According to a recent study by Dr. Lee Adam, an education research fellow at the University of Otago, students at the school simply do not understand plagiarism and, when it comes to accidental plagiarism, see it as unfair that they might be punished for a mistake.
According to Dr. Adam’s findings, which were published in the journal Higher Education, she interviewed some 21 undergraduates at his school and found that, while they were “aware of plagiarism as a concept” and took a harsh stance against intentional cheating, they did not understand the implications of unintentional plagiarism.
Specifically, students felt it was unfair that they were penalized for unintentional plagiarism and felt that they didn’t have the information that they needed to avoid it. According to Dr. Adam, “What students were trying to articulate was ‘why do you expect us to be able to do this?”
This, according to Dr. Adam, suggested a disconnect with academic writing. They saw the purpose of their writing as simply showing what they knew, not writing to create knowledge.
While the study has its limitations, including a small sample size from just one culture and geographic region, Dr. Adam is not alone in finding these results.
In 2012, the UK’s Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) published a report that indicated many students in that country who were disciplined for plagiarism claimed that they did not have adequate understanding of the rules.
The OIA encouraged schools to do more to warn students about plagiarism and educate them on how to avoid it.
But, according to Dr. Adam, more information and warning may not be enough. She says students either are not reading the information out there, or they are failing to understand it.
While students do grasp the concept of cheating and view it harshly, it’s the space between deliberate cheating and wholly original work that is not fully understood.
Unfortunately though, much of the information universities provide students often targets cheating and deliberate acts of plagiarism. Universities often assume that their students understand how to write to avoid plagiarism even if, in many cases, it was never a skill they were taught.
This can be especially true of students with a weak background in writing or those who come from different academic cultures.
This research indicates that schools may be able to reduce plagiarism by focusing on teaching students how to cite as they write (rather than trying to add citations later), ways to get ethical help on their work and proper paraphrasing techniques.
While more research is clearly needed, the idea seems straightforward: By giving the students the tools needed to create original work that constructively builds on the words and ideas of others, you also give them the power to avoid plagiarism.
That power can prevent problems down the road and make sure that students are not just successful in the classroom, but are successful academics wherever they may go.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of WriteCheck