Students have “no understanding” of what plagiarism is and why they must avoid it, according to new research.
Lee Adam, education research fellow at the University of Otago, finds that universities might need to consider their plagiarism policies and how they might “influence or confuse students in counterproductive ways”.
In the qualitative study, published in the journal Higher Education, Dr Adam interviewed 21 Otago undergraduates and found that although “aware of plagiarism as a concept” and believing that those who “intentionally cheat are cheating everybody”, students were ignorant of the potential implications of unintentional plagiarism. This was most likely not restricted to Australasia and would be the case in other global higher education systems, she says in her paper, “‘It’s not fair’: policy discourses and students’ understandings of plagiarism in a New Zealand university”.
“Either they [students] are not accessing the information we’re giving them, or we’re not providing it to them in a form they really understand,” she told Times Higher Education. “My research shows they don’t understand it, [but] said they wanted more information on plagiarism and how to avoid it.”
Dr Adam said that because of this, students felt it was unfair when they were penalised for unintentional plagiarism. Students saw themselves as “weak” and “teachers and the institution as powerful”.
Dr Adam continued: “What students were trying to articulate was ‘why do you expect us to be able to do this?’ Learning to write and learning to avoid plagiarism is linked with learning how to create knowledge in a particular discipline, and I think students understood this as well, but weren’t able to articulate it.”
She suggested that students were not connecting academic writing "to creating knowledge, they were connecting writing with…showing what they knew”.
“I think if they could make that quantum leap, then the whole concept of avoiding plagiarism would make a lot more sense to them and they would be more able to do it.”
Dr Adam suggested that what students and institutions viewed as the purpose of a university education were so disconnected that students “possibly don’t see academic writing and avoiding plagiarism” as important.
“I found that all of the students, except for one, found university as a stepping stone to employment and as an opportunity to get a job ticket,” she said. “When we consider plagiarism in relation to that, obviously they wouldn’t see the relevance of learning academic writing [and] learning to avoid plagiarism.”
Dr Adam said that following her research, Otago revised its “dishonest practice procedures”, which she had helped to write some years before “in good faith”, and relabelled them as an “academic integrity policy” to make them more “student-friendly”.