Where has all the high-quality and original work gone?
We live in a copy and paste culture. It’s easy: highlight, right-click and index-finger hit ‘copy’. You know the drill because you will have done it millions of times before. But would you blag someone else’s blog and be comfortable with it?
People are copying stuff all the time and then passing it off as their own in some way or another; some even go for whole transplants but these can be messy and complicated.
A principal of a top Belfast grammar school recently got ‘caught’ plagiarising the work of a history teacher’s newspaper column from 2 years ago and copying and pasting it more or less word for word. The original author found out and exposed the head saying that it was a “terrible example” to his students. ‘Tweeting’ an apology wasn’t much of an example either.
When you get caught in spectacular fashion like this not only do you have egg on your face, you also ‘have form’ and no one wants a CV with runny yolk on it.
The old saying that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” isn’t total nonsense because not all imitation is plagiarism but when it ‘copying’ then it is disingenuous and leaves you as flat as a pancake. Copyright doesn’t mean its right to copy and it doesn’t really sit well with copyright law.
Swiping the work of someone else and passing it off as your own is lazy, non-creative and disrespectful yet short-cut swizzes are everywhere. This is not borrowing but theft.
Last year the number of students who were penalised for cheating in their A-level and GCSE exams increased considerably. Many thought it was perfectly okay to smuggle in their mobile phone and Google an answer – it wasn’t and so had their marks reduced, voided or they were disqualified. ‘Unauthorised items in the bagging area’ are not welcome and mobiles and other electronic communications devices are the main culprits.
They say that cheats never prosper but many do prosper because they avoid detection which is why malpractice is still rife – people are willing to take the chance. When students see their teachers and lecturers cheating too then trust goes right out of the window.
Students and staff need to know that this isn’t a game. Plagiarism can cast a long shadow on your reputation and career so we need a zero-tolerance approach to it: plagiarism is strictly prohibited because it is fraud.
In the past the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has criticised education institutions for letting students down by failing to inform them about plagiarism as many didn’t have a firm understanding of the rules.
Can the same still be said now? Yes, research by Dr Lee Adam at the University of Otago, found that students don’t understand plagiarism. He suggests, “in order to support students’ acquisition of academic writing skills, plagiarism should be framed in relation to ‘learning to write’, rather than as a moral issue.”
Three top tips for handling plagiarism:
Always encourage students to fully attribute their sources in their work so that there can no doubts. Make sure they understand that they understand ‘citing’ and the proper ways to give credit to an author and source. Information only has value when its authority can be verified so try to instil in your students a profound respect for source material and referencing. Barbara Anne Combes of Charles Sturt University says, “Students also need to have access to information about plagiarism and up-to-date reference guides for their particular institution. They should be constantly reminded, not only of consequences, but also the citation protocols, expectations and the mechanics of what constitutes academic plagiarism.”
www.plagiarism.org say that the most effective way to prevent plagiarism is to teach students about it. This site contains a pile of practical recommendations, research and videos for pedagogy and policy and is well worth a look.
The best way of avoiding plagiarism is for students to learn and employ the principles of good academic practice from the beginning of their college careers and the onus is on colleges to produce plenty of guidance containing advice, ideas and resources to assist students avoiding plagiarism. You could use a plagiarism detection software services (like Turnitin) to help students reference their material correctly when writing assignments.
One way to support students is for them to do an online course which provides an overview of the issues and ways to steer clear of it.
Students need to learn professional values early-doors and demonstrate open, honest and ethical behaviours when conducting research, writing essays and reports and creating CVs. Can we encourage students to take a professional pledge to demonstrate their commitment to be honest and act with integrity as well as to take action if they have concerns about the honesty of their peers? Consider having a college wide ‘Academic Honour and Social Code’ as part of a student code of conduct.
Students need to be held accountable and need to know that they can’t copy and paste their way to the top but they fast-track themselves to the bottom.
Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today suggests a number of tips for tackling plagiarism. He says that staff need to learn how to identify cases of plagiarism that aren’t related to cheating or laziness – quite simply, students might be struggling and desperately need help. Plagiarism may be intentional or reckless but it can unintentional. The Turnitin website points out 10 types of plagiarism and a scale of intent in its white paper ‘Defining Plagiarism: The Plagiarism Spectrum’. Plagiarism can stretch from intentional and deliberate dishonesty to just being careless in source use. Do you have an academic honesty board that can differentiate between direct, self, mosaic and accidental plagiarism and plenty more besides? On the surface of things plagiarism is daylight robbery but there are blurred lines so review what plagiarism is and isn't and give students lots of solid examples to include minimal, substantial, complete and extreme plagiarism.
Plagiarism is a very serious problem in most HEI and FE settings that can result in very unpleasant consequences for students and staff alike.
It is therefore crucial for all institutions to put procedures in place for addressing plagiarism and to promote academic integrity and probity as a modus vivendi.
About the author
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books, and contributed over 1,000 articles and features to various educational bodies. John is eTeach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru, sharing insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.