Understanding Netiquette and Ethical Behavior
In This Chapter ▶ Employing netiquette ▶ Practicing ethics ▶ Writing without plagiarizing Remember the Robert Fulghum book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? In it, he states some of the simple rules from childhood, including to play fair and not take things that aren’t yours. In a nutshell, that’s what this chapter is about! Online education should be a place where students are fair to one another and honest in their interactions. We look at how this plays out digitally and what tools you can use to help you stay true to your word.
Defining and Using Netiquette Netiquette is computerese for a set of rules or standards people follow to keep the online environment pleasant and safe. The word combines etiquette with the Internet, and, just like its parent definition of etiquette, netiquette is all about communicating respectfully and politely and avoiding stereotyping.
Most good instructors convey their interpretation of netiquette along with expectations for its use in the early days of the course. You may see a list of “do’s and don’ts” or a policy statement, and this may be referenced in the syllabus (a document we describe in Chapter 8). Setting those ground rules early can prevent misunderstandings and hurt feelings later.
Communicating politely and respectfully What makes discussion board postings, e-mails, and instant messages polite? A few standard conventions work on all communication fronts, no matter the audience (Chapters 10 and 14 feature additional guidelines for discussion posts):
✓ Always fill in the subject line for discussion postings and e-mails. Mystery messages make people nervous. ✓ Address the reader by name, if possible. Who doesn’t love reading their name in print, and how else will others know you’re talking to them? ✓ Make sure you sign your name at the end of your posting. Own up to whatever you write. ✓ Follow basic writing conventions and don’t mix popular text-message lingo with your academic work. Not only is texting inappropriate for scholarly work, but many in your class will not understand the code. ✓ Don’t type in all caps! It’s the equivalent of shouting. ✓ Okay, if you need to add emphasis, you can do it this way (by adding asterisks before and after the text you want to emphasize) or use allcaps occasionally. ✓ Too much colored font or busy images can detract from your message. Keep the look of your postings, e-mails, and messages simple and clean. ✓ It goes without saying that name-calling is out. Diplomacy is in. If you disagree with something, say “I politely disagree and here is why. . . .” ✓ “Please,” “thank you,” and other courtesies work really well online! ✓ Those little emoticons like smiley faces and winks can be used judiciously in replies to one another. However, be sure you’re not punctuating every sentence with an emoticon; a little goes a long way. For that matter, avoid overuse of !!! and ???, too. ✓ Be forgiving. Anyone can make a mistake and accidentally shout with all caps or forget to say thank you. Rather than publicly humiliate your peers by pointing out a transgression, politely disregard the occasional offense. If it gets to be a habit, you can raise the question with the offending student (privately and politely, of course!) and carbon copy the instructor. Is it possible that your instructor will be the offender? Not likely, although he may forget to address you by name in an e-mail, or a reply may seem uncharacteristically short. If that’s the case, let it go. Pointing it out will make you look like a high-maintenance student. ✓ Proofread your work before hitting the send or submit button. You’ll save yourself embarrassment.
All the preceding guidelines go a long way toward showing respect for others, but we make a few additional notes concerning student-to-student communication and student-to-instructor communication in the following sections.
Showing respect for other students In the academic world, discussion should involve critical thinking, which means ideas have to be taken apart and reconstructed. In short, not everyone is going to agree! How you communicate those disagreements speaks volumes about how much you respect the other party.
Your tone shouldn’t suggest shouting at or belittling the original author. You should simply offer another view and the reasoning behind it. To strengthen your point, supporting your opinions with course materials and additional research is helpful. We demonstrate with a few examples in the list that follows. These are polite ways to disagree in discussion forums as well as e-mail and instant messages.
✓ I hear what you’re saying, but I see it another way, and here’s why. . . . ✓ That’s an interesting point you make about the causes. Have you also thought about (fill in the blank) because I think. . . . ✓ Respectfully, I’d like to add a few thoughts that might reshape your thinking. Here are my ideas. . . . ✓ I’m still thinking about what you said. One of the issues (or points) I struggle with is (fill in the blank) because. . . .
Next, we contrast the preceding tactful examples with some that could be misread. Any of the following examples can be written tongue-in-cheek and with a note of humor. However, they can also be terribly insulting. In fact, we encourage students and instructors to use humor sparingly. What you think is funny may be interrupted as offensive by others. This doesn’t mean that you should leave your personality at the virtual classroom door (Chapter 10 explains how to put forward your online persona). It simply means to post carefully and respectfully. Remember, online communication is void of nonverbals and can easily be misinterpreted.
✓ You’re so wrong and don’t even know it! ✓ How can you miss the other side of the argument? ✓ What are you, goofy?
If you do feel strongly about what someone wrote, don’t reply immediately. Draft a response and sleep on it. The next day, reread what you wrote and see whether you need to tone it down or whether you still feel the message needs to be sent. Swift and emotional responses almost always backfire.
One more note: Most of your communication will occur within a course management system or at least within the parameters of class. Therefore, forwarding chain-letter e-mails to your class is inappropriate. If you do make friends with one or two students and want to share something like that, ask their permission first and use discretion.
Respecting your instructor Of course, you know your instructor is a real person and therefore subject to the same feelings as your classmates. While you’re exercising diplomacy with your peers, extend the same courtesy to your instructor. Teaching is a very public activity, and it’s impossible to get everything “right” when dealing with technology. You may also want to approach your instructor when you disagree with a grade. Here are a few circumstances in which you may want to respectfully approach your instructor:
✓ When you see typos or broken links, e-mail the instructor privately. Sometimes he has no control over these, and a link that works one day can be broken the next. Say something like, “I’m having trouble opening the link to X. It says ‘page not available,’ and I can’t tell if the whole site is down forever or if I’m just hitting it at a bad time. Do you know an alternative URL?” Or, “Dr. Manning, I noticed you have the word ‘resource’ twice on the first line of the second paragraph on the instructions page for the assignment this week. Just thought you’d want to know.” ✓ If you disagree with a grade or a score, approach the instructor calmly and with respect. After all, he has more content knowledge than you. Asking for clarification without going overboard emotionally yields far more positive results. In these cases, try something like, “Dr. Manning, I wondered if I can get a little more clarification on my grade on the last paper. I want to make sure I can incorporate the feedback into the next round. Can you please tell me more about how I can improve in the area of. . . .” Before you ask about a score, determine the overall relevance. Is it worth haggling over 1 out of 15 points? ✓ If you need more specific feedback, ask for examples. Say something like, “I’m trying to better understand how I can improve in the future. Could I please have an example of what you consider an excellent post/ paper/project?” Likewise, if your instructor gives individual feedback, take the time to read it!
Avoiding stereotyping Many people realize that stereotyping is harmful. It may be obvious that comments of this nature do not belong in online discussions. And yet, sometimes we inadvertently carry our stereotypes into the classroom. For example, if you assume that someone with the last name of Gonzales can interpret the cultural significance of homeopathic remedies in a community nursing course, you may be surprised to find out that that person married into the family and is a member of the dominant culture, not the minority. (Furthermore, Gonzales could be a surname from either a Latin American or Asian country!)
You simply cannot stereotype. In an online course, it’s important to get to know your fellow students as individuals. Take time to read any icebreakers or biographies that are posted, and, rather than assert a stereotype, ask questions.
Recognizing the Importance of Online Ethics In the early days of online education, the primary concern for many faculty, administrators, and students was that it was too easy to cheat with technology. They feared that the value of the degree would become meaningless because you could copy papers, make up resources, and get your cousin to do your work. Of course, the same could be said of traditional education, so a renewed awareness of the importance of ethics has evolved.
Ethical behavior should govern how (and what) people communicate with one another, what work people submit with their names attached, and the extent to which they are true to their word. We examine these themes in this section.
Being honest in the written word Because written communication is the primary way ideas are exchanged in an online class, what you say and how you say it must belong to you. Here are a couple of examples in which honesty is absolutely important:
✓ Presenting ideas: Your instructor may ask you to read an author or theorist and then give your ideas about the work. If you answer a discussion question or write a paper for this kind of assignment, you’re expected to give credit to the original authors when you use their ideas. If you don’t, you’re not being honest about your work; you are plagiarizing. (Later in this chapter, we discuss plagiarism in much more depth.) ✓ Being yourself: Occasionally, a student misrepresents his ability or life experience. For example, suppose John writes that he is a certified public accountant. Later, the class learns that John barely finished his associate’s degree and lied about his achievement. John’s integrity is now shot because he wasn’t honest. It’s true that you can be anyone you want online, but if you’re in an academic setting, we suggest that you become a serious scholar and not a dishonest participant.
Showing integrity by following through You may be part of a study group in an online course. That means that others depend on you to do your share of the work. If you say you’ll contribute, your group expects you to follow through, and rightly so. If you fail to do your part of the work and become a “social loafer,” you will quickly lose trust and respect among your peers by your lack of integrity. Your grade will probably suffer as well, because most instructors give credit for group participation. (We give many more details about participating in an online study group in Chapter 12.)
At some point in time you may need to step away from the computer and focus on personal issues. In this situation, you may “contract” with your instructor to extend deadlines or receive an “Incomplete” grade until you have caught up on work by a specific date and time. You may be surprised at how many students do this and then never finish the work. Don’t make it your instructor’s responsibility to manage your time. Follow through with integrity by completing the work by the determined deadline, and communicate with the instructor privately regarding your status.
Respecting privacy and confidentiality As we explain throughout this book, students develop personal relationships in online courses. They communicate outside of the parameters of the course management system through private e-mail and messages. You may receive confidential information about one of your peers, and this needs to stay between you and your friend. For example, if Jane writes about her ugly divorce, you have no right to bring that up in a discussion forum. Even if you’re a law student and the topic is divorce, this is Jane’s business, not yours.
The same is true for information you receive from your instructor. Your instructor will handle your progress and grades as confidential matters. Please do not post this communication publicly nor share it with your friends.
Asking before you repurpose prior work If you’re enrolled in a degree program, chances are good that assignments you complete in one course will flow nicely into another. For example, in an introductory course you may be asked to write a paper that requires research on a certain topic. That background research may be very helpful in your second class as you extend the theme. Is it wrong to take your first paper and repurpose it for your second assignment?
The answer to that depends on your instructor. While we would say that building on prior work is very efficient and shows impeccable organization, your instructor may not agree with us. Therefore, always ask before you rework an old assignment. Tell the instructor what part and how much of the old assignment you would like to repurpose, and what new information you plan to add to complete the new assignment.
If you don’t ask before you repurpose prior work, you may find your instructor won’t accept the work. In some programs, instructors coordinate assignments and will know if you try to pass off an assignment from another course. You don’t want a failing grade!
Avoiding Plagiarism Is plagiarism more rampant today, and has technology made it easier to borrow another person’s ideas? Faculty wrestle with these questions routinely because, unfortunately, plagiarism happens all too frequently.
The only way you can completely avoid plagiarism is to write every word without ever thinking about, borrowing from, or referencing another person’s work. Examples of original work may be original poetry, a musical composition, or an essay about your summer vacation that only you could have experienced. However, this isn’t the case in most academic courses in which you’re asked to research the topic or back up your ideas, so we need to scratch away at the topic a little further. In this section, we define plagiarism, take you through the process of writing without plagiarism, and provide tools and tips to guide you. We also explain what happens if you’re caught plagiarizing.
Defining plagiarism and related concepts Plagiarism is . . . well, without looking, coauthor Susan can tell you that plagiarism is stealing someone else’s ideas and passing them off as if they were your own. Does she need to quote someone here? Is this common knowledge and therefore something that can’t be attributed to a single source? A little investigating may be worthwhile.
If you research the definition of plagiarism and come to the Web site Plagiarism.org, you find a very similar definition at http://www.plagiarism.org/ plag_article_what_is_plagiarism.html: “In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward.”
If you want to quote a source, as we have here, you need to provide enough of a reference so that the reader can go back and check it. Even if you’re going to summarize or use this publication as evidence to support your own ideas, tell readers where you found the information. The act of providing that reference is called citing or giving a citation. This keeps academics honest. (We describe how to cite sources properly in more detail later in this chapter.)
Two important concepts that work hand-in-hand with plagiarism are copyright and intellectual property.
✓ Copyright is the legal status that says someone else owns the work. You see it in the front of books, on the bottom of Web sites, and on the back of your CD cases. It denotes that the creator is legally protected from you or anyone else stealing his work or any portion of his work. ✓ Intellectual property is creative work. When you write a paper for Introduction to Psychology, that paper is your intellectual property. And once the work is in a fixed state, including blogs and Web sites, it is automatically under copyright protection.
Getting the facts on plagiarism Having a thorough understanding of plagiarism makes you less likely to make a mistake. The resources noted in the following sections are places to which you can turn to further educate yourself.
Using online tutorials Teachers really want students to succeed, and for this reason you may be surprised at the number of resources available online to help students understand and avoid plagiarism. Run “plagiarism tutorial” through your preferred search engine and see what comes up. Here are a few of our favorites:
✓ The 21st Century Information Fluency site through the Illinois Math and Science Academy maintains a page full of additional links, resources, and interactive self-tests to help you learn more about avoiding plagiarism at http://21cif.com/resources/links/plagiarism_ links.html. The page was written primarily for teachers, but it can be used by students as well. ✓ The University of Southern Mississippi’s tutorial at http://www.lib.usm. edu/legacy/plag/plagiarismtutorial.php is very straightforward. We like this tutorial because it allows you to ascertain your understanding through several self-checks. You begin by taking a quiz. Once you finish the quiz, you have to enter an e-mail address in order to access the rest of the tutorial. ✓ Purdue University’s online writing lab (OWL) dedicates a portion of its Web site to plagiarism. At http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/ resource/589/01/, you can find links and activities to help you better understand how to avoid plagiarizing as you write your assignments. ✓ The Media Education Lab at http://mediaeducationlab.com/ code-best-practices-fair-use-media-literacy-education can’t be beat for background information on copyright and fair use. This site provides information for teachers, but if you drill down to some of the fun videos and songs, you can find a lot that applies to student work.
Finding help from the school library Get to know your school librarian, and when in doubt, ask this person to guide you toward understanding how to avoid plagiarism. Many school Web sites contain their own tutorials and resources. For example, the University of Wisconsin at Stout maintains a page full of resources and links at www. uwstout.edu/lib/reference/citation.htm.
Citing sources properly When you give credit to an original author within the body of your writing, you are citing his work. Proper citation demonstrates that you have a respect for the author’s intellectual property and understand the standard conventions of citation. In this section, we describe the information that goes into a citation, explain when to use citations, note some popular citation formats, and list some tools to help with citations.
What goes into a citation A citation typically includes the author’s name, the date of the publication, and possibly the pages from which your reference came. Most often, this information is included within parentheses after the quote or concept from
the original author, but it can be referenced in an endnote or footnote, as well. The citation tells the reader that you used a source to support your work, and points the reader toward that source if he wants to follow up.
You may be curious as to why we didn’t say that the citation includes the title and publisher (and possibly volume, journal number, and so forth). Those details are included in the “Works Cited,” “References,” or “Bibliography” page, the detailed listing of all the citations mentioned in the document. That’s where the reader turns for the details needed to find the original source.
Taking good notes results in better citations. As you prepare to write any assignment, take careful notes as you read each source. Copy quotes exactly and note page numbers. Summarize ideas separately. Be sure to document all bibliographic information you need according to the style you are told to use.
When to cite The rules for citation are pretty easy. You need to cite work when
✓ You quote the work. A quote may be a one-liner or a lengthier portion, such as a paragraph. An example: According to Manning (2009), “Just because you embrace online education, doesn’t mean you like gadgets.” ✓ You summarize a portion of the work. This means putting it in your own words, not just changing a phrase here or there! An example: Manning (2009) says it is possible to learn online successfully with relatively few technology gadgets. ✓ You refer to the work. You may have previously quoted or summarized the work, or this may be one work of many on the same issue. An example: One of the authors who argues against frivolous use of technology tools is Manning (2009).
If the idea was not originally yours and is not a well known fact (for example, the fact that George Washington was the first president of the United States), you need to provide a citation and a reference.
Citation formats The style you use to cite sources depends on your instructor and your academic discipline. Your instructor should tell you which style he prefers at the beginning of class or the start of an assignment. This information is often included on the syllabus, but you may also find it within a rubric. Some of the common styles for citing work include:
✓ American Psychological Association (APA): This format is common for the social sciences, education, psychology, and sometimes nursing. You can find out more about APA style at http://www.apastyle.org/.
✓ Modern Language Association (MLA): The humanities and arts are more likely to use MLA formatting. Check out http://www.mla.org/style. ✓ American Medical Association (AMA): Students in medicine, biological sciences, and other health-related fields may use the AMA format. See http://www.amamanualofstyle.com//oso/public/index.html for further information. ✓ Chicago: This is what the real world uses. When you read an article in a weekly news magazine, its references are in Chicago style. For more details, go to http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html. ✓ Turabian: This is a generic style that can be used by any of the disciplines. You can explore Turabian style at writing2.richmond.edu/ WRITING/wweb/tura.html.
Tools for citing You are so lucky: Internet tools can do the formatting for you when you need to write a citation! (We used to have to buy the manual and learn the system on our own.) Once you know which format your instructor prefers, visit one of the many free Web-based services that formats your citation for you. At most of these sites, you select the style (APA or MLA, for instance) and then the type of media you need to cite. Is it a book, a periodical, or a Web site, and how many authors are listed? In addition, you fill in other information like the date or page numbers and eventually you push a submit button. Voilà! The site tells you the appropriate formats for inclusion within the text and for the end of the document in a “Works Cited” or “References” page.
Here are a few of our favorite tools. You may also find your school’s library has a tool built into its Web page. Whichever tool or method you use, doublecheck the results.
✓ Landmark’s Son of Citation Machine at http://citationmachine.net/ ✓ North Carolina State University Libraries citation tool at http://www.lib. ncsu.edu/lobo2/citationbuilder/citationbuilder.php ✓ Citation Center at http://citationcenter.net/index.php5
Checking your own work If the best defense is a good offense, then the best way to avoid plagiarism is to learn how to write correctly. However, even good writers question their own work. After you finish an assignment, take the extra time to verify your sources and citations. You can do this using online tools or by having a friend check your work.
Using online tools You may have heard about Turnitin (www.turnitin.com), a Web-based service that schools subscribe to so that faculty can check student work for possible plagiarism. Before your instructor sends your papers through the cycle, why not check your own work? Here are a couple of tools:
✓ At WriteCheck (http://writecheck.turnitin.com/static/home. html), you can sign up for a free account and run your papers through the same database Turnitin uses. The service tells you if there are areas of your paper that are suspicious, so you can make changes and be ethically correct about your work. ✓ Another free tool that is simple to use is Plagiarism Checker (www. dustball.com/cs/plagiarism.checker/). You input your writing and send it through the tool, which probably uses a common search engine to look for matches. If it finds something that appears to be plagiarized, it warns you, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you how to fix the mistake.
Finding a classmate to help If you prefer to rely on the human eye rather than a digital check, you can ask a friend or classmate to help. In fact, you and a classmate could agree to read one another’s papers and ask each other questions of verification. This practice not only provides a service, but you also learn a lot about plagiarism when you have to look for it in someone else’s work. In the end, you come out a better writer for having done this.
Looking at the penalties for plagiarism Can you accidentally plagiarize? Is this possible? Quite a few schools say no; there are no accidents, just sloppy writers. After all, the cornerstone of academia is the idea that students create new understandings of their own, based on integrity and truth. If you plagiarize, your ideas are not your own and there is no truthfulness.
If you mistakenly fail to cite someone else’s work and someone notices, you may be in serious trouble. Every institution has an academic integrity or academic honesty policy for students. You can find this in the student handbook and in the orientation materials. Your instructor may link you to the policy as part of the syllabus or resource materials in your course. Trust us, the policy exists, and by enrolling, you agree to abide by it!
Every institution also has a process for handling possible infractions. While the details change from one institution to another, the basic procedures include:
✓ Notification of the concern. Your teacher may call you or e-mail you to discuss the problem. ✓ Documentation of the problem. The instructor takes screen shots of what you may have posted and any communication surrounding the incident, along with the plagiarized source. ✓ A hearing. You have the right to a judicial hearing if you want one. This may involve a university judicial hearing officer and is most likely to be held via a telephone or Web conference for an online student. You would need to compile and present a case as to why the plagiarism occurred.
Sanctions for plagiarism range from failing an assignment to being expelled from school. The degree of plagiarism and whether this is your first offense often determine the outcome. In some cases, the instructor may keep it at the class level, give you a failing grade for the assignment, and choose not to have it become a part of your permanent academic record. In other cases, the instructor has little say in the matter and must refer it to a different administrator.
Your attitude and how you deal with the instructor and the process can play a role in what happens. Consider the difference between apologizing and taking responsibility versus blaming the instructor or the software. Also, if you are invited to schedule a hearing and fail to respond, recognize that the judicial officer has to make a decision without your input.