Symposia 1

  • Improving Student Learning Theory and Practice - 10 Years on

    Title:Student cheating and plagiarism  

    1. Jude Carroll
     & Hazel Peperell
    2. Madeleine Freewood
    3. B.Cogdell, R.G.S. Matthew and Craig Gray

    1. Oxford Brookes University
    2. Sheffield Hallam University 
    3. University of Glasgow

    Session: Symposium  

    Themes addressed: 
    Plagiarism, student motivation, course design, learning outcomes, C&IT in teaching and learning, students as learners, institutional policies and procedures
    Supporting learners 

    Title: Student Cheating and Plagiarism

    In this session, three papers which were originally submitted to the conference organisers separately by unconnected research teams are presented as a symposium. This is at the suggestion of the paper referees who rightly saw that the papers had an overlapping background in the literature and were complementary, each addressing particular aspects of the issue of plagiarism and other forms of cheating.
    Indeed, they have more in common than this, for each of them is concerned (among other things) with the fact that these forms of student malpractice are not just a matter of ignorance or lax morality, but have meanings which relate to central issues of the process of teaching and learning. The connections between forms of malpractice and the educational process, then, constitute the overall theme of the symposium. 
    Carroll and Peperell find that the use of electronic detection alone to tackle plagiarism does lead to a reduction in the evidence of collusion, but has the negative consequence of undermining the relationship between teacher and student. Motivation is at hazard. 
    Cogdell, Matthew and Gray are concerned with the use of Problem Based Learning in the context of the medical curriculum. They use the grounded theory analysis of focus group material, plus a questionnaire based on the work of Franklyn-Stokes and Newstead, to discover students views of cheating in PBL. They find that certain forms of cheating are admitted by students to be commonplance (though the students do not think of them as serious). But some such activities like finding out the previous years objectives for a PBL task before doing it really subvert the purpose of the task.
    Freewood, Macdonald and Ashworth build on their teams previous work in the general area of cheating, and report interview findings specifically concerned with students views of plagiarism. Views of students regarding the idea of electronic detection complement Carroll and Peperells conclusions. More generally, students differ in their understanding of the meaning of plagiarism. The educational repercussions of the belief that pagiarism refers to ideas rather than simply text can be quite debilitating.

    Abstract: 1
    The impact of electronic detection software in averting or identifying student plagiarism

    Authors: Jude Carroll and Hazel Peperel
    Institution: Oxford Brookes University

    Plagiarism may be a growing problem in HE; worries about plagiarism certainly are increasing. For many, the Web is the source of the problem as students can cut-and-paste essays or buy from so called "cheat sites". Electronic communication, however, is also seen as a possible solution through the use of electronic detection instruments or powerful search engines that often quickly locate sites. Web-based detection sites even provide reports within a short time as to where submitted material came from and how closely the student version matches the web-based original. Such services seem attractive to hard-pressed academics marking student coursework. There is, however, almost no research on the effects of using electronic detection on student learning and student motivation. 
    This paper builds on work by Franklin Stokes and Newstead, 1995; Ashworth et al, 1997; and Bannister and Ashworth, published in the ISL conference Proceedings, 1997, all of which sought to identify the extent of plagiarism in UK Higher Education. It also uses the outcomes of a study conducted in 2001 by the government-funded Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of electronic detection software. The JISC project piloted the use of detection software in a range of HE institutions.
    The proposed conceptual paper makes a case for taking a holistic approach to deterring plagiarism. By concentrating on designing courses which make cheating more difficult and by teaching students what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it, it argues that it is possible to have an impact on student cheating that also enhances student learning. This is demonstrated by two small studies. The first follows up students in Year One who received instruction during induction on avoiding plagiarism. A contrasting small study shows that using electronic detection as the sole means of combating plagiarism does alter student behaviour but also has a largely negative effect on student motivation. Students appeared to change their behaviour, resulting in lower rates of collusion than had previously been reported, but they were also strongly critical of the approach and the lecturer who instigated it. The paper concludes with speculation on how using electronic detection in isolation might alter the learners motivation and engagement and calls for further work in this area before the current high levels of interest in electronic detection result in possible widespread use. Implications for institutional policy development are also offered.

    Abstract 2
    Why simply policing plagiarism is not the answer.

    Author: Madeleine Freewood, Ranald Macdonald and Peter Ashworth 
    Institution: Sheffield Hallam University

    While plagiarism has long excited academic concern, the increasing use of the internet and the opportunities it offers for students to access information that is not easy for a tutor to source, has acted to reinvigorate the debate with a new sense of urgency. Responding to this a whole range of commercial electronic software detection packages have been developed and a proliferation of research and academic guidance on how to identify and punish plagiarism once the 'academic offence' has been committed is readily available.
    Less research however has been carried out on what students understand by the term plagiarism and why and how they think it occurs in an academic setting.
    A study commissioned by members of the Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) Plagiarism and Collusion Steering Group used data on student views to inform a re-drafting of the University regulations and procedures relating to plagiarism and collusion, as well as providing clearer guidelines for students and staff.
    Based on a model of previous SHU research into cheating [Ashworth, Bannister & Thorne 1997] a series of 11 semi-structured interviews with undergraduate students studying a broad range of subjects were undertaken. These reveal that student's understandings of plagiarism are varied and their concerns are not typically addressed by the university or departmental guidance they have available. In particular, students tend either to regard plagiarism as theft of text, or as theft of ideas. In the latter case there is a great fear that ideas may be developed in assessed work which are thought by the student to be their very own but which tutors know to have been previously published. Inadvertent plagiarism.
    Based on the research findings the paper addresses the following main themes:

    the role of intent - under what circumstance is plagiarism seen as deviant behaviour - and how this impacts on the likelihood of students choosing to carry out plagiarism;
    subject specific variations in the moral judgement of plagiarism; university expectations, and how these impact on student attitudes to plagiarism, and
    the role of tutor as reference 'police officer'

    The paper reinforces the notion that a holistic approach to plagiarism needs to be adopted both on an institutional and departmental level and that detection and punishment need to occur alongside pedagogic measures to 'design out' plagiarism opportunities [Carroll and Appleton 2001]. It concludes however mere policing is not the solution. More work needs to be done to ensure that there is a shared understanding between staff and students about what constitutes plagiarism and its relationship to the process of scholarship and the nature of originality.
    The paper thus draws together research findings, policy and practice in order to maintain the holistic approach and indicates areas where further research would be useful to support future changes in policy and practice.

    References Ashworth, Bannister & Thorne (1997) Guilty in whose eyes? University student's perceptions of cheating and plagiarism in academic work and assessment, Studies in Higher Education, Vol. 22, No. 2

    Carroll and Appleton (2001) The Good Practice Guide to Plagiarism, [Online] JISC. Last accessed 23/1/02 at URL:

    Evans, J (2000) The New Plagiarism in Higher Education: From Selection to Reflection, [Online] Interactions, Vol 4 No.2, The University of Warwick. Last accessed 23/1/02 at URL:

    Abstract 3 
    Academic Cheating: An Investigation of Medical Students Views of Cheating on a Problem Based Learning Course

    Authors: B. Cogdell, R.G.S. Matthew and C.Gray
    Institution: University of Glasgow

    Listening to academic colleagues one might be mistaken into thinking that cheating is a new phenomenon. This impression has been generated by high profile scandals reported in the press in recent years, including the rise of electronic plagiarism from the internet. However cheating is not new. As long ago as 1941, Drake wrote an article entitled "Why students cheat", and its occurrence is reported world wide. 
    Other researchers have conducted studies into students views of cheating and its prevalence in higher education courses (e.g. Franklyn-Stokes and Newstead, 1995; Ashworth, Bannister and Thorne, 1997). However, of these studies we have found none that specifically consider the views of students who are engaged in a problem based learning (PBL) curriculum.
    PBL requires students to work in a different way to traditional, lecture-based courses, requiring students to take on a more active and investigative role in their learning. A central idea in PBL is that the students should, to some extent, engage in the exploration and discovery of knowledge for themselves. The medical curriculum at the University of Glasgow is based around PBL, and requires students to identify their own learning objectives and needs in order to better understand a given scenario.
    This study uses a mixture of focus group and questionnaire methods to explore Glasgow medical students concept of cheating, drawing on the work of Franklyn-Stokes and Newstead, and Ashworth et al. A focus group was used to identify what students saw as key themes within the over-arching idea of cheating. Open coding (Strauss and Corbin, 1990) of the focus group transcript revealed that themes identified were the role of the institution, moral aspects and the influence of fellow students. 
    A modified version of Franklyn-Stokes and Newsteads questionnaire was employed to explore the views of a small sample of medical students. The questionnaire was modified to include four statements relevant to the PBL curriculum. Comparison of the data produced with that of Franklyn-Stokes and Newstead suggested that the Glasgow medical students responses were similar, giving highly significant correlations for both frequency and seriousness of cheating. Perhaps reassuringly the activities judged to be the most serious forms of cheating by the Glasgow students were also judged to be the least frequent. 
    The PBL statements indicated that these behaviours (eg obtaining last years objectives before a PBL session) were deemed not very serious and were commonplace, however such behaviour may undermine the PBL ethos. The results and their implications will be discussed during this presentation.

    Ashworth, P., Bannister, P. and Thorne, P. (1997) Guilty in whose eyes? University students perceptions of cheating and plagiarism in academic work and assessment. Studies in Higher Education 22, pp 187-203

    Drake, C. A. (1941) Why Students cheat. Journal of Higher Education 12, pp 418-420

    Franklyn-Stokes, A. and Newstead, S. E. (1995) Undergraduate cheating: who does what and why? Studies in Higher Education 20, pp 159-172

    Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (1990) "Basics of qualitative research" Sage Publications, London