Monday, September 08, 2008

On Hi Tech Cheats.

As we slide towards the beginning of a new academic year an interesting article by Moira Sharkey, can be seen in today's Western Mail.

It reports that 1,600 students have been caught cheating at Welsh Universities over the last three years. Most were guilty of plagiarism, some guilty of cheating in exams.

According to the article, over the last three years among Welsh Universities the University of Glamorgan has disciplined the most students. A statistic rightly defended by the University as they take "cheating seriously and work hard to catch the culprits"

As is ever the case, the statistics are incomplete as Welsh Universities have different methodologies and systems for publishing annual records but they do show that Welsh Universities are engaging with and beating plagiarists.

Many students enter University unaware of how academic work is assessed in Higher Education and are often ill prepared for the vast gulf that exists between sixth form and undergraduate life.

Ben Gray (of NUS Wales) comments on this in the article

“NUS Wales recognises that there are huge differences in the way that
higher education is conducted and assessed compared with secondary
education and as such these are issues that student unions across Wales
are assisting institutions in helping students understand the system.”

While NUS Wales should be commended for assisting students understand the University way of thinking, work needs to be done to ensure that schools understand what Higher Education expects and that Universities are perhaps a little more aware of their student's shortcomings.

Many sixth formers (digital natives?) are ill prepared for the rigour of academic essay writing and the associated referencing processes, as they have passed through a school system where the cut and paste mentality of project and course work has been encouraged and endorsed by the actions of their parents, teachers and peers. This is not totally the fault of the schools or the teachers. It is a way of thinking that has been encouraged by the system. Now that course work is being downgraded schools need to do much more to prepare students for University life and Universities need to do more to integrate undergraduates in academic life.

If Higher Education is seen to be actively confronting and disciplining those guilty of cheating, not only will the numbers of those cheating be reduced but public confidence in the quality of Higher Eduction qualifications will be restored.

The figures should be published openly and shared with the current and prospective student
communities, so that it can be seen that Universities deal with cheats. It is quite strange to me that the figures have come to lightas the result of an enquiry from Chris Franks AM.

Perhaps they should be published annually by the WAG, published in University prospectuses
or on University Web sites. They should most certainly be shared with new students during Fresher's weeks.

Of course catching the cheats is one thing, deciding what to do with them is another.

A first year undergraduate caught plagiarising is quite likely to have plagiarised unwittingly or unknowingly. A third year undergraduate or a Master's degree student caught plagiarising is guilty of completely different kind of cheating.

Can you remember hearing of anyone being "sent down" ?

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  1. Palgiarism (defined as: the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work)is not so black and white as you might think. I am friends with someone who was accused of this recently, and actually what they were guilty of is not citing the reference correctly. The referenced work was unpuplished at the time the paper was written and was used with full permission. By the time the paper was marked, the work had been published and was available on the Internet. My friend received the punishment of having to re-submit the paper with a maximum possible grade of 40%. I felt this was an overly harsh punishment, considering there was no _intent_ to cheat.

    The increase of instances of plagiarism, I suspect, has more to do with good search engines than anything else. How was plagiarism detected before Google? The students haven't changed. It's just waaaay easier to check up on them now.

  2. Hi Tim.

    Good to hear from you, I've realised that you've been commenting On The Hill. The drawback of using scribefire to post to the blog is that I don't check for comments. Inexcusable.

    You are right, plagiarism can be difficult to understand but sometimes rules are rules are rules for a reason.

    It is possible and indeed necessary to cite unpublished work. Having permission to copy someone else's work, published or not, is not the issue.

    When submitting a piece of writing for assessment the student says here is MY work, MY essay, MY paper, MY thoughts, MY conclusions, MY calculations, MY programming, MY poem, MY musical composition, MY painting. Including some one else's work without citation is wrong.

    I'm not convinced that there has been an increase in instances of plagiarism, but I'd have to check. Very often plagiarism is detected because the lecturer knows his/her student and recognises their style or manner of writing. Lecturers faced with marking one hundred plus essays are usually well read in the subject, aware of material on the internet and crucially recognise the same phrases as they appear in essay after essay after essay.