Student Plagiarism And How To Stop An International Problem – With A Focus On Kosovo

In November 2017, I had the pleasure of visiting Kosovo to speak about student plagiarism. This formed part of the Council of Europe’s work as part of the Pan-European Platform on Ethics, Transparency and Integrity in Education (ETINED) and also allowed me to talk about some of the SEEPPAI research I’ve been involved with.

I spoke at two universities, answered questions and invited discussion for what look to be difficult issues for Kosovo. There seems to have been little attention paid to plagiarism in education in Kosovo before. I see this as a vital discussion for the future.

I was particularly heartened to see students joining the events and sharing their ideas for future change.

The slides I used available on my SlideShare account and included below.

The slides deliberately approached both plagiarism and academic integrity as concepts that I did not expect everyone in the audience to be familiar with. That means that they may look relatively basic to experienced audiences when compared to my regular presentations. The questions asked showed that the expectation of starting from a low shared knowledge base was the correct one.

The first of the two talks was featured as a news report on the national TV evening news. Unfortunately, the report also shows a small audience, looking even smaller than it really was based on the angle the TV crew chose to show the audience from. The talk the following day was much better attended, with some audience members saying they had seen the coverage the previous day.

There is further online coverage about the presentation in Pristina here and the presentation in Prizren here.

Thomas Lancaster speaks about Student Plagiarism in Kosovo

There are still more discussions to be had and I look forward to being further part of the movement aiming at promoting academic integrity in Kosovo.

Emerging Issues In Plagiarism Prevention And Detection – My View From 2004

Writing About Plagiarism In 2004

My hard disk contains quite an archive of material I’ve prepared, but which has never seen the light of the day. Some of it is good, some of it deserves to be formally completed, some of it I could never quite work into a shape that I was happy with at the time.

I want to share with you some extracts from a partial paper I wrote in early 2004. All the quoted text is presented, unedited, just I left it in the draft over 13 years ago. Had this paper been completed in a form I was happy with, the choice of words would likely have gone through further fine tuning.

To put these extracts into their historical context as part of my research journey, I completed my PhD on plagiarism detection in 2003. Later that year began working as a Lecturer in Computing at the University of Central England (now known as Birmingham City University).

My working title for the paper was “Fresh Issues in Plagiarism Prevention and Detection” and the paper was constructed to:

discuss the issues that will be relevant to plagiarism prevention and detection in the near future

as well as to:

inform the directions in which it is necessary for future research to proceed

The planned paper ended up taking a back seat with the pressures of adapting to the pressures of a new teaching intensive environment. My subsequent research efforts ended up going in a different direction.

In hindsight, perhaps this paper did deserve to have been completed. My experience is that this type of paper tends to be well-received.

An earlier paper of mine, Plagiarism Issues In Higher Education, which I wrote alongside my PhD, is one of my most cited papers. That is despite this being one of the first papers I wrote – and also one of the easiest to write. I presume that, being introductory in nature, meant that this paper was accessible by a wide audience.

Now, I tend to publish material of this type as blog posts. Perhaps not the best strategy if the results also suitable for citation…

Eight Plagiarism Issues

The draft I wrote in 2004 included updated ideas from my PhD thesis together with observations I’d made during the intervening year.

Here’s what I said in the draft paper…

Eight main issues have been identified that are worthy of further investigation. These include both issues of academic and practical interest.

The issues are:
 
outsourced submissions – has work submitted by a student actually been produced by that student?
 
ownership of work – is it both legal and ethical to submit work from students to detection services.
 
tool usability – there are many technical solutions available to find out if work is similar to another source, but are those tools produced to ease tutor workload?
 
extent of cheating – conflicting evidence exists stating how common cheating is, can parity exist between different subjects and different researchers?
 
policy – how far is reducing the level of plagiarism and the methods to deal with plagiarisers related to appropriate from the upper echelon of an academic institute?
 
earlier exposure – are students plagiarising due to practices accepted in further education being condoned in higher education and, if so, can what are the solutions?>
 
transparency – how far can students see that a due-process is being followed for plagiarism prevention and detection?
 
open source detection – does an institution committing themselves to commercial detection technology hinder them in long term planning?

 
Although my writing style has developed since and I would likely use more supportive language, many of these issues are still equally relevant today.

The issue referred to as outsourced assessment, of course, has been much developed in the form of research into contract cheating. The particular example given, that is authenticating if the author of an assessment solution and the student submitting this for academic credit are the same person, has still not been solved for anything other than very specific cases.

User Experience

I’d like to pick up on one of the 2004 issues as worthy of more immediate attention.

Whether or not software tools for plagiarism detection are optimised for user experience continues to be questionable. The fact that similarity reports are often misinterpreted – and that users cannot always differentiate between similarity and plagiarism, suggests otherwise.

Much valuable progress has been made since 2004 on working with students as academic integrity partners. That includes supporting students in developing their academic writing by providing them with controlled access to appropriate software tools, such as those that show similarity. I have seen far too many tweets where students are boasting about getting their similarity (plagiarism) score down to an unrealistic level.

Improving the usability of support tools, for instance by making the results more readable and the practical steps to take more intuitive, is now important for students too.

The user interfaces for originality checking software tools do not seem to have evolved, in any real sense, since the first commercial providers came onto the market. There is an opportunity for thought leadership here.

One of the major challenges for academics investigating possible non-originality is taking the output from a tool and converting this into a format considered acceptable for a university academic misconduct panel. Often, panels still require information in a printed format and I know of academics who have had to spend many hours laboriously marking sources up by hand. This is an area which is ripe for improving the user experience.

There is certainly the opportunity for a PhD to look at redefining these user interfaces. If you would be interested in working on that area, under my supervision, please contact me and let me know.

I also believe that the potential exists for artificial intelligence techniques to be used to provide personalised help for a user accessing a similarity report. Such AI could be used to consider whether or not similarity is likely to represent plagiarism and where in the document a user should focus their priority (whether this is a student learning academic writing who has forgotten to cite their source, or a tutor investigating possible plagiarism).

Plagiarism Prevention And Detection Issues Of 2017 And 2018

What are the main issues that exist for individuals researching plagiarism prevention and plagiarism detection today? Is it appropriate to consider issues previously identified, such as my ideas from 2004, during the production of a more up to date list?

Which of the many issues then most deserve to be quickly addressed?

Do feel free to share your thoughts using the Comment box at the end of the post.

(and now that I have extracted some value from them, the rest of my outdated materials from “Fresh Issues in Plagiarism Prevention and Detection” can safely be moved to the Recycle Bin)

Beyond Contract Cheating – Towards Academic Integrity

I explored the issue of contract cheating and the growing movement towards academic integrity as part of a teaching and research seminar at the University of St. Andrews.

You can see the slides used in the presentation on my SlideShare account. They are also embedded below.

This was one of the most respectful audiences that I’ve ever presented for, with an extended period of questions and answers afterwards. I was also pleased to see students in the audience.

From the discussion, it was clear that many in the audience hadn’t really considered that contract cheating happened. I hope the discussion we had about assessment design techniques was useful. I don’t think that it’s ever possible to completely design out cheating from assessments, but it is possible to make this a strategy that students wouldn’t consider effective to use.

Plagiarism and Assessment

I regularly discuss issues relating to the assessment of student work when I give presentations on plagiarism, contract cheating and academic misconduct. Since good assessment design is essential to engage students and reduce the potential for cheating, I would find it very difficult to talk about plagiarism and not incorporate assessment into the mix.

It does seem that such an approach is not always true in general. Some work on plagiarism does incorporate assessment. However, work on assessment does not seem to as regularly to incorporate plagiarism.

 

Academic Papers Referring To Plagiarism And Assessment

The table below shows the number of matches on Google Scholar for the search terms assessment, plagiarism and assessment plagiarism. Patents and citations are excluded, so these searches generally map to academic publications.

all since 2013 since 2016 since 2017
assessment 5,570,000 996,000 371,000 104,000
plagiarism 312,000 31,400 29,100 13,100
assessment plagiarism 61,600 17,700 15,200 5,510

 

The overall figures suggest that 19.7% of papers on plagiarism also talk about assessment. However, only 1.1% of papers on assessment also talk about plagiarism.

This is, however, something of a simplistic measure, as academic papers use the word assessment to refer to subjects other than work with students. Topics cover such areas as the assessment of fish stock data sets, clinical assessments and the assessment of global warning. Looking through the first few pages of results, I’d estimate that around 1 in 10 uses of assessment actually refer to academic assessments.

By the same token, the rough numbers listed for plagiarism and assessment plagiarism are rather crude. Plagiarism, for instance, is used in other contexts, for instance when talking about plagiarism in books, in popular culture and as part of research misconduct. But this is relatively fair. I believe that it is fair to say that papers relating to plagiarism refer to assessment around twice as often as papers relating to assessment refer to plagiarism (20% compared with 11%).

The good news is that assessment and plagiarism research does seem to have more closely interlinked.

Making similar assumptions to those above:

  • since 2013, 56% of papers relating to plagiarism refer also to assessment, compared with 18% of papers on assessment referring to plagiarism
  • since 2016, 52% of papers relating to plagiarism refer also to assessment, compared with 41% of papers on assessment referring to plagiarism
  • since 2017, 42% of papers relating to plagiarism refer also to assessment, compared with 52% of papers on assessment referring to plagiarism

(the latter data set is relatively small, as 2017 is still in progress, so I would recommend treating that final result with caution)

The trend to relate these two areas does seem to be one that it moving in the right direction.

 

Academic Paper Titles Referring To Plagiarism And Assessment

To get an alternative measure, I repeated the search on Google Scholar looking for the words plagiarism and assessment in the paper titles.

You can do this using the useful intitle: search term, as below:

all since 2013 since 2016 since 2017
assessment 831,000 71,600 73,900 19,000
plagiarism 5,460 1,770 602 224
assessment plagiarism 60 30 8 2

(note that these figures suggest that papers on assessment were withdrawn between 2013 and 2016, but that is likely to be a glitch based on the way that Google estimates the size of large data sets like these – the overall trends still seem reasonable)

 

A quick verification of the matches suggests that the 10% figure for the proportion of the assessment results relating to education stills holds.

The results here are interesting in that, although the indications are that assessment and plagiarism are becoming increasingly mentioned in the same papers, this is not a strong link (it is rare to see both terms mentioned in the paper titles).

Looking at all four columns in the time period, the results are relatively similar:

  • between 0.9% and 1.7% of papers referring to plagiarism in the title also refer to assessment
  • between 0.07% and 0.4% of papers referring to assessment in the title also refer to plagiarism

There are few strong links between plagiarism and assessment in research papers. Where these strong links exists, they are almost always a paper on plagiarism that also incorporates assessment (not the other way around).

With that said, the relatively small number of papers demonstrating that they have closely considered plagiarism and assessment would look perfect to review for a focused literature review.

 

Research Flaws and Opportunities

The numbers here are very rough and ready. The approximation of the percentage of assessment papers relating to educational assessment is exactly that (a rough estimate) and may change from year-to-year. But I feel that there is enough here to illustrate general trends.

(there may also be some simple fixes for this – for instance, I wonder what the results would show if the word education was added to every search?)

Google Scholar, by its nature, is not a perfect system. It doesn’t record every paper, or with the same level of detail. And, sometimes non-papers slip in (I noticed a small number of assessment briefs with accompanying plagiarism statements in there).

It would be interesting to look at a corpus of abstracts to more accurately investigate the research links between plagiarism and assessment.

It would be useful to collect the results on a year-by-year basis to investigate trends, rather than rely on the general groups of dates that Google Scholar offers by default.

It would also be useful to examine alternative wording. For instance, is the term academic integrity linked with assessment research?

And, of course, similar techniques could be used to analyse research links between any two terms, even those completely outside of education.

Maybe I shall try some of those areas out when I have more time. Or, if anyone is interested in working with me on some data mining based research, let me know. There is certainly potential here as well to identify good terminology to use in academic paper titles (think search engine optimisation for academic research).

 

Web Pages on Assessment and Plagiarism

Even outside of pure academic research, these are rare.

Google finds only 953 web pages with both assessment and plagiarism in the title.

They are an interesting set of pages, many relating to regulations. Maybe I’ll talk more about that in a future post. The suggested related searches are also telling in many ways.

This can be plagiarism and assessment web page result #954.

 

Plagiarism Across Europe And Beyond 2017

The Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond conference series is now established as one of the top conferences in the world for practitioners and researchers interested in plagiarism, contract cheating and other academic integrity developments across the higher education sector.

The 2017 conference provided my first opportunity to attend and I joined a record number of delegates in Brno, Czech Republic to participate in the conference. As well as Europe, the kudos of the conference was evident with delegates attending from around the world.

From my role as a researcher into contract cheating, it was pleasing to see that this was a major theme of the conference, with two keynotes devoted to contract cheating, many presentations on contract cheating and other sessions bringing this area into their work. There is very promising work going on around the ghostwriting field right now.

I was active at the conference myself as an author for two research papers (I presented the one on contract cheating, the one on our SEEPPAI research was delivered by other members of the team), chairing a paper session and participating as a panel member for a discussion on contract cheating. There were also many useful sessions to be had outside of the scheduled activities and it was great to talk to members of the Turnitin team.

I have lots of notes and ideas from the conference. My notepad now tends to be my Twitter account, so you can see the notes from participants at the conference, including myself, collected together here:

You can view the other stories on the Storify account for Thomas Lancaster here.

Debora Weber-Wulff also provided excellent write-ups of each day of the conference on her blog. You can read her thoughts on day one, day two and day three.

As there were parallel sessions at several points during the conference, Deborah and I weren’t always in the same session, so I found her other summaries really useful. She also talks about the presentations I was involved with, as I couldn’t live tweet about this.

A lot of photography was taken during the conference and many sessions were captured on video (including, I believe, our panel discussion), so I shall look forward to seeing those. Plans for Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2018 are already taking shape and that should be another awesome event. I’d also love to see more events taking place in the UK, so feel free to contact me if this is something that you’re interested in.

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