Friday, 2 June 2006

Teaching Students about Plagiarism: An Internet Solution to an Internet Problem

by Eleanour Snow

Here is a number of points which I like to highlight:

The standard definition of plagiarism is a person's use of other people's ideas or words without attribution. Most professional academics think they have a pretty good idea of what that means. However, evidence suggests that the definition of plagiarism and how we view it is not entirely clear (Price 2002). There are degrees of plagiarism—from a deliberate attempt to mislead to an inadvertent use of a familiar phrase. Faculty members do not always agree on what contitutes a serious breach of ethics and what implies incidental plagiarism (Robinson-Zanartu et al. 2005). As a consequence, responses to plagiarism, generally left to the discretion of the faculty member, vary widely.

If the faculty themselves are unclear what is plagiarism, how can we expect students to be clear.

Universities are increasingly turning to electronic plagiarism detection as a way to catch and deter plagiarism, and such technology can be very effective. A study at Harvard University (Braumoeller and Gaines 2001) concluded that one in eight students plagiarize even when they are sternly warned not to; however, when they were warned that a plagiarism detection device would be used, plagiarism nearly disappeared: Only 1 in 151 students turned in a plagiarized paper.

Does the plagiarism detection program itself work? Or is that due to the threat of being detected has become creditable?

As a technologist, I know if software does no have magic power. Software does what we program it to do. If faculty has not clear understanding of what is plagiarism, the programmer will be even worse!

Anyway, the paper suggested a viable solution:

involves educating students about academic norms and expectations in writing, designing assessments that minimize the opportunity for and possibility of plagiarism, and enforcing a strict policy to discover, punish, and re-educate plagiarists. [my emphasis]

Among the suggested solution, the design of the individualised, context-based assessments is the key.

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