Integrity: The Opposite of Plagiarism and Cheating

Learning Goal: Treat your field of study, your sources, your own thinking and your audience members fairly and with respect.


Good Learning is Active

The learning we expect at SUNY Oswego entails the active construction or building of knowledge using information from a wide variety of sources. Scardamalia and Bereiter (1991) call this “knowledge transformation” as distinct from “knowledge telling.”

A weak learner will read a source and, when asked to report what they read, be happy with “telling” what they think the source said, often just repeating the pieces of the source they happen to remember.

A good learner will read a source and not be done until they can “transform” what was read into a piece of their own growing knowledge base. Asked to report on what they read, a good learner will talk about what was learned, “transforming” what the source said rather than just repeating it.

Good Learning is Presented

In the academic setting, you are expected to present or communicate your new knowledge through exams, papers, and other means. One can argue that you haven’t really learned unless you can communicate or demonstrate your new knowledge.

It follows that in most cases your presentation will be graded. The first thing your professors will look for is evidence that you have learned. If your assignment is independent in nature—a research paper for instance—your professors will also look for an explanation of how you have learned.

Your presentation should answer two questions:

  • What do you know?
  • How do you know that?

Good Learning Follows the Rules

Each discipline (e.g. anthropology, chemistry, music, zoology) in which you work can be seen as a community of experts operating under a set of both informal and formal rules or conventions that govern research and practice in the discipline.

These conventions may include definition of the phenomena to be studied, the special vocabulary for the discipline, accepted methods for research, the core literature or bibliography for the field, and the format and style for communication of knowledge among the members in that discipline.

These conventions include specific, formal ways to use information from others in your own writing and to give credit to those who have helped you.

Following these rules will:

  • Give you powerful ways to answer the two questions about what you know and how you learned it.
  • Identify you as a member of the discipline.
  • Highlight your personal contribution to the advancement of knowledge in the field.

The Big Picture

  • If you pursue your college studies with these principles in mind you will get more out your courses, get the best grades that you are capable of, and even get more enjoyment and satisfaction from your studies
  • At this point it should also be evident that plagiarism (the use of others work without giving credit) is an offense that strikes at the very heart of a college education.

Plagiarism keeps you from learning, turns your presentation of what and how you know into a lie, and places you outside of the community you are spending a lot of time, effort and money to become a member of.

Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (1991) Literate Expertise. In K. A. Ericsson & J. Smith (Eds.), Toward a general theory of expertise: Prospects and limits (pp. 172-194). New York: Cambridge UP.

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Parts of this work were adapted from the Plagiarism Resource Site (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0). The rest of this work was created by Jim Nichols, a former librarian at Oswego, and is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license. If you have questions, please contact