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Plagiarism: The technologies as both enabling and counteracting agents

Roger Atkinson

The word technoparanoia does not exist yet, according to my trusty Macquarie Dictionary, but I'm hopeful (it is creeping into Google [18] :-) The word could be so apt for describing the fear that educational technologies are at times being persecuted, for instance for having 'caused' or 'enabled' a new wave of plagiarism in university students' assessment tasks. To keep my technoparanoia at bay, at least in relation to plagiarism, I read a sample of papers from Australasian region conferences 2003-2005, having titles containing the word 'plagiarism'. The authors and titles are listed in Table 1, together with an illustrative, 'key points' quotation from each of the seventeen papers. It is not a random sample, merely the results from a search in likely places, and it is confined to articles with online availability, full text, or in three cases, abstract only. Some authors are represented several times. The selection of 'recent Australasian conferences' in contrast to 'journals' or other categories was done partly to contain the sample size, and partly because online availability of proceedings free to the Internet [19] is good to excellent for conferences in our region, compared with journals.

Table 1: Recent conference papers on the topic of plagiarism

AuthorsTitleSelected key points
1Alam (2004)Is plagiarism more prevalent in some form of assessment than others?A survey. '... integrated approach that recognises and counters plagiarism at every level through a process of plagiarism detection software combined with individual academic support... aim to generate constant awareness among students and staff with an approach to support rather than punish.'
2Baskett, Collings & Preston (2004)Plagiarism or support? What should be the focus for our changing graduate coursework cohort?Support and cultural issues. '...support overseas students so that they can adapt to new ways of learning. ...provide an academic moderation of assignments, and research and writing skills development through a student resource centre, effectively reducing stress on students and staff...'.
3Carroll (2003)Setting plagiarism tariffs: An institutional approach seeking fairness and consistencyUniversity procedures. 'Academic Misconduct Officers', emerging consensus '...on punishment tariffs, on differentiating major and minor offences... establishing the role, ...monitoring compliance with university regulations.'
4Combes (2004)The culture of information usage, plagiarism and the emerging Net GenerationCultural issues. '...connections between early use of the Internet, academic protocols and the rise of an emerging culture of plagiarism amongst the "Net Generation".'
5Crisp (2004)Plagiarism and the reputation of the university: How to distribute effort between educating students on attribution and rigorous detection of cheating?University procedures. '...whether plagiarism should be considered an educational issue or a disciplinary issue.' Students '...unsure of the educational resources and assistance available to them in how to meet expected standards related to academic integrity and methods for attribution and referencing.'
6Dawson (2004)Plagiarism: What's really going on?Issues. What motivates students to plagiarise? '... what is needed to address plagiarism is not better detection and punishment but teaching that stimulates engagement and helps students develop an appropriate scholarly voice.'
7Dawson (2004)A perspective on plagiarismUniversity management must provide '...a learning environment that stimulates academic engagement and gives students guidance in developing their own scholarly 'voice'. ... holistic teaching and learning strategies rather than ...detection and punishment.'
8Holloway, Joseph & Vuori (2005)Australian university responses to student plagiarism: Shooting the messenger?Nature of responses from university management. '...suppress the problem in order to avoid adverse public relations.'
9Kuiper (2005)Proctors, plagiarism and problems: A case study in developing procedures for dealing with dishonest academic practiceUniversity procedures. '...replacement of the concept of plagiarism with distinct concepts of inappropriate copying and dishonest academic practice may prove a way forward...'
10Lahur (2004)Plagiarism among Asian students at an Australian university offshore campus: Is it a cultural issue?Cultural issues. '...investigating whether plagiarism cases committed by Asian learners... are purely a genuine mistake, an intentional cheating, a cultural issue or a language issue.'
11Lancaster & Culwin (2004)Using freely available tools to produce a partially automated plagiarism detection processDetection. '...a set of tools... for finding similarity within corpora of student submissions and investigating what might, after due process, be termed plagiarism.... all employ visual techniques to aid in the investigation of non-originality...'
12McGowan (2005)Plagiarism detection and prevention: Are we putting the cart before the horse?Tertiary induction. Develop '...an appreciation of the culture of enquiry that characterises learning at the tertiary level... success is more likely if the students' goal is something positive: to achieve a new approach to learning, than if it is something negative: to avoid 'committing' plagiarism.'
13Mulcahy & Goodacre (2004)Opening Pandora's box of academic integrity: Using plagiarism detection softwareUniversity procedures and detection. 'Plagiarism detection software is viewed at UTAS as one tool in a broader approach... focus on the development of an educative and developmental approach with students, embedding good practice in scholarship and academic referencing.'
14Savage (2004)Staff and student responses to a trial of Turnitin plagiarism detection softwareDetection. '...Turnitin is thought to be most useful as a deterrent rather than as a solution to Internet-assisted plagiarism, and that it would be wise to concurrently pursue other methods to reduce the problem of plagiarism...'
15Sutherland-Smith (2003)Hiding in the shadows: Risks and dilemmas of plagiarism in student academic writingIssues. '...plagiarism is a multi-layered phenomenon encompassing a spectrum of human intention.'
16Vuori, Joseph, Gururajan & Roberts (2005)Staff and student attitudes to plagiarism in Australian universitiesA survey. '...tendency for both staff and students to justify plagiarism in certain circumstances. Students in particular did not find the practice of plagiarism in conflict with their ethical values.'
17Vuori, Joseph & Gururajan (2004)Proposing a model to address issues of plagiarism in Australian tertiary education.A model '...framed around the elements of risk, reward, morality and management ... plagiarism is not a simple matter of rule-bound definition: culture, circumstance and changing attitudes to the management of education interact to exacerbate the scope...'

References: To conserve space, all references are abbreviated to a URL only. Use these to obtain the full citation; for electronic copies, see http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/pubs/herdsa-news/27-2.html

1ASCILITE 2004 http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/alam.html
2AUQF 2004 http://www.auqa.edu.au/auqf/2004/program/papers/Collings.pdf
3HERDSA 2003http://www.herdsa.org.au/conference2003/ (restoration of online access to be advised)
4ACEC 2004 http://www.acec2004.info/confpapers/paperdetails.asp?pid=7211&uid=&docid=77
5AUQF 2004 http://www.auqa.edu.au/auqf/2004/program/papers/Crisp.pdf
6TL Forum 2004http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2004/dawson.html
7HERDSA 2004 http://herdsa2004.curtin.edu.my/Contributions/RPapers/P060-jt.pdf
8TL Forum 2005http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2005/abstracts.html#holloway (abstract only)
9HERDSA 2005 http://www.itl.usyd.edu.au/herdsa2005/pdf/refereed/paper_261.pdf
10HERDSA 2004 http://herdsa2004.curtin.edu.my/Contributions/NRPapers/A033-jt.pdf
11ASCILITE 2004 http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/lancaster.html
12HERDSA 2005 http://www.itl.usyd.edu.au/herdsa2005/pdf/refereed/paper_412.pdf
13ASCILITE 2004 http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/mulcahy.html
14AUQF 2004 http://www.auqa.edu.au/auqf/2004/program/papers/Savage.pdf
15AARE 2003 http://www.aare.edu.au/03pap/abs03.htm (abstract only)
16TL Forum 2005 http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2005/abstracts.html#vuori
17TL Forum 2004 http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2004/vuori.html
18 http://www.google.com/search?as_q=technoparanoia Results 1 - 10 of about 186 for technoparanoia
20 http://www.turnitin.com/
21 http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/

The purpose for reading seventeen papers and abstracts on plagiarism was to explore the idea of technologies as both enabling and counteracting agents, or, as expressed elegantly by McGowan [12], "In the age of the Internet, the ease of cut and paste plagiarism is being countered by a parallel ease in detecting plagiarism by electronic means such as Google or Turnitin.com". Whilst eight of the fourteen articles (excluding the three abstract only records) mention 'cut and paste plagiarism', the Internet is not subject to criticism as a source of plagiarised material, by any of the authors (so, technoparanoia is not warranted!). References, if any are uniformly non-critical, for example as illustrated by Savage [13], who uses the neutral phrase 'Internet-assisted plagiarism'. This is quite a contrast to the Internet's 'guilty, guilty, guilty' position (according to some commentators) in other matters such as pornography and pirating of popular music. The neutral attitudes towards the sources of plagiarised material adopted by the authors listed in Table 1 are readily understood after examining their key points. 'Sources' is a minor topic, because almost invariably their key points are concentrated very much upon the 'how' and 'why' we combat plagiarism, rather than 'where' the materials were sourced.

Use of technologies to counter plagiarism is also a minor topic for most of the authors listed in Table 1, the main exceptions being the three articles that have plagiarism detection software as their research topic. Six others mention detection software, in most cases one of the best known of the commercial services, Turnitin [20]. Again, the lack of prominence for detection software and services seems to be due to a common, near uniform concentration upon more important key points, for example, '... what is needed to address plagiarism is not better detection and punishment but teaching that stimulates engagement and helps students develop an appropriate scholarly voice.' [Dawson, 6]. Collectively, the authors listed in Table 1 make an excellent case for well-reasoned, evidence based, institutionally supported anti-plagiarism strategies, in which the technologies have what is really a subsidiary role. Another important impression I have gained from my reading for Table 1 is also non-technological: plagiarism is not generating academic controversy in universities, as researchers from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds demonstrate high levels of agreement on the really important points.

Nevertheless, the role of the technologies may be indispensable. For an example, this time relating to staff rather than students, one part of my production editor work for AJET [21] is checking for prior publication of a submission. With about 2% of AJET's 2004 and 2005 (to July) submissions, we encountered the problem of prior publication not being disclosed by the authors in their reference list or elsewhere in the article. The main detection technique is a simple Google search, usually for an "exact phrase". This is not quite the same as plagiarism, 2% is not a worryingly high incidence, and sometimes there are good reasons for republishing (eg, ASCILITE Conference Outstanding Paper Awards), but checking is now a part of the routine practised by prudent editors.

Author: Roger Atkinson retired from Murdoch University's Teaching and Learning Centre in June 2001. His current activities include publishing AJET and honorary work on TL Forum and other academic conference support and publishing activities. Website: http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/ Contact: rjatkinson@bigpond.com

Please cite as: Atkinson, R. (2005). Plagiarism: The technologies as both enabling and counteracting agents HERDSA News, 27(2). http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/pubs/herdsa-news/27-2.html

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Last revision: 4 June 2009. HTML author: Roger Atkinson [rjatkinson@bigpond.com]
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