Plagiarism by college or university students: the issue and a few proposals

09/15/2014 14:27

The problem: Plagiarism, the use of other people’s words or ideas without giving specific credit, is only one part of the general problem of cheating. Reported evidence as well as a few surveys indicate that student cheating is a lot more widespread than generally recognised. Despite the fact that exams are believed to minimize cheating more than essays, actually the level of cheating on tests may be higher for any other assessment approach.)

The majority of cheating is undetected. For every pupil found plagiarising, it is almost certain that many more plagiarisers dodge detection.

Reduction of plagiarism by discovery and punishment requires a lot of people and ultimately extremely hard. One article recommends that, to identify plagiarism, each assignment be reviewed 4 times. But this only helps to see copying from published sources. Copying from other essays, or bogus authorship of essays, is rarely detectable or provable.

More to the point, the monitoring procedure for plagiarism is educationally counterproductive. Students should be urged to model themselves on the best thinkers and, at the same time, to think critically and be original. This is not really feasible if they're continually being inspected for intentional or accidental plagiarism.

Eliminating plagiarism

The proposals here are aimed not to ‘stamp out’ plagiarism but instead to create the kind of academic situation where it is uncommon because both pupils and lecturers require the highest benchmarks in one another. The goal should be to develop a society of regard for quality work.

Open talks

There must be much more specific debate of precisely what is meant by plagiarism and what is appropriate acknowledgment in specific circumstances. For example in-depth illustrations in subject notes, forums in lectures and articles or blog posts in student magazines.

Many students do treat plagiarism seriously. As reported by one investigation, the significant issues as far as pupils are bothered are "fairness to writers and other students, the obligation of pupils to do independent work, and regard for ownership rights."

What is perceived as adequate recognition will depend on the subject matter and circumstance. Adding footnotes to a music score is not a common method! Departments and, occasionally, even individual lecturers may need to evolve their own recommendations.

Staff and students must identify that the educational culture, with its acknowledgment of authorship, is at variance with many other aspects of society. Unacknowledged duplicating is allowed by some class professors. Misrepresentation of authorship is routine practice among politicians, corporate executives and public sector administrators, who rarely give suitable credit to their speechwriters and junior employees.

Deterrence: In many subject areas, plagiarism can be reduced by effective design of essay questions, or pupil appraisal generally. For instance, assignment questions can be posed which request the student to refer to current paper or magazine articles, draw on personal experiences, or make links between theory and illustration not found in the readings. This encourages pupils to do their own work without having any particular worry about plagiarism. By contrast, supplying long lists of potential essay topics, little updated from year to year, is a prescription for duplicating from published sources as well as previous assignments.

Acknowledgment of partnership

In certain subject areas, pupils frequently interact on assignments, and this may be an important part of the academic system. If this is the case, it is far better to attract pupils to acknowledge their collaboration, for instance by providing for group submissions in conjunction with signed statements allocating credit for work completed.

Acknowledgement by staff members

Academics can provide a good example for pupils by providing relevant recognition for ideas in their lectures and subject notes. When teachers are more explicit about the source for example, issues or approaches, this also helps pupils generate a better understanding of the position of their teachers in the progress and interaction of knowledge.

Learning by resubmission: Most students who plagiarise from printed sources do not understand that it's improper. On the other hand, most pupils understand that having another pupil write one’s assignment is wrong. When tutors subtract marks or fail an assignment due to plagiarism, the student is penalised but will not understand how to do it properly.

An alternative strategy is to grant, in some scenarios, resubmission with no punishment. Under this approach, assignments with plagiarism can be resubmitted with the only adjustments being adequate citation marks, footnotes, etc. The amended submission would then be marked by the initial criterion. This way,, the pupil gains expertise in presenting correct acknowledgments. Of course, an essay that is completely plagiarised would, when submitted again, be completely made up of quotes, and would receive little credit!

A sense of proportion

Plagiarism is often treated like a mortal sin. Thought to happen only rarely and warranting the most drastic penalties when found. The reality is different: plagiarism in minor forms is common. Plagiarism must be understood as a simple problem of learning how to give acknowledgements in the approach expected in an academic environment. The main attention should be on learning, not penalties for transgressors.