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Student Awareness Good, but Institutions Can Do More, Finds Survey

The preliminary results of a survey carried out by Northumbria Learning has shown that most students have a clear idea of what constitutes plagiarism, but more needs to be done by institutions to inform students about how to avoid it.

The Academic Integrity Survey, aimed at investigating student views on plagiarism and the detection of it using specialised software, was carried out at the end of May. The preliminary results, released at the recent Second International Plagiarism Conference in Gateshead, reflect the opinions of the 3,000 students who have participated in the project so far.

Software Battles

Institutions using electronic plagiarism software were asked to encourage their students to take part in the anonymous survey, which will have been completed by 5,000 – 10,000 students when it finishes in August. It is hoped that this will reflect the views of a wide cross-section of students from the UK’s further and higher education sector. Northumbria Learning, who carried out the survey, manages the JISC Plagiarism Advisory Service. They are the European distributors of the software used to electronically detect plagiarism, known as Turritin.

The survey asked students about their understanding of plagiarism and how to avoid it. Almost all students correctly identified many forms of plagiarism, with more than 97% of the 3,000 asked recognising that downloading work from an essay bank, using a ghost writing service, or including material taken unreferenced from the internet would constitute a breach of academic regulations.

Slightly fewer than that, 93%, correctly said that they believed falsifying references was a form of plagiarism. Interestingly, only 90% recognised that working collaboratively could amount to plagiarism, suggesting that the recent trend for encouraging students to work with each other has lead to some confusion with relation to assessed work.

If the key to combating plagiarism lies in better educating students about correct methods of referencing, the survey found that 27% of those asked had received information about this at introductory sessions, one third had attended study skills sessions on this area, and over 60% had received this information in their course or module handbook. However, 14% of respondents said that they had not been provided with clear guidance on how to correctly reference other people’s work.

Get Tough, Say Students

Significantly, the majority of the students asked supported tough measures against plagiarism. Less than 0.5% of the 3,000 students asked felt that no action should be taken against those who commit plagiarism. Around one third felt that the guilty student should be made to re-sit the module or course, and 39% favoured giving them a zero mark. 93% said they believed that qualifications were devalued by those who bought essays from internet-based ghost-writing surveys.

87% of students who participated in the survey supported the use of electronic detection tools to identify culprits, with many specifically identifying their importance in combating copying from the internet. 76% felt that they would act as a deterrent for using uncredited material from the internet, and 51% said they felt that the use of electronic detection tools would encourage teaching staff to spend more time talking about correct referencing and citation techniques.

It is hoped that the survey will encourage institutions to keep the views and concerns of students at the centre of their approach to plagiarism, both in its detection and prevention. Reflecting on the results so far, Northumbria Learning stressed that electronic detection software must form part of a wider strategy for discouraging the breach of academic regulations. The most effective way to combat plagiarism, it concluded, is the comprehensive education of students about correct referencing and citation methods. The emphasis must be on prevention, rather than detection.

The survey will continue to be available to students until 31st August.

Jess Brammar

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