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Assessment

Preventing plagiarism

The profile of plagiarism in universities has been raised by a number of prominent cases of academic dishonesty by both academic staff and students reported recently in the press. While plagiarism is not a new phenomenon, there is widespread concern that plagiarism in universities is on the increase. New technology plays a part in this fear, as there are now a large number of online resources that make it easy to find information that can be copied directly into assignments. Surveys in the US show that almost half of the students come to university with the view that there is nothing wrong with copying and pasting from the Internet (McCabe, 2003). Increasing student to staff ratios make it difficult for lecturers to get to know the students individually, adding to the concern that there is an ever-smaller chance of students being caught. In addition, a rise in collaborative learning methods brings the added unease that there will be collusion in situations where students should be working on their own.

Discouraging plagiarism

Accusing a student of plagiarism is a serious allegation and any accusation will require convincing evidence of academic misconduct. Proving plagiarism can be a time consuming process of collecting original source material and presenting a convincing case to the Faculty Academic Conduct committee. Defining plagiarism hinges as much on the students’ motivation as on their observable behaviour. The wide variation in the penalties for plagiarism come from the difficulty in determining whether insufficient citations are a sign of poor scholarship or a deliberate attempt to deceive the lecturer (Larkham & Manns, 2002).

A better alternative to penalising students for academic misconduct is to discourage plagiarism before it occurs by having assessment based on explicit criteria, informing students of how they will be assessed and reducing competition for grades. In a recent national survey of Australian universities James, McInnis & Devlin (2002) found four commonly used strategies for minimising plagiarism. These are:

  • consistent policies to counter plagiarism,

  • educating students on the conventions of academic writing,

  • designing assessment tasks that discourage plagiarism,

  • maintaining highly visible procedures to detect cheating.

Strategies used to deter plagiarism at UTS

These include public discussion of the issues, designing assignments to minimise plagiarism, routine scanning of assignments, maintaining a database of offenders and having university-wide consistent penalties. Academics who have dealt with plagiarism at the University suggest that anonymity encourages plagiarism, and recommend getting to know students in large classes. This can involve a series of activities, such as those collected in this kit, which include discussing academic integrity with the students, publishing guidelines on how to avoid inadvertent plagiarism and providing clear definitions and penalties for plagiarism. Above all, to discourage others from plagiarising, lecturers should not accept cheating behaviour. It is important for lecturers to act on it once it is detected.

There are a number of divisions of UTS, such as the Academic Board, IML, ELSSA Centre and Student Association, each working to minimise plagiarism in the University. As such there are a number of sources of information and resources on preventing student plagiarism.

Preventing Plagiarism ToolkitDownload the Preventing Plagiarism Toolkit

 

 

IML has co-ordinated the development of a “Preventing Plagiarism” kit that brings together many of the available resources under six sections.

01 What is plagiarism 
02 Why students plagiarise 
03 Defining and discussing plagiarism
with students
04 Helping students with their writing
05 Designing out plagiarism
06 Detecting plagiarism

Resources to support the prevention of plagiarism are likely to change over time and the latest information is available on this web site. The IML welcomes feedback, suggestions and contributions to the Preventing plagiarism kit. Please contact Peter.Kandlbinder@uts.edu.au with suggestions for future items of interest.
 

References

Jame, R., McInnis, C. & Devlin, M. (2002). Assessing Learning in Australian Universities.Melbourne: Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

Larkham, P. J., & Manns, S. (2002). Plagiarism and its Treatment in Higher Education.Journal of Further and Higher Education, 26 (4), 339-349.

McCabe, D. L. (2003). Promoting academic integrity- A U.S./Canadian perspective. A Keynote paper presented at the Educational Integrity Conference, Adelaide, 21-22 November.