduct in society.” (http://www.abc-clio.com/ODLIS/odlis_i.aspx)*
For students this means dealing with issues such as plagiarism, falsification, and intellectual property rights. This post will cover cheating, the next post will look at intellectual property rights.
The Weber State University Student Honor Code (6.22.IV.30.2) details what the university considers unethical and what the results will be for students who exhibit such behaviors. All students are responsible for knowing what to avoid. Ignorance is not considered an acceptable excuse.
What do you need to know? The basic concepts relating to information ethics so you won’t accidentally do something that’s considered academic dishonesty. If you do it on purpose – that’s on you. For those of you who might be wavering, keep in mind that while it’s easier to cheat these days, it’s even easier to catch someone cheating.
Plagiarism – this is a term that covers several different types of cheating. Basically, it means claiming someone else’s work as your own. There are three important types:
- Direct plagiarism – this is what most people think about when they hear the word plagiarism. It means copying someone else’s work and claiming it as your own.
- Accidental or unintentional plagiarism – there are several ways you can plagiarize accidentally. These days, the most common type of accidental plagiarism is when you give credit properly, but your source has plagiarized the information . This happens when you use non-academic web sources (and it’s why you’re told to avoid them.) Not giving proper credit and paraphrasing that are too close to the original are other ways people plagiarize accidentally. I strongly advise you to avoid paraphrases – this is where most people have a problem. Either do a direct quote or summarize. Give credit to the author either way.
- Self-plagiarism is a related concept. This is when you use part or all of a paper (or other assignment) that you did previously for a current assignment without indicating that you’re using previous work. You can quote small sections (make sure to give yourself credit); however using long passages or giving a previously written paper a new title and re-submitting it are both considered cheating.
Even if you plagiarize accidentally, it’s still considered plagiarism and there are consequences if you get caught. As I said above, ignorance is not considered an excuse.
Falsification – giving information that is false in some way. The most common academic falsification is: you can’t remember exactly where you found a quote. The paper is due in one hour. You guess and do a citation based on your guess. You are wrong. You’ve just committed falsification (also called misattribution.) Falsification also includes activities such as falsifying data, making up sources and the like.
How do I deal with students who plagiarize?
First time: you lose credit for the question and cannot revise. I warn you about penalties if it happens again.
Second time: in same assignment –
If I think it’s accidental (for example: you confuse two citations but the rest looks good) – you lose points and can’t revise.
If I think it was done on purpose (it’s an exact copy of a web source) – you fail the assignment and I report you to the Dean of Students. (NOTE: the Dean of Students keeps a database of people who have been caught plagiarizing, cheating, etc. Multiple incidents might result in academic probation or other penalties.)
Second time – different assignment – you fail the course, I report you to the Dean of Students.
The web makes it much easier to plagiarize either accidentally or on purpose. It also makes it much easier for instructors to catch you.
How do you avoid cheating?
- Make the decision to do your own work.
- Keep track of your research.
- Avoid paraphrasing – it is very difficult to paraphrase without plagiarizing. Summarize or use a direct quotation instead.
- Be very careful when you use non-academic sources on the web.
- Give credit properly (we’ll look at this in the section on giving credit)
*I got the reference to this definition from the Wikipedia article on Information Ethics. Finding useful sources is one of the ways you can use Wikipedia for academic assignments.