More Complicated than Theft: Current Trends in Plagiarism Prevention Education

The Student Conduct and Judicial Affairs Annual Report from 2017 marked an astounding increase in the number of reported cases of plagiarism at Langara College, up to 495 total incidents (up from 286 in 2016) (Ross, 2018). Since 2013, the Langara Library has offered the online library tutorial titled Avoiding Plagiarism, a video-based tutorial delivered through Brightspace that offers students some basic information about plagiarism and introduces the concepts of citation. Many of Langara’s students will be asked to complete this tutorial at some point in their studies, and a perfect score on the comprehension quizzes in the tutorial is not an uncommon result.

So where are we going wrong?

Langara College is not alone in its struggles and many post-secondary libraries and learning commons have been asked to contribute by creating in-person and online tutorials that aim to thwart the increase in instances of plagiarism. Librarian George Germek, in his 2010 study of web-based plagiarism instruction, identifies online tutorials as “the current best choice for plagiarism prevention and assessment” (2012). Many institutions have either developed their own tutorials for these purposes, or direct students toward web-based instruction provided by other institutions.

While librarians seem to agree that asynchronous, online instruction presents the best option (at least in terms of time and scalability), Germek also points out that online instruction often fails to accurately or effectively assess students’ comprehension of the concepts and skills that allow them to avoid lapses in academic integrity. Even when data, such as quiz scores, are collected “data generated by Web-based tutorials is not often retained or used by academic librarians to improve learning, but is rather discarded, unused, or forwarded on to interested academic departments” (2012). Student engagement with these tutorials is also limited, especially if delivered exclusively through passive viewing formats (like video only) or required to take more than 15 minutes to complete (Germek, 2012).

All of these points are particularly relevant when considering our entirely video-based, 30 minute Avoiding Plagiarism tutorial which has quiz marks that are saved for students’ convenience, but not used for any other assessment measures.

There is also the matter of the content itself. As students, many of us began our academic careers in the extremely plagiarism-averse culture that threatened zeroes, failure, and expulsion for infractions. While these may have worked on us, “today’s students often do not honor traditional meanings associated with plagiarism and tend to disregard intellectual property through the lens of a digital world where power has no center and ownership has no place” (Germek, 2012).  Additionally, we are dealing with an influx of international students and plagiarism education should also be “related to their diversity of cultures and habits” (Gunnarsson, Kulesza, & Pettersson, 2014).

The negative, judgemental language that tends to accompany plagiarism prevention education can cause anxiety, stress, and create a lot of unnecessary pressure on students who are new to western and/or higher education practices and procedures. Re-framing the instruction to an educational, cultural, and ethical perspective would both alleviate some of this stress and anxiety and more effectively prepare students to participate in scholarly discourse. Gunnarsson, Kulesza, and Pettersson, collaborating to use a more educational and less punitive approach with a Masters level Engineering writing course, left students with a more comprehensive understanding of plagiarism as an ethical issue as well as the skills-based learning around citation and paraphrasing. Their survey of students upon completion of the course “confirm that plagiarism as an issue of academic integrity has to be taught in respect to work ethics and educational culture” (Gunnarsson et al., 2014).

When students are caught plagiarizing, it is also important to note that in order to create a transformative learning experience, students require the opportunity to reflect on their experience, rather than receiving a simple sanction or punishment. Using his own class as a case study, Nikunj Dalal employs a system of conversations and reflective essays to allow students this introspective opportunity. “Instead of being branded as plagiarists,” says Dalal, the students will “get a chance to discover their own foibles in a relatively non-threatening space” (2015). This process allows for students not to see themselves as bad students or even bad people, but to take their infraction as a genuine lesson about appropriate practices within ethical scholarly discourse. From his experience, Dalal concludes “if change arises from fear of detection and fear of punishment, a person may cheat again in situations where they perceive they are unlikely to be caught or punished. However, if change arises from within, the student is unlikely to fall into the trap of quick illegitimate short-cuts” (2015).

While fitting these lessons into a short, web-based tutorial may be a daunting task, a re-vitalization of the Avoiding Plagiarism tutorial will have to navigate creating an educative experience that introduces the skills of citation, quotation, and paraphrasing while also conveying a sense of academic ethics, responsibility, and cultural awareness.

References:

Dalal, N. (2015). Responding to plagiarism using reflective means. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 11(4). doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40979-015-0002-6

Germek, G. (2012). The lack of assessment in the academic library plagiarism prevention tutorial. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 19, 1-17. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/10691316.2012.652547  

Gunnarrson, J., Kulesza, W. J., & Pettersson, A. (2014). Teaching international students how to avoid plagiarism: Librarians and faculty in collaboration. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 40, 413-417. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2014.04.006

Ross, M. (2018). Student Conduct and Judicial Affairs 2017 Annual Report. Retrieved from https://iweb.langara.bc.ca/scja/files/2018/04/Annual-Report-2017-1.pdf

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