The probability of your blog/work being plagiarized.

I have had some interesting feedback from my colleagues about protecting their work.

Its not just a play or poems that are plagiarized. My posts have pointed out that the academia is the hotbed of plagiarism.

You teach a course and you create a curriculum that arms the student with skills that can immediately be used in the real world.You made them see the importance of using certain calculations or tools or methods.

You then teach a different course. The management does not own the curriculum you developed.

The next person who comes in to teach needs to be given an advance notice of at least 45 days to get a textbook in place and develop his own curriculum. Or you can work out a deal for a royalty. this is unheard of but you should be able to do that with any kind of training or educational institute.My point is that your work will draw many views. The chances of its being copied are higher than you think! Here is an example:

Stacey Patton

Senior Enterprise Reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re the ‘Wrong’ Professor

Full 09022014 patton

October 2, 2014

Image: Karen McArthur.

I—November 29, 2011

At 7:30 on a Tuesday, right after supper, Karen McArthur had just started to wind down for the night. Her three kids were in their pajamas, reading in front of the fireplace, and her husband Jim was cleaning up the kitchen.

McArthur, an adjunct professor of art history at Austin Peay State University, flipped open her laptop to see if any students had questions about their class assignments. Instead, she was shocked by an email from Alexandra Blau, a colleague she’d never met.

Blau wrote to ask if McArthur had designed a full-semester online class on art appreciation that she could copy. “I had a summer one I copied from someone else (it was your class),” she said, “but I thought it may be better to start from scratch with a normal semester-length class.”

A summer one I copied (it was your class). McArthur wondered: Was Blau really teaching a course she had created? If so, why didn’t she know about it? McArthur had, in fact, spent two years developing and refining an art-appreciation curriculum, but she had never authorized other professors to use it. Was it possible that her colleagues were pretending to be her in other virtual classrooms?

For adjuncts like McArthur, those questions can be deeply troubling. Teaching is a core part of their academic identity—in many cases, it’s the only thing they’re evaluated and compensated for. Indeed, McArthur considered the creation of her courses to be an original, creative act, just like research.

But unlike scholarship, teaching isn’t always protected by a widespread consensus on intellectual-property rights. And when it comes to teaching, some scholars say that there’s a rich academic tradition in which professors frequently borrow, trade, and even steal content without attribution. As higher-learning rapidly moves from bricks and mortar to cyberspace, and the use and reuse of “shell” courses grows more common, academics have reason to wonder which parts of creating and teaching online courses count as their own—and what, if any, recourse there is for lecturers who feel their content is being used by others without permission or payment.

It’s perfectly common for professors to borrow ideas without attribution, said James M. Lang, a professor of English and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College, but the advent of online courses taught by adjunct professors has changed the equation. “We are going to have to think more carefully about what kinds of things can be borrowed from colleagues and what kinds of things should count as intellectual property,” says Lang.

II – Winter Semester, 2004

Karen McArthur first thought about those issues in 2004, a year after she began teaching at Austin Peay, a campus near the Fort Campbell military base on the border between Hopkinsville, Kentucky and Clarksville, Tennessee.

McArthur, who was being paid around $2,000 per course, was asked by her department chair, Dixie Webb, now dean of the university’s College of Arts and Letters, to develop a web-based art-appreciation “shell course”—a generic template, in other words, that every instructor teaching that course could use.

A shell course needs to be adaptable to each professor’s area of expertise. “If you’re an art historian, you lean on history when you teach. If you’re a painter, you might assign more art projects,” McArthur said. “The chair asked me to develop this course because there were no other art historians in the department.”

McArthur said that Webb offered to pay her around $2,500 to create the shell course. (Webb declined to comment and said she was instructed to direct me to media relations.) The funds never materialized, though, so the professor moved on and continued designing and teaching her course, which became the basis for a book project. “This course was my intellectual property. I signed a contract with a literary agent,” McArthur said.

In 2008, McArthur heard from a learning-management specialist at Austin Peay, requesting permission to copy her course for a professor named Bruce Childs. “Professor Childs mentioned that he had been speaking with you about working together, and he thought you wouldn’t mind if I copied your course,” the specialist wrote in an email. “But I really felt the need to check with you to see if this is okay.”

McArthur fired back an email with the subject line, “do not copy!”

“No, he cannot use my course; no one has permission to use my course,” she said in the email. “I have never and will never give permission for other professors to use my course shell. Sounds harsh but that’s that.”

After that email exchange, McArthur said she considered the matter closed, until she received Alex Blau’s email years later.

III – November 30, 2011

The day after McArthur received Blau’s email, she drove to campus to visit Danielle Dickson, a technologist who worked in the distance-education department. Dickson confirmed that Blau had copied her course from another adjunct professor, Robb Fladry, a former student of McArthur who is now an assistant professor of graphic design and department chair at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design.

McArthur noticed that Blau and Fladry had used her course to teach 175 students in seven sections. “All they did was delete my name and email address and fill in the blanks with their own personal information,” she said.

To McArthur, this was appalling. She felt that Blau and Fladry had passed off the personal stories that peppered her lectures as their own. There was the trip she took to the Tate Gallery in London in 1992, when she was a senior in college, which prompted her to change her mind about becoming an art historian instead of a lawyer. There was the trip to Rome where she saw Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.” (She told students in her written lecture that she had gotten a nasty virus and had to be hospitalized.)

McArthur said she included these stories because she wanted students to appreciate the difference between seeing a famous artwork in a book and experiencing it in person.

And in the screenshots that Dickson gathered for her, McArthur saw some of Blau and Fladry’s students respond positively to her personal anecdotes. A student named Kyle Davis, for example, wrote of the lecture on “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa”: “The description given in the lecture … made me really want to see it in person.” Based on the screenshots, McArthur worried that Blau and Fladry never corrected any student’s assumption that they had written the course: “They pretended to be me in order to make a few thousand extra dollars.”

Fladry and Blau dispute that account. Blau said her 2011 email to McArthur was a collegial attempt to get answers about the course she was given to teach from what she understood to be a template. The allegation that she was a knowing accomplice to plagiarism is “deeply upsetting,” she said.

“I obviously had no idea that she had not given the OK to use it.” Fladry said in an email. “I guess you can use that word plagiarize for anything these days.”

He said he notified students that McArthur developed the course content. “I made no claims that these were my experiences,” he said.

Fladry said the department chair gave him McArthur’s shell course with the understanding that it’s common practice for a “subject-matter expert” to develop the course material and projects, with another hired instructor facilitating, grading, and interacting with students.

And at Austin Peay, as at many institutions with heavy online course loads, that is a standard practice. Bill Persinger, director of public relations and marketing, said in an email that it is common for faculty who teach online courses at Austin Peay and at other universities to share content, though it is the university’s practice to ask permission from the professor who develops the course.

In McArthur’s case, that appears not to have happened. In February 2013, the university admitted wrongdoing. In a settlement agreement signed by McArthur and former Austin Peay president Tim Hall, the university acknowledged that the online course materials McArthur developed “were and are her intellectual property” and that the sections Blau and Fladry taught were wrongfully used. The university compensated her $17,200 for her troubles.

Hall said he couldn’t vividly recall all the details of the case, but “it ought not be the case that someone who has prepared a course should have their work taken over and distributed to other people.”

IV – Does the Person Matter?

This should have settled the matter. But the relationship between McArthur and Austin Peay had soured. McArthur said she found herself fighting for classes—going from teaching seven to 10 courses per academic year down to only two. After 12 years of teaching at the university, her contract was not renewed this semester. “I’ve been cut off,” McArthur said.

Persinger said that has nothing to do with the struggle over McArthur’s shell course. Courses for adjuncts have been scarcer since the university created new faculty lines—including two in the art department for 2011-12—to reduce dependence on part-time lecturers.

According to Persinger, Blau is still teaching the art appreciation course. McArthur questioned why the university would maintain a copyist to teach the class instead of her.

But in the eyes of some professors and education experts, authorship is almost beside the point. Fladry said he didn’t develop original content—or omit McArthur’s references to specific experiences—because every student taking an Austin Peay course in art appreciation should get the same content, no matter whose class they’re in.

“Using the accepted course shell prevents any discrepancy in material,” he said. “I didn’t change the details because that would change the integrity of the class.”

Susan Gautsch, director of online learning at the University of Southern California, said she wasn’t surprised to hear about how McArthur’s content and personal stories were used. “If I was a student and had the option of an adjunct professor with very little experience or stories of their own to tell versus an adjunct professor who was able to re-appropriate other people’s experiences by pushing a button or copying and pasting it,” she said, “I wouldn’t care if the stories were theirs or not.”

“Was I entertained and captivated? Did this course keep me engaged? I don’t care about the person. I care about my learning around these stories.”

Gautsch and Lang, of Assumption College, both note that shell courses—and adjuncts teaching others’ material—have become commonplace. But Lang issued strong warnings about the practice.

“That’s a potential trend in online education that we have to be wary of,” he said. “It depersonalizes everything. In the Austin Peay situation, the depersonalization process seemed to reach its nadir.”

The obvious loss, Lang said, is that shell courses don’t give instructors an incentive to create their own courses—or to actually teach. A templated course, he added, can all too frequently end up being taught by a professor without real expertise in the topic at hand.

To some students, at least, expertise still matters. Richard McLain, one of the students Fladry taught using McArthur’s shell, said he enjoyed taking the course while he was deployed in Afghanistan. Fladry was responsive to his questions, he said, unlike some other online professors who sometimes take up to a week to respond to students.

Still, McLain said he was disappointed to learn that Fladry had used another professor’s content. “I’m upset. I’d like to know the professor who developed the class. She sounds really passionate about art, and you get that from the course content.”

“I’m no special snowflake in class,” he said, “but I think that a professor who takes the time to develop and perfect a class ought to be the one giving it.”

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  • These other adjuncts and online “experts” can talk all they want about common practices and integrity of the content across all students: they are all should be ashamed, and are one of the prime reasons online courses get a bad rap. This is also why many full professors do not go to the trouble of creating online courses. They take a lot of time to create and perfect, and then someone comes along and absconds with their work.
    All of those who used this young woman’s work should be ashamed. Those at APU who hired the lazy-ass copiers over the original producer should be ashamed of themselves too….and fired.

    Earl Bothwell

      about 1 year ago +6
  • The real problem here is the marketization and/or commodification of higher education.  We would not have this problem if the higher education workforce was not 70% adjuncts, and if the internet wasn’t being used to de-professionalize the profession.  The old world professor had value just because they were well educated.  Today the value is only in the products of our labor.


    Karen Kendrick

      about 1 year ago +5
  • We fail students for plagiarism–and if the unattributed use of another academic’s work is not plagiarism, then perhaps we need a more refined definition of plagiarism.
    Universities here in Australia are appropriating the course materials (lectures, learning materials, exams, etc.) of both continuing (tenure track and tenured) as well as adjunct staff with little, if any, additional payment for ongoing use of these materials by other lecturers.  Often no mention is made of the originator of the materials.  The way a course is constructed is intellectual property, and should be properly recognized and paid for.
    Students are entitled to being educated by honest academics drawing on their own knowledge and perspectives and who acknowledge the ideas and other intellectual property of other people, whether academics or others.  Academics who can’t create a course themselves should be fired; they are not only lazy but dishonest–not the kind of people who should be set up as models of integrity and intellectual honesty for students.


    Maureen Fastenau

      about 1 year ago +4
  • Faculty who appropriate others’ courses without permission are guilty of academic theft, pure and simple.  It is plagiarism writ large. While the developer of a course may not “own” it because of university policies or copyright interpretations, those who steal others’ courses are engaging in unethical and unprofessional practices.  However, this is a growing problem in higher education, especially as adjuncts continue to be exploited in ever larger numbers.


    Earl Mulderink

      about 1 year ago +6
  • To Earl Bothwell:  Online courses get a bad rap precisely because their whole point is to facilitate just this sort of appropriation, to reduce what should be an ever developing and changing learned conversation to a standard product that can be administerd by low-wage, less learned workers.  This is not a necessary condition: online delivery clearly enhances distant education which has an established and honorable place in higher education.  But the turn to this method of course delivery even for students who could attend actual classes is driven by the intellectually impoverishing iteration by low-cost instructors that it facilitates.  The villains of the piece are not the low-wage instructors, who you call “lazy-ass copiers” but the administrators who are pushing online course, the state legislatures who won’t fund public education and the citizens who have reduced themselves to “taxpayers” and won’t pay “the price we pay for civilization.”


    Elizabeth Hanson

      about 1 year ago +1
  •   None of this would have happened if there had been an explicit contract that indicated what constituted work product (owned by the university) and what constituted scholarly creativity (owned by the professor).


    Andrew Brower

      about 1 year ago +1
  • I agree with many of the comments that copying online courses without attribution and permission is wrong. But I do find it odd how many of my colleagues refuse permission. I don’t see how it benefits students when we hide our work.


    Erik Jensen

      about 1 year ago +1
  • This may be a naive question but would symbol “copyright”–a c in a circle–at the bottom of each page of a syllabus be at least technically a way to lay claim to its original content? I suppose unscrupulous adjuncts or others could just erase the “c”s while they’re cutting-and-pasting. Not only do I not teach on-line courses, I do not post my syllabi on line–even for students in my courses–so proprietary do I feel about the content I have created.


    Tess Jones

      about 1 year ago +1
  • When I’ve done conference sessions on online development I’ve emphasized that you should incorporate yourself into your classes as much as possible.  The practice of branding in this way might be the best defense against having your classes taken away and used in this manner, plus it helps your students by making the class more real to them.  I’ve approached podcasts as my own little radio show, with bumpers and soundboard effects and lots of personal reflections (just as I would do in a face-to-face class).  And lots of me, me, me…because that’s what a lot of students want, the connection is easier for them.  Some students want that, but some just want three credit hours and no engagement.  As more and more decide that the hands off model is OK, faculty arguments against this type of cookie cutter junk will fall on deaf ears.  Something else: In some states any intellectual property developed by employees belongs to the state, so the best protection is to find out your rights in advance and stay away from development if you’re worried that your shell may end up being taught by someone else.  In the end, though, if it helped students learn about your passions for the field then it may have been worth it.  Even before Web classes I found a couple of instances where some bozo had taken my course material and passed it off as his own – one had even used my stuff in a job market portfolio!  I’m glad that those students got such a wonderful introduction to the world of commercial banking, even if it was plagiarized…


    Tim Michael

      about 1 year ago
  • I have taught in the university and college setting since 1995.  During that time, I have taught courses far outside my expertise out of mandate, not desire.  On one occasion an administrator asked me to teach children’s lit.  On another, physics, astronomy, and forensic science.  Usually, I have refused to teach these courses, but at time it was forced upon me.  Within my discipline loosely defined as biology, but more accurately described as environental sciences and vertebrate ecology, I have been asked to teach everything from cell molecular biology to landscape ecology. For those not familiar with the biological sciences, the spread between molecular biology and landscape ecology is roughly equivalent to the spread between marketing and accounting in business school, history and philosophy in the liberal arts, engineering and mathematics in the hard sciences. Although lumped in a major called biology, hardly anyone has that breadth.  Usually, I would find out what I was going to teach days to weeks before the semester started, hardly enough time to prepare a semester lecture.  In my case, I asked other faculty, often at other schools if I could borrow


    Dorothy Della Noce

      about 1 year ago
  • Andrew Brower said: ”  None of this would have happened if there had been an explicit contract that indicated what constituted work product (owned by the university) and what constituted scholarly creativity (owned by the professor).”
    Andrew, I’m not sure it’s fair to say that “this would never have happened if there had been an explicit contract” in my individual situation. Not to beat a dead horse, but we all know there are new contracts issued every semester for adjuncts, and the work-for-hire issue is murky at best when it comes to academe. And when work-for-hire is brought up in litigation, the judicial process continues to strongly favor the side of the professor.
    In my case, there was simply no mention by department chairs or other professors asking permission to use my intellectual property – they simply stole it and passed it out like candy despite my repeated verbal and written directives that no one had (or has) permission to use my course. They used it anyway, and counted on me valuing my job more than my rights. And now they’re likely still using it and I’ve been fired.
    Just wanted to offer you and the other readers / commentators some clarity on that issue as it’s a good point but (and I say this kindly) perhaps a bit simplistic for all of the twists and turns in the theft of my academic identity.
    My hope is that my own experience will benefit others who are unaware that they even have rights…this is a growing epidemic and even the few comments shared here show that I am not alone. I would urge you to take the time to read the document called Academic Identity Theft on my blog that records events as they happened between November of 2011 and the present. It’s longish but worth reading for those of us interested in these issues.
    Dr. Patton has written a fantastic piece about my case, and yet it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Thank you for taking the time to read about it and offer comments.


    Karen McArthur

      12 months ago
  • Carole Meagher said: “How on earth can you teach a class like Art Appreciation online in the first place?”
    My thoughts exactly, Carole – when I made the transition from the classroom to the online world in 2004.
    And this is why my course was stolen by administrators and other professors at APSU (and who knows where else ) – because I took the time to develop an original, thought-provoking, engaging, demanding and sometimes humorous course based on my education at a top liberal arts college, several trips abroad, graduate school and over twenty years in the classroom. 
    It became a desirable online course, and we know there are not too many of those. But we do know that what makes them good or even great is the professor – not the generic content facilitated by other professors with 18 or more graduate credit hours in…oh, I don’t know, insert your discipline here.
    I wanted to convey my personality and my enthusiasm about my discipline to my online students – otherwise, I’m just a typist who may be reading from a textbook – or worse. I worked hard on this course, trying to capture the lively spirit of my traditional art history courses and somehow get students interested in Art.
    So, yes, great question. It was really difficult, but I suppose good enough to plagiarize.


    Karen McArthur

      12 months ago
  • Earl Bothwell said: “These other adjuncts and online “experts”…should be ashamed, and are one of the prime reasons online courses get a bad rap…All of those who used this young woman’s work should be ashamed. Those at APU who hired the lazy-ass copiers over the original producer should be ashamed of themselves too….and fired.”
    And instead they fire the [young] professor from whom they stole. Right on, Earl. You are right on.


    Karen McArthur

      12 months ago
  • I know (what I think is) the answer to the following question, but I’ll state it anyway: how does an administrator believe she has the right to use this class design as departmental property if she never compensated the teacher for her work? Adjuncts are not paid for curriculum design unless that is part of the contract they sign. It is one thing to ask a tenured or tenure-track faculty member to do this kind of work – it’s part of the job. Adjuncts are paid so little we should never assume they have the luxury of being able to perform work without expecting to be compensated.


    James Carroll

      12 months ago
  • She was never paid for it, as I understand. But she was offered pay for its creation originally.  Doesn’t the latter confirm that the course was in fact a form of property? She was hired to teach but not to create a new online course.