Category Archives: Plagiarism

Plagiarism Prevention and the UT Libraries

As an instruction librarian, plagiarism is on my mind quite a bit at the beginning of the fall semester as I work with faculty to integrate information literacy into their courses.  Some want to design “plagiarism proof” research assignments while others are looking for information about plagiarism detection software.  Everyone wants the silver bullet that doesn’t exist.

I’m not the only one thinking about plagiarism and other issues of academic integrity at UT this fall.  At the beginning of the semester, UT President Bill Powers announced that the UT Honor Code has been updated to include academic integrity, a change driven by the UT Senate of College Councils, the student legislative organization on campus dedicated to academic affairs.  Not long after President Powers’ announcement, the Chronicle of Higher Education published “Better Data Can Help Colleges Fight Cheating,” a story about how Student Judicial Services at UT-Austin collects and publishes statistics about academic integrity violations and uses this data to combat academic integrity violations across campus.

If you think of plagiarism prevention on campus as a cycle, the first part would be represented by the honor code, which sets a standard of behavior and helps to establish a shared value system on campus.  Research shows that there are fewer incidents of plagiarism on campuses with an honor code.  The last part of the cycle would be detecting and punishing incidents of plagiarism to reinforce that value system, which is what Student Judicial Services does.  The middle part of that cycle, education, is where the Libraries fit in.  We work with faculty and other academic support units on campus to provide students with the knowledge and skills to avoid plagiarism.

Over the years, we’ve developed a multi-pronged approach to plagiarism prevention, working both independently and with campus partners such as the Academic Integrity Committee, a part of the Senate of College Councils, the Undergraduate Writing Center, the School of Undergraduate Studies and Student Judicial Services.

Our approach includes:

1.  Supporting peer mentors to teach their students what plagiarism is and how to avoid it with a fun, game-based approach.  As the number of peer mentor-led learning communities grow as part of a campus-wide initiative, we hope to reach even more students this way.

2.  An interactive tutorial, All About Plagiarism, that teaches students what plagiarism is, why they should care, and skills to avoid it (citing, paraphrasing and note taking).  Many of our faculty assign this tutorial, linking the quiz results to their gradebooks in Blackboard and Canvas.

3.  In-person and online drop in workshops on Avoiding Plagiarism, which we also offer by request to student groups, research groups and departments.

4.  Workshops and individual assignment design consultations for faculty.

We know that not every student receives instruction to help them avoid plagiarism, whether through the libraries, in the classroom or via other academic support units.  Ideally there would be a program where every student their first year would learn about plagiarism and how to avoid it, and student learning in this program would be assessed with the results folded back in to improve the program.  Perhaps with the rising interest in academic integrity on campus, we can work with our partners to make this happen.

Summarizing the Citation Project

Unraveling the Citation Trail,” Project Information Literacy Smart Talk, no. 8, Sandra Jamieson and Rebecca Moore Howard, The Citation Project, August 15, 2011.

The Citation Project is a product of two Composition PhD candidates that realized that student engagement with sources is often driven by their need for citations — and that’s it. We’ve all heard the anecdote about the student approaching the reference desk looking for sources for the paper they’ve already written, but the research behind the Citation Project provides some pretty solid evidence for the assumption that students aren’t doing so because of  lack of skill development around being able to really “read” a source.

We’ve encountered faculty that are consistently focused on making sure their students don’t plagiarize. We’ve also encountered faculty that ask us to teach formatting citations.  The research that the Citation Project has begun tries to expose the assumption that knowing what plagiarism is and how to cite is part and parcel of being able to engage deeply with a text and subsequently write a “source-based paper” that synthesizes elements from various sources.

They are on Phase I of their research currently, which is analyzing first-year composition papers for their selection of source, and ability to paraphrase and cite appropriately.  The research began first with the question, “How often do students use summary, paraphrase, and patchwriting in their researched writing?” They published the preliminary results in their article, ” Writing from Sources, Writing  from Sentences“, and then continued to expand their research to other composition classes and campuses across the US.

[[Let me preface this summary of their data with this: they did not collect assignment descriptions for each of the paper’s submitted and thus made assumptions about why students cited certain sources (textbooks over scholarly articles). Their justification about why students use certain sources over others is less strong than the data they provide about how students use citations and their ability to engage with the text. Just sayin’. ]]

– Quick to label “underdeveloped writing” as plagiarism: the authors use the term “patchwriting” to describe the areas of student-written text where they tried to paraphrase but failed. This is an interesting added shade of gray to our normal students often don’t understand they are plagiarizing.

– Of the 1,300+ citations they reviewed, almost half are direct quotations, 16% were patch written, 32% are paraphrased and 6% were summarized. Because the authors place greater understanding of text through summarizing, this data is rather depressing:

” If your focus is on procedure and correct format, these papers are a great success. But if you look at this another way and remember that for most of us, “research” is about the discovery of new information and ideas, and the synthesis of those ideas into deeper understanding, the majority of the papers failed. Only 6% of the citations are to summarized material. It is in summary that writers demonstrate comprehension of the larger arguments of a text, working from ideas rather than sentences. And in the papers we studied, students are not doing that. Further, 46% of the citations are from the first page of the source in question. Yes, that really is 46%, and a full 70% come from somewhere in the first two pages (1,328 citations from a total of 1,911 that we coded). The majority of the sources are cited only once, and only a handful of the papers cite any source in a way that suggests the student was engaging with the entire text.”

– Focusing on plagiarism within the writing classroom/process stunts students ability to fully engage with sources and texts, in order to satisfy a requirement or follow specific assignment prompts. In addition they noted that students that do use texts outside of those required, often don’t understand how to weave them throughout a paper. Instead, they are often cited once in one paragraph and then forgotten.

– By teaching engagegment with sources, instructors are, de facto, working towards anti-plagiarism efforts, “Preventing plagiarism is a desired outcome of our research, but as an indirect result of students’ knowing how to work with source.”

– The authors recommend a few ways in which instructors can help integrate plagiarism prevention into their teaching:

  1. Teach students to read complex sources critically.
  2. Teach students, perhaps in conjunction with librarians, how to identify good sources and how to read a source citation so they know how to even begin to evaluate a source.
  3. Describe the purpose of the research process and model use of good sources, such as having students read essays that also cite.
  4. Work with students to be able to summarize extended pieces of text, not just be able to condense a few sentences into one or two.
A few conclusions:
  • I really liked this approach and appreciated the statistics as talking points for working with faculty who ask their students to synthesize sources but don’t realize they likely haven’t been taught this before (and I’m going to take a leap here and assume that this isn’t just first-year students)
  • I believe we had previously discussed the issue of citation analysis and some of it’s flaws because it doesn’t actually show the depth of engagement the student had with that source, just that it was likely evaluated at some point (hopefully).  Combining citation analysis with summarizing might be an added way to contextualize the reasons for choosing that source and their ability to engage with it.
  • I take issue with their understanding of “information literacy”. They note that students might choose web pages which were likely inappropriate for college-level papers. Assuming that a web page is inappropriate for a college-level paper is too easy a judgement to make.
  • I had never heard of “patchwriting” before and really like this description as a way to describe “underdeveloped paraphrasing.”
What do you all think?

there’s always someone, somewhere with a big nose, who knows
“University Students’ Perceptions of Plagiarism”, Lori G. Power, The Journal of Higher Education, Volume 80, Number 6, November/December 2009, pp. 643-662.

This article got me thinking about our role in informing students about plagiarism. I know we have an instruction session and we have guides for students and faculty, but I’d like to know what the professors in RHE and UGS say to their students on the subject. Plagiarism on the web is ubiquitous. You can find the same information of several different sites, word for word, with no citing whatsoever. I think the author of this article is touching upon an emerging problem that has been compounded recently by the spread of information on the Web.

“The postmodern perspective of intertextuality and the ubiquitous nature of ideas at the beginning of the twenty-first century have certainly led to the ever-increasing concern about plagiarism.”

If a student’s first experience with intellectual property is Web-based, how can you explain the concept to them in regards to their own work?
This survey of 31 first and second year students analyzes why students don’t seem to understand what plagiarism is and why they shouldn’t do it. The author posits that students think of plagiarism as something they are forbidden to do by professors who give them little reasoning behind the rule. Some students, she writes, are confused as to why plagiarism is a big deal at all, likening it to “stealing a grape”.

“The concept of intellectual property is not intrinsic to most of these students; it is imposed on them by authorities or other people in power outside of themselves.”

Furthermore, even if students are actively trying to obey this rule, they may not know how. The author discusses some students’ misunderstanding of paraphrasing, for example.

[One student responds:] “I’m not sure which one you have to make reference to the name of the person or the publication that you are citing or you are quoting. It’s kind of hard. I’m not sure. I think of them [quoting and citing] as interchangeable.”

In fact, this lack of ability to tell the difference between quoting, citing, and paraphrasing became a frequently-recurring phenomenon among the participants.
Many of the students in this study reported that they were only really informed of plagiarism after the fact, i.e., their professor caught them, bringing up questions about how plagiarism is penalized and if it is done so consistently:

“Because some teachers are OK with some, and then you go to other teachers and get caught plagiarizing, and you don’t even know it,” said one respondent.

The author seems to be advocating that we welcome students as members into a scholarly conversation:

“We need to improve our strategies for helping our students to discover the importance of intellectual property and the sharing and ownership of ideas.”

My question is, would that work? Do students care about scholarship? Do we need to redefine scholarship in today’s world of freely available information?