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It is increasingly evident that plagiarism in assessment has become a serious problem for universities. This paper reports the results of a survey of postgraduate students in a Master of Information Technology course. The paper presents students' perceptions of plagiarism (intentional and unintentional), percentages of students plagiarising across different forms of assessment, and any correlations found between plagiarism and demographic, situational and perceptual factors. All forms of assessments are subject to plagiarism and occurrences of plagiarism vary between different forms. The paper also discusses ways of addressing plagiarism. It suggests that universities need to undertake an integrated approach that recognises and counters plagiarism at every level from school policy, through staff and student induction, assessment design, deterrence and penalties, and ongoing support. A web based online workshop on plagiarism could be made available to students. Use of plagiarism detection software combined with individual academic support appears to have a positive impact on students. Staff should design assessment tasks that prevent unintentional plagiarism.
At the University of Canberra, during the last five years, there has been an increase in the number of overseas students enrolled in graduate coursework courses, such as the Masters of Information Technology (MIT). At present two thirds of the MIT students are international students, the majority coming from Southeast Asia. Many computing subjects require minimal report writing skills but those in the Information Systems (IS) area, central to our MIT graduates, have assignments that emphasise effective research and critical analysis. Students appear to have difficulty with this form of assessment and there has been an increasing incidence of intentional and unintentional plagiarism that has led us to consider how to address this issue.
In this context, in order to obtain an impression of postgraduate IT students' perceptions, experiences with, and attitudes towards plagiarism, a survey was carried out within the school of Information Sciences and Engineering at the University of Canberra. This paper reports the results of the survey describing students' perceptions of plagiarism (intentional and unintentional), percentages of students plagiarising across different forms of assessments, any correlations found between plagiarism and demographic, situational and perceptual factors. The paper concludes with implications for the university.
Plagiarism is more prevalent in some forms of assessment than others. There has been a rise in unintentional plagiarism in Information Systems subjects in recent years within the school. There has been considerable research into perceptions of cheating in assignments and in tests and exams (Park, 2003), but quantitative data on plagiarism across different forms of assessments amongst Australian university students is scarce. A number of studies examined a particular piece of academic work, for instance, a major assignment, or an end of semester examination (Marsden, 2003). For example, some research examined test and exam cheating behaviour including discarded cheat sheets and use of gestures (Croucher, 1994; Pullen et al, 2000). Other research relied on students to self report their behaviour over an entire degree program (eg. Roig & Detommaso, 1995). This study was interested to find out what are the relative frequencies of self reported plagiarism incidence among IT postgraduates in various forms of assessment used in the school.
Students plagiarise more in report writing assignments than programming assignments due to an incorrect understanding of citation and referencing conventions arising from the cultural and social diversity (CALD international students, NESB) of students.
This is a two part hypothesis. Based on recent experiences by staff and the Head of School, it was believed that students plagiarise more in technical report writing assignments than programming assignments.
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse students (CALD) students would plagiarise more due to cultural and language difficulties (Cohen, 2003). The reproductive learning culture (Samuelowicz, 1987) prominent among the CALD students, coupled with stress and difficulties experienced due to study shock, lack of English proficiency and critical thinking ability, means that students struggle to come up with original ideas. Critiquing or even paraphrasing renowned authors' work is like challenging established wisdom as commented by some second year MIT students (Head of School, personal communication). International students represent a significant proportion of the school student population. Staff experience claims that many international students have never written a technical report. They are more likely to plagiarise inadvertently due to incorrect understanding of citation and referencing conventions (Larkham & Manns, 2002, p343).
Data gathered through a survey
A survey was conducted among students enrolled in the MIT. A four part self report questionnaire was distributed in selective graduate and masters level subjects, carefully chosen to range from core programming to information systems management oriented subjects. Participation was during class time and was both anonymous and voluntary. Students who were enrolled in more than one of these subjects were requested to respond to the survey once. The refusal rate was less than 1%. The Human Ethics Committee at the University of Canberra approved the research reported in this paper.
The questionnaire contained a number of closed questions plus questions requiring open ended responses. Section I of the survey was scenario based, describing cases of a student plagiarising. The survey asked students to identify whether it is a case of plagiarism or not, to classify the plagiarism as intentional or unintentional and to justify their responses. Section II of the survey inquired about how many times students have plagiarised in different forms of assessment while doing graduate course work. Section III of the survey contained several open ended questions to identify the deterministic rationales behind plagiarism and how the university can help students to minimise plagiarism practices. Section IV contained items designed to collect demographic information related to the study. Two further items were added to measure the receipt of information on university rules on plagiarism and referencing conventions.
University and school data
Data were collected on the university policy on plagiarism and related matters such as assessment and appeals, and the inclusion of policy information in subject outlines, orientation programs, subject websites etc.
Informal interview data
Other forms of qualitative data were obtained through informal interviews with key academics and support staff. The interviews sought the views of four staff on personal experiences, attitudes towards plagiarism, anecdotal evidence and how to set up assessment tasks to minimise plagiarism.
Students perceptions and misperceptions
There was noticeable confusion in the sample group about attributing acts as plagiarism or non-plagiarism and in classifying intentional and unintentional plagiarism. The four scenarios on proven cases of plagiarism used in the study ranged from neglecting to acknowledge sources to copying others' work in its entirety. Table 2 summarises the students' responses for both local and international students.
Students generally perceived the use of un-cited work as plagiarism. They perceived not quoting others' work as unintentional plagiarism and not acknowledging sources as intentional plagiarism. The rationalisations students provided ranged from laziness, to meeting deadlines, to ignorance of referencing techniques. There was total agreement among the sample that outright copying of another student's assignment was seen as an act of intentional plagiarism. Surprisingly there was a fair amount of tolerance among students that copying or getting someone to write considerable amount of code for programming assignments was not an act of intentional plagiarism. Many saw taking help from peers to complete programming tasks as legitimate and a way of learning.
The study assessed if there existed any significant disconnects between the students' perceptions of what constitutes plagiarism and the university policy, where more disconnects would mean more plagiarism. It examined a combination of situational and perceptual factors in an effort to predict any such relationship. A series of independent chi-square test of associations failed to find any statistically significant associations between students who plagiarised at least once or never with these factors.
In addition, students were asked to identify their stance in terms of how they perceived plagiarism on a 10 point scale ranging from 0(totally unacceptable) to 10(totally acceptable). Students generally perceived plagiarism as an unacceptable act. A t-test comparison of means was carried out to find any significant difference between the means for those who plagiarise (m = 3.37) and those who do not (m = 2.90). The two means are very close indicating that there is no impact (p = 0.383) on students' decision to plagiarise even though they perceive plagiarism as unacceptable.
|At least once|
Up to 3 units
Up to 6 units
Up to 9 units
Up to 12 units
Up to 24 units
|Awareness of Rules|
|p < 0.05 indicates there is a significant association|
|Scenario for perceptions||Plagiarism (%)|
|Did not put quotation mark||72||28|
|Considered plagiarism as Intentional yes/no||22||78|
|Did not acknowledge source||89||11|
|Considered plagiarism as Intentional yes/no||77||23|
|Copied other student's assignment||100||0|
|Considered plagiarism as Intentional yes/no||97||3|
|Another student wrote major part of the assignment||77||23|
|Considered plagiarism as Intentional yes/no||87||13|
|Did not put quotation mark||59||41|
|Considered plagiarism as Intentional yes/no||31||69|
|Did not acknowledge source||88||13|
|Considered plagiarism as Intentional yes/no||68||32|
|Copied other student's assignment||98||2|
|Considered plagiarism as Intentional yes/no||98||2|
|Another student wrote major part of the assignment||65||35|
|Considered plagiarism as Intentional yes/no||70||30|
Hypothesis 1: Plagiarism is more prevalent in some forms of assessment than others.
Students were asked to self report on their personal experiences of plagiarising on a five point scale of 0 (never) to 4 (many times). The results below show the relative frequencies of plagiarism across assessments, with more students admitted to cheating in programming assignments, ahead of essay type assignments, then analysis and design assignments (i.e. databases related assignments), and finally group projects and laboratory work.
Hypothesis 2: Students plagiarise more in report writing assignments than programming assignments due to an incorrect understanding of citation and referencing conventions arising from the cultural and social diversity (CALD international students, NESB) of students.
The first part of this hypothesis is rejected. Programming assignments have a mean score of .80, analysis and design assignments 0.45, and essay writing assignments 0.62 on a scale of 0 (never) to 4 (many times). This (and chart 2 below) is indicative that students tend to plagiarise more in programming assignments than essay type assignments.
Figure 1: Self reported plagiarism across different forms of assessment (no of students)
For the second part of the hypothesis, the study failed to find any correlation between student perceptions of acknowledgement and referencing conventions and plagiarism in essay type assessments (p=0.315 & p=0.324). An important and somewhat surprising outcome of the present study is the unexpected finding that information on proper citation and referencing techniques had no impact on plagiarism, where one would hope, especially in the cases of CALD international students, that lack of knowledge of referencing conventions within the discipline area would mean more plagiarism in essay type assessments. One explanation to this anomaly as claimed by students was that they were aware of the locations of the resources on citation conventions (i.e. subject outline, assignment handout, Academic Skills Program, library website, staff etc) but never read/used them.
In addition it follows through, from discussion on student perceptions and table 1, that there was no statistically significant data to relate misconceptions of international students with plagiarism, which can be seen as a limitation of this study. As discussed earlier (and later in qualitative analysis) students' responses and rationalisations and interviews with ESL staff confirm the prevalence of this claim. The survey shows that 34% of international students plagiarise in essay type assessments as opposed to 19.4% of local students, which shows a bias (p = 0.132).
Figure 2: Self reported plagiarism frequencies in assessment (no of students)
Why students plagiarise
The investigation sought to find reasons why students' plagiarise in IT. The majority of the students (43%) identified laziness, lack of motivation to work hard, and regarding copying as an easy way out as major reasons why students plagiarise. Only 11% of the sample plagiarise in order to achieve higher grades and /or simply to pass the subject.
One third of the students regarded poor time management and stressing to meet deadlines due to workload (both academic and work) as the reason for plagiarising. The majority of the students work part time, leaving them with little time to attend classes and to complete assignments on time. This is supported by a separate study of 477 students at our university that the higher the proportion of classes missed, the lower the average grade. For all fulltime students the study further found that paid employment for long hours per week (> 22 hrs) has a small but negative affect on average marks (Applegate & Daly, 2003).
At the other end of the spectrum, another significant group of the respondents (41%) identified lack of knowledge and understanding of and interest in the subject/ course as the major reason for plagiarism among IT students. This is a unique and significant determinant found in this survey, parts of which are apparently not emphasised in the literature. A fairly representative sample of their responses includes:
Lack of understanding of the principles to complete the assignment.As shown by Gerdeman (2000):
Lack of knowledge in the subject.
Cannot cope with intellectual content.
The subject may not be related to individual's future work.
They shouldn't be doing the subject in the first place.
Cheating tends to be more common in classes where the subject matter seems to students unimportant or uninteresting or where the teacher seemed disinterested or permissive (in Park, 2003; p.480).The survey students clearly identified a 'lack of intellect to comprehend the subject or course materials' as the primary factor. This questions the intellectual ability of this group of students to take up studies in IT or their approach to study or their claim for credits or their interest in the chosen field (Baskett et al., 2004)
Among the students almost one fifth reported that students might commit plagiarism out of ignorance of 'what constitutes plagiarism', lack of knowledge of referencing and citation techniques, which were hypothesised to be the major factors behind plagiarism (hypothesis 2). Only a few (8%) thought conflicting cultural values and norms about plagiarism plays a role in plagiarism.
Further as suggested in several student comments, some students believe that the university contributes to student plagiarism - perhaps through lack of resources in terms of staff availability and library resources etc. (5%), encouraging an environment of collaborative learning through group work (3%), poor course assignments with unrealistic expectations and not accepting resubmissions (6%) etc.
A number of studies have confirmed that a perception, on the part of the students, that the low risk of being caught and an unwillingness among the staff to report such cases of plagiarism can contribute to plagiarism (Park 2003, p481). When asked, "do students plagiarise only when they think they would not get caught?" 54 out of 91 respondents disagreed. They referred to the reasons mentioned earlier as being the determinant for their decision to plagiarise or not. Use of detection software may reduce plagiarism, but will not solve the cause of the problem.
Institutional support for students
When asked what the university could do to assist students so that they do not plagiarise, students' responses ranged from issues related to assessment and submission requirements to increasing awareness of plagiarism. Representative student comments for minimising plagiarism include:
Student academic and language support
Baskett, J., Collings, P. & Preston, H. (2004). Plagiarism or support? What should be the focus for our changing graduate coursework cohort? AUQF 2004. [in preparation] http://www.auqa.edu.au/auqf/2004/index.shtml
Carroll, J. (2003). Six things I did not know four years ago about dealing with plagiarism. In Proceedings of the Inaugural Educational Integrity Conference 2003, Adelaide, South Australia, pg. 12
Carroll, J. & Appelton, J. (2001). Plagiarism: A good Practice Guide. Oxford, Oxford Brookes University.
Cohen, J. (2003). Addressing inadvertent plagiarism: A practical strategy to help non-English speaking background (NESB) students. In Proceedings Inaugural Educational Integrity Conference 2003. Adelaide, South Australia, p30.
Croucher, J.S. (1994). The complete guide to exam cheating. New Scientist, 142(1929), p49.
Devlin, M. (2003). Policy, preparation, prevention and punishment: One faculty's holistic approach to minimising plagiarism. In Proceedings Inaugural Educational Integrity Conference 2003, Adelaide, South Australia, pg. 39.
Hamilton, D., Hinton, L. and Hawkins, K. (2003). International students at Australian universities - Plagiarism and culture. In Proceedings Inaugural Educational Integrity Conference 2003. Adelaide, South Australia, pg.65
Hill, R.S. (2004). Developing a new faculty approach to quality policy on plagiarism. Proceedings AUQF 2004 [verified 5 Oct 2004] http://www.auqa.edu.au/auqf/2004/program/papers/St-Hill_paper.pdf
James, R., McInnis, C. & Devlin, M. (2002). Assessing Learning in Australian Universities. [verified 5 Oct 2004] http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning/
Langsam, D. (2001). Copy and paste no more. The Age, 25 July.
Larkham, P.J. & Manns, S. (2003). Plagiarism and its treatment in higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 26(4), 339-349.
Marsden, H., Carroll, M. & Neill, J. T. (2004). Who cheats at university? A self-report study of dishonest academic behaviours in a sample of Australian university students. Australian Journal of Psychology, forthcoming.
McCabe, D. L. (2003). Promoting academic integrity - a U.S./Canadian perspective. In Proceedings Inaugural Educational Integrity Conference 2003, Adelaide, South Australia, pg.1.
Park, C. (2003). In other (People's) Words: Plagiarism by university students - literature and lessons. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 28(5), 471-488.
Pullen, R., Ortloff, V., Casey, S. & Payne, J.B. (2000). Analysis of academic misconduct using unobtrusive research: A study of discarded cheat sheets. College Student Journal, 34, 616-625.
Roig, M. & DeTommaso, L. (1995). Are college cheating and plagiarism related to academic procrastination? Psychological Reports, 77, 691-698.
Samuelowicz, K. (1987). Learning problems of overseas students: Two sides of a story. Higher Education Research and Development, 6(2), 121-33.
Simon A.C., Carr J., McCullough S., Morgan, S., Oleson, T. & Ressel, M. (2003). The other side of academic dishonesty: The relationship between faculty scepticism, gender and strategies for managing student academic dishonesty cases. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 28(2), 193-207.
University of Canberra (2002). Procedures for dealing with Plagiarism. [viewed 27 July 2004, verified 8 Oct 2004] http://www.canberra.edu.au/secretariat/plagiarism_proc.html
Walker, J. (1998). Student plagiarism in universities: What are we doing about it? Higher Education Research and Development, 17(1), 89-106.
Wilson, K. (1997). Wording it up: Plagiarism in the interdiscourse of international students. In the Proceedings of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Conference. Adelaide, South Australia, 8-11 July 1997.
|Authors: Lubna Sheikh Alam can be contacted at Lubna.Sheikh@canberra.edu.au
Please cite as: Alam, L. S. (2004). Is plagiarism more prevalent in some form of assessment than others? In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 48-57). Perth, 5-8 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/alam.html
© Lubna Sheikh Alam
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