Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Event Report: 6th ASKe Plagiarism event (held in conjunction with the Higher Education Academy)

Dr Erica Morris Speaking at the ASKe conference (c) ASKe
Used with permission
I attended the 6th ASKe Plagiarism event on Institutional Policies and Procedures for managing student plagiarism last Thursday, 13th June 2012. It was held at Oxford Brookes University at the Wheatley Campus. As our Institution's Turnitin administrator, I was keen to find out what involvement and role this technology would have in the conference. In addition, I wanted to expand on my knowledge of how one might promote academic integrity in students and thereby prevent plagiarism at source, rather than just treating the symptoms. Finally, as I had never been to Oxford before, I was looking forward to having a brief look at the place!

The event itself commenced with a welcome speech by Dr Erica Morris (Academic Lead for Assessment and Feedback, Employability at the Higher Education Academy). The talk included framing the session, reflecting on the previous conference themes (including the scale of the plagiarism problem and student perspectives on plagiarism) and discussing themes for this session. The themes for this year included: developing assessment strategies, implementing institutional policy, student reading and writing practices and use of evaluation tools.

The first key note speech was titled "Step one - Create a policy. Step two - Now what do we do?" and was given by Dr Tricia Bertram Gallant, (Academic Integrity Office University of California), who had kindly travelled all the way from the University of California to be at the conference. Dr Gallant’s speech began with a nice plagiarism policy analogy. Dr Gallant compared such an institutional policy to a Sat Nav system. You can tell the Sat Nav the address of where you want to go but in computing the location it won't take into account major obstacle( including traffic or closed roads), and the status of certain satellite communications may interrupt its ability to map the route correctly. The end result being that we don't end up where we thought we would be! It was suggested that maybe the problem is to complicated to fix with just the development of an Institutional policy.

Dr Gallant suggested that there were in fact key steps involved in making any plagiarism policy work:

  • Building recognition: Admitting as an Institution that there is a problem with unfair means
  • Building commitment: Once the problem is recognised it requires an Institutional resolve to deal with the problem
  • Involving students: Don't just treat the symptoms with technological “solutions”such as text matching services, get to the source of why students might plagiarise: pressure, lack of perceived ability etc
  • Developing the Integrity response: This Institutional response should be created utilising learning and teaching and ethics involvement in equal parts

The first workshop I chose to attend was one given by Jane Thomas (Deputy head, Teaching Learning and Professional Practice, College of Human and Health sciences, Swansea University). This was a very interesting presentation titled "Promoting Academic Integrity" on how Swansea University are helping to rehabilitate, rather than punish, students who commit unfair practice. This rehabilitative approach involved developing an on line resource that would help demonstrate different types of unfair means to students (including both intentional and unintentional plagiarism, collusion, and referencing issues). The resource comprised an on line quiz accessed via their VLE (virtual learning environment) and students had to gain 100% in the quiz in order to pass.

I strongly agree with the idea that we really need to look at methods such as these for helping students understand the many different forms of plagiarism that exist. In fact, I don't mind admitting I took some time identifying plagiarism in some of the exemplar cases that were shown to us. If staff are having problems identifying plagiarism I can understand how students could potentially find it very difficult. Waving the big plagiarism stick just wont get to the bottom of the problem.

The second key note speech after lunch was given by Professor Peter Hartley, (Professor of Education Development, University of Bradford). The speech was titled "Envisioning a world without plagiarism". This extremely entertaining and informative speech included a discussion about how the keys to preventing student plagiarism lay more in changing the mindsets of students to a more flexible state, where the student is able to perceive their abilities more positively.

We were also treated to a very condensed version of Professor Hartley’s PASS (Programme Assessment Strategies) workshop. Within this workshop Professor Hartley talked about how programme focused assessment might be a more effective way of getting students to engage with higher learning than the current modular set up employed at many Institutions. It would of course require more communication between teaching staff to ensure that any given programme of study covered the areas of learning required but that this could only be a good thing! This programme-focused approach did seem to allow for more space for formative assessment and thereby create more opportunity for students to engage in higher learning; leading ultimately to lower plagiarism cases. However I do have one question, if programme-focused assessment is the key, why have we had modular based programmes for so long? What was the rationale behind modular programmes to begin with?

The final workshop I attended was intriguingly titled "What I did with Turnitin on my holidays. Ten years of policy and practice in Turnitin use in UK Institutions". This workshop was given by Gill Rowell (Academic adviser, PlagiarismAdvice.org). This workshop consisted primarily of a l0 year comparison of what Turnitin was about, what its functionality was and what sites it was checking. 10 years ago we only had Originality check available and so its no surprise that it is now the formative tools (GradeMark and PeerMark) that are coming to the fore. In addition the advent of social media has now led sites like twitter to be frequently picked up by Originality report checks. No surprise either that Wikipedia features heavily!

I really enjoyed the lively discussion that emerged during this workshop about Turnitin's functionality. From debate on whether second marking will ever be employed to what receiving 0% on an originality report might mean, to the new features like audio feedback (which seem to get a positive reaction from attendees). It was engaging and it was good to see that other UK institutions are embracing this tool as a useful learning and teaching aid.

So that's my experience of the conference; very enjoyable and in a great setting. With the added bonus of having networking opportunities, right up to the shared taxi back!

Cheerio for now.


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