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.