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Isabella M. Venter, Rénette J. Blignaut University of the Western Cape
Wednesday 5 September 2007, 09.30-10.30
Themes: Global Citizenship, Employability
Currently there is a perception that plagiarism is becoming more prominent at universities in general [Lambert et al., 2003; King, 2002]. The question is whether “re-use” is more acceptable in the programming fraternity. This study aims to describe the view of students in the Sciences (particularly in subjects in which students are exposed to computers and programming) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), regarding plagiarism.
At the end of 2006 an anonymous questionnaire was handed out to a representative sample of undergraduate students completing courses in Statistics and Computer Science. In total 280 questionnaires were handed out and 174 could be used for analysis purposes. Quantitative and qualitative data were used to investigate the perceptions of different groupings of students. The questionnaire was adapted form a plagiarism questionnaire developed by Dawn Francis  at the University of Birmingham . The qualitative data (student comments on the questionnaire) alerted the authors to some of the issues not tested in the questionnaire. The quantitative data was analysed using the statistical package SAS and some cross tabulation comparisons were done to compare results for the different groupings such as age, gender, etc.
Due to the nature of the sample selected most of the students were registered in the Science Faculty (65%) and some in the Health Sciences (31%). All these students were exposed to computers or programming in their courses. Although 91% of the students indicated that they were informed about plagiarism, only 61% felt that they were adequately informed about plagiarism. One student commented: “ We need to be addressed more about the issue because people don’t take it seriously. We need to learn more about its significance”.
Almost a third of students indicated that they felt that plagiarism was quite extensive across the university. This was not substantiated by the results, for example only a small percentage (14%) indicated that they sometimes do other students’ assignments for them and 19% indicated that they have handed in work as their own which was actually written jointly with another student. Fifteen percent indicated that they have handed in the same essay more than once but the majority (52%) felt that this was a serious offence.
The respondents indicated that under certain circumstances students may be more inclined to resort to plagiarism. The following reasons were mentioned by more than 50% of the respondents as very significant:
Computer Science students in the UK ranked the most important reasons for plagiarism as ‘running out of time” and “they simply could not do the coursework” [Dennis, 2004] which is almost identical to what we found.
Some general comments made by our students:
“Plagiarism will always be there as long as people wanna do better.”
“No matter how hard the Faculty tries, plagiarism will never stop in this University, because other students, they like to copy and paste from the internet when doing the assignments and reports.”
When students were asked if they would use plagiarism detection software to test their own work, 73% indicated that it would be useful. Fifty-one percent of the students felt that it would prevent students from accidental plagiarism. This may be interpreted that students copy code or text but if it cannot be detected – they would feel better about submitting the work as their own! Thus it seems as if students, although they know it is wrong, plagiarise if they think they can get away with it. Some of the factors that seem to influence plagiarism are work load (time management) and the pressure to succeed.
If lecturers are made aware of this tendency and become more attuned to the concerns of their students, a greater sensitivity towards plagiarism could be cultured. As Carroll  says: “Indeed, relying on ‘catch and punish’ strategies can threaten the experience of both staff and students ”.