Plagiarism at universities: a way to solve the problem?

A guest post by Emilia Sukhova

As the parent of a university student in the UK, I’m deeply concerned about the issue of plagiarism by students in their academic work and more to the point – the fact that it is so hideously widespread. Although I know my son doesn’t indulge in this (I would strangle him if he did) I’m impressed with Emilia’s article that follows, which valiantly tries not only to stamp it out, but also to educate students on why it’s such a negative and foolish thing to do in the first place.

Plagiarism is the act of taking someone else’s work such as words or ideas and passing it off as your own. Student cheating goes beyond plagiarized essays. There is a higher rate of cheating on exams. Although there are stringent rules and regulations for cheating, many students often slip through the cracks. University officials are more likely to prevent such unscrupulous actions on exams than essays.

Detecting plagiarism in essays is almost impossible. Professors may have to read essays four times before detecting any plagiarism. This strategy may only detect plagiarized work from published sources or other essays, which defeats the overall purpose. As a result, professors are brought back to the starting point of figuring out whether the work under review has been plagiarized.

Educating students on plagiarism

University lecturers should dedicate more time to educating their students on the meaning of plagiarism and under what circumstances should credit be attributed to an author of a specific work.

Take for instance, at the beginning of the semester, professors can provide students with an outline of the work they must complete throughout the semester. Some work may involve essay writing. Although these essays may not be required at the start of the semester, it is essential that the professor spend time enlightening his/her students on the subject of plagiarism. During that discussion s/he can also provide examples of accurately credited work.

Furthermore, students should be provided with resources where they can spend time educating themselves on the issue. The majority of students view plagiarism as a serious offence and seek to abide by the rules. However, these rules may often be overlooked by students who are following the writing style of different aspects of society where credit may not be given to the source. To avoid the conflict between university academic writing and the one accepted by other aspects of society, departments and professors should create a standard set of guidelines for students.

Decreasing the occurrence of plagiarism

Creating essay questions that require students to think critically and originally can significantly reduce the occurrence of plagiarism. Students will be encouraged to develop their own conclusions based on newspaper or magazine articles, personal experiences, or theoretical analysis.

Providing written statements for collaboration

Sometimes students may be given group projects. When such projects are assigned, lecturers should have students submit their work along with a document with the signature of each group member. This will serve to verify the part they played in the work’s production.

Setting  a good example for students

When professors use the work of others in their lectures or subject notes, they should state from where such ideas were derived. This will teach students how to value the work put forth by their professors, as well as how they can use resources to convey someone else’s ideas without plagiarizing.

Enforcing an honor code

At some universities, students may have to sign a pledge vowing not to cheat as well as report other students caught cheating. This may be a long term strategy that departments or faculties can implement.

Allowing students to resubmit their work

There are times when students may not be fully educated on the subject of plagiarism, thus leading them to commit the act unknowingly. Such work may be failed or have marks subtracted. In such cases, students should be given the opportunity to rewrite their work by giving appropriate credit where necessary. Now that they’ve been updated on the issue of plagiarism, their work can be graded based on the academic guidelines.

Receiving discipline from their peers

Many universities elect students for disciplinary committees. Such students are required to handle student cheating. Students on these committees tend to be stricter than staff. Furthermore, they lend more credibility to the disciplinary process as they emphasize the importance of academic honesty and fairness. Those accused of plagiarism must be treated with respect. However, they are not let off the hook that easily as they are subject to being forbidden for their offence.

While plagiarism is a serious academic offence that may occur a few times in a student’s academic life, the penalties may be a bit extreme. In some cases, students may commit minor plagiarism and may receive the same harsh penalty as a peer with major plagiarism. Instead of penalizing students for these offences, greater emphasis should be placed on educating them about giving credit in an academic setting.

Emilia can be found at http://Plagtracker.com

I was impressed with Emilia’s article and intrigued by the nature of her project, Plagtracker.com, and how it came to be formed. It’s an inspiring story which I will share next week, so look out for it. Sz.

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photo credit: j.o.h.n. walker via photo pin cc

Comments

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Thoughts

  1. Hi Emilia, I believe the education about stealing work and ideas from others starts much sooner than college; it needs to be taught from the age a child becomes responsible – around 12 onwards. It’s a message that needs to be reinforced over the years.

    • Emilia Sukhova says:

      Yeah, that’s true, Sarah, I’ve been thinking about it as well, but decided to focus on students and universities in this article, because this is where you get first real repercussions of your actions. Oh, explaining plagiarism and copyright basics to the kids sounds like a good theme for another article! I’ll think about it.

  2. I agree, Sarah, but the plagiarism problem doesn’t really become an issue until they’re a bit older – probably towards the end of high school, and GCSE / AS / A levels in the UK. It’s something that secondary/high schools should focus on and strike while the iron is hot, i.e. just around the time when it may occur to some of these kids to try it…

    …what do you think, Emilia?

  3. Plagiarism may help you pass your exams but the cheater can still be caught out later in life. Just look at the case of the former German defence minister Guttenberg. He was popular, very liked and very good at his job – until somebody spotted he didn’t write his doctorate …… it cost him his career!

    • That’s extraordinary, Angelika, and such a shame considering he was actually doing a good job. But the fact he had lied about his doctorate would have undermined all the genuinely good work he was doing as – I suppose – no-one trusted him any more.

      • Exactly! You may get away with it at the time, but you never know ….

        But thanks to him, the Germans now have a new verb ‘guttenbergen’, used by the youngsters when they want to copy each others work 😉

      • Emilia Sukhova says:

        Same happened to Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta. To be honest, I would say it happens pretty often with public persons be it politicians, musicians or writers, but it’s rarely gets that much of attention.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Last week I ran an article about how Emilia and her colleagues believe that plagiarism amongst university students should be dealt with. I found the approach interesting and honorable, so I asked Emilia to share with us how she and her colleagues came to develop their service. Here is what she replied to me… […]

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