Skills Deficit or Intentional Plagiarism?

Our recent blog post discusses the thorny question of intentional vs inadvertent plagiarism. As educators we always want to look on the bright side, and we naturally have a very positive outlook, so, when it comes to breaches of academic integrity we want to assume that any misconduct has been inadvertent, and simply as a result of an issue with comprehension, reading ability, paraphrasing or some other, easily rectifiable skills deficit. However, in a small number of instances, alarm bells ring, sadly indicating a deliberate attempt to commit misconduct. 

In your experience, what proportion of misconduct is intentional, and what proportion is as a result of a skills deficit of some kind? And what are some of the tell-tale signs that can signal possible misconduct? 

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  • Intentional plagiarism is usually easy to spot. As is assignment spinning.  We can see it where the student thinks the risk is equal to the  punishment. Where the punishment is less than the risk and the pressure to achieve is at all other cost, then it may be a risk they are willing to take. Unintentional plagiarism usually ends up being because the student didn't really understand what they have read and hence cannot write it in their own words. Or they do not have enough understanding of the scholarly values we are seeking. In a world where people are sharing memes, quotes without attribution, one of the most important roles we can play is to show our students why the source maters and should be cited.

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      • Gill Rowell
      • Advocacy & Thought Leadership Specialist, Turnitin
      • Gill_Rowell
      • 1 yr ago
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      Many thanks Lynn for your contribution. And you raise an interesting point about punishment, or penalties for academic misconduct. Tracey Bretag prefers the work "outcomes" to penalties since in many cases, as with unintentional plagiarism, which may result from a skills deficit or lack of understanding of scholarly conventions the outcome can be viewed as a learning opportunity.

      Also, do others agree that for some students, misconduct is a calculated risk if they perceive the outcome to be relatively minor?

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      • Lynn
      • Inspiring learning through technology
      • Lynn
      • 1 yr ago
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      Gill Rowell I do believe educational outcomes are the first step and the best way forward. However when intentional plagiarism or contract cheating is involved (particularly the later) we have to take a hard stance.

      As this is about intentional and unintentional plagiarism then it is about the opportunity to 'get it right'. We do have to be careful about workload (both ways) and fairness and equity. We also need to build a culture of what is right. Start with ethics and if students can see the reason i.e showing how you know something is more important than knowing it alone, then everything changes.

      Remember too, that not all students have been taught in a system that values independent thought. In some instances being able to write exactly what has been written before is valued, in that case, while it is deliberate, it is not an attempt to deceive.

      At the heart of it we have to look to what underpinned the actions to know what is the best remedial action. There is no one size fits all approach!

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      • Gill Rowell
      • Advocacy & Thought Leadership Specialist, Turnitin
      • Gill_Rowell
      • 1 yr ago
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      Lynn That's a great point about students who might have been taught in a different educational system where independent thought is not always encouraged.

      I recall speaking to a postgraduate student who was studying in the UAE, but had completed her undergraduate program at a university in another country where exams and rote memorisation were the norm. She described her experiences as a complete “culture shock”, as she was asked to demonstrate key writing skills such as paraphrasing, citation and referencing in her work.

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      • Lynn
      • Inspiring learning through technology
      • Lynn
      • 1 yr ago
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      Gill Rowell Indeed, this is something all need to be be aware of in relation to the cohort we teach. Its easy to weave such discussions into your teaching and most universities provide learning support.

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  • In our institution, we had a doctorate candidate who expanded her published paper into a full blown dissertation, the similarity check was amusing as her name was on it, I gave her the originality report or similarity result. 

    At the point, she admitted it, good for her that her situation pulled the envelop; some of my colleagues believed it was right while other raised the ethical soundness of such act. 

    The end result was a recalibration of University policy to address this issue. the erring student graduated. 

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  • The issues really is about citation and if a degree had already been awarded on the basis. If they cited their own work then its just like any other reference but all work must be original and not already awarded i.e you can't 'double dip' the system.

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      • Gill Rowell
      • Advocacy & Thought Leadership Specialist, Turnitin
      • Gill_Rowell
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      Lynn Aljoriz M. Dublin These are excellent points and great to hear that policies were amended as a result. I wonder, do policies routinely define and address self plagiarism and also make it clear that work which has already been assessed (or published!) cannot be submitted for another award?

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      • Lynn
      • Inspiring learning through technology
      • Lynn
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      Gill Rowell We are extremely clear about this at a course level and at a uni wide level, From experience as a student earlier this was also clear. It is also about ensuring students know that you can't 'double dip' and earn credit twice:)

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