Staff not software will trap cheats

May 19, 2006

Academics must lead multi-pronged war on plagiarism, universities are told.

Jessica Shepherd reports

Universities must stop looking for a quick fix to tackle student cheating and instead properly support academics as their frontline defence, a plagiarism prevention expert has warned.

Jude Carroll, a senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, believes most institutions wrongly think that paying up to £15,000 for an electronic detection system is enough to combat plagiarism.

She says universities must engage academics more effectively in the fight against cheating as part of a multi-pronged approach.

In a paper published in the journal Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education , written with Ranald Macdonald of Sheffield Hallam, she argues that institutions:

* Need a group made up of academics and senior managers to collect and discuss views on plagiarism, with one member responsible for progress

* Must give students feedback and lessons on how to write a bibliography and reference sources

* Should nurture and support academics who are enthusiastic about tackling plagiarism

* Ensure staff are not inconvenienced or penalised for reporting suspected plagiarists

* Commission and publicise local investigations into cheating

* Provide resources to support change in the form of specialists, researchers or detection software.

* Collect data to monitor the impact of changes.

Ms Carroll said: "A lot of universities seem to want a magic solution to student plagiarism, a single action that solves the problem. But the only way to tackle it is to use a bunch of solutions."

Ms Carroll lists Oxford Brookes as one of the best universities at tackling plagiarism along with Napier, Sheffield Hallam, Sussex, Kent and Hertfordshire universities and the University of the West of England.

She said: "Students bear the key responsibility for solving the problem, with academic staff and institutions primarily having the role of ensuring there are sufficient deterrents and punishments.

"Faced with the acknowledged increase in student plagiarism, we should start from the premise that we need to get assessment right in the first place and we need to integrate specific proposed actions to deal with it into an institution-wide, coherent and evidence-informed approach."

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