Technology and awareness can help curb plagiarism
When a student plagiarises, they are not completing their own work. The result may see them receiving a qualification that they do not deserve.It is time for us to take a stand and to help the honest students to move forward with their integrity intact.analysis Updated: Apr 14, 2017 15:02 IST
The issue of student cheating in exams across India has been widely reported by the media. The world has seen the broadcast of videos showing people climbing the side of buildings to give the answers to students taking exams. All kinds of technological solutions exist to help students to cheat their way to grades that they do not deserve.
Student cheating does not only take place in exams. When students write essays and complete other forms of written assessments, some of them also cheat by committing plagiarism.
Plagiarism happens when a student takes the words or ideas of another person and then uses them as if they have written them for themselves. Often, this means that the students are copying words from the Internet and pasting them into their essays and assignments. Other students copy material from textbooks or they reuse an essay completed by a student in a previous year.
I have been researching student plagiarism and academic misconduct since 2000 and I have watched the problem grow during that time. It is easy now for students to plagiarise. There are many temptations to cheat that students have to avoid if they want to remain honest. There are websites on the Internet on any topic that you can imagine. This means that it is easy for a student for copy from those websites and commit plagiarism.
Plagiarism is of concern to me. When a student plagiarises, this means that they are not completing their own work. The result may see them receiving a qualification that they do not deserve.
Taking other people’s work in this way also means that the student is not completing the learning that they are expected to be doing. Fraudulent behaviour, like plagiarism, also often continues after a student has completed his education. There are many examples worldwide of politicians plagiarising material, including members of the Trump family in the US plagiarising parts of their speeches. There have been reports of politicians in India plagiarising their campaign slogans.
The examples of plagiarism taking place in universities in India are not just reserved for students. Some university teachers have been shown to have plagiarised, including them submitting academic research papers that are copies of those produced by other authors. Teachers have written textbooks containing whole sections taken from other sources without acknowledgement. The issues of plagiarism extends to the highest levels of Indian universities. Several vice-chancellors have been implicated in plagiarism scandals of their own.
I regularly work with universities around the world to advise them on what to do about student plagiarism. I recommend that universities take a strong line against plagiarism and approach this from two different directions. These are prevention and detection.
First, we need to do what we can to prevent students from plagiarising in the first place. One way that we can do that is by educating and helping students. I think that there are many students in India who do not realise what plagiarism is. They do not understand why plagiarism is wrong. They think that is acceptable to just take the work of other people and use it. We need to explain the value of information to them. We have to show them how they should write about sources in their own words and how they can give credit to the experts that they have written about.
Second, we need to look at how we detect plagiarism. I recommend the use of text similarity matching software. This will check student work against the Internet and other sources and report areas that may not have been written by the student. My own PhD research was based around plagiarism detection and there are many software tools available now to help teachers to detect plagiarism.
When there has been proof that a student has plagiarised, we need to take strong and consistent action. This action needs to make it clear to students that plagiarism is not acceptable in our society. We also need to put into place any further support the student needs to improve their writing and to ensure that they do not plagiarise again. Where repeat offenders are concerned, it may be necessary to use harsh penalties to deter plagiarism, such as excluding students from their course.
We also need to make sure that penalties for plagiarism are consistently applied. It is not fair on students if there are some teachers who will take a tough line against them if they plagiarise and other teachers who will ignore it. This means that universities need to develop their own processes to ensure that students accused of plagiarism are fairly dealt with.
Plagiarism is not something that we should be accepting of in India or anywhere else in the world. It is time for us to take a stand and to help the honest students to move forward with their integrity intact.
Thomas Lancaster is associate dean,computing and digital technologies, Staffordshire University