PLAGIARISM - THE STUDENTS' VIEW

A report presented at the seminar on plagiarism held at the University of Birmingham on 17 Sept 2002 organised by David Woolls (http://www.copycatch.freeserve.co.uk/Workshop%20on%20Plagiarism.htm)

The questionnaire below was given to our presessional students in September 2002. These students are all international students, mostly going on to taught Masters courses at the University of Birmingham. The top ability range (in terms of language at any rate) is generally not represented here, as students with high language scores are much less likely to come on the presessional courses.

The largest single group of students goes on to Business Studies. Other areas of the social sciences are well represented. A smaller number go on to Science and Engineering areas and areas of the Humanities. Law and Medicine are sparsely represented if at all.

The questionnaire was anonymous, and it is not possible to identify students further by language test scores or by future courses.

 

From: Philip King

English for International Students Unit

To: Presessional students

September 2002

QUESTIONNAIRE ON PLAGIARISM

Plagiarism in writing is regarded as a serious offence in the academic world, and departments often warn students against it, in handbooks or in classes. It would help me to know your opinions and experience if you could take a little time to answer the following questions. Please give this questionnaire back to your teacher when you have finished it.

 

1. Do you know what plagiarism is?

Yes ____ No ____ Not sure ___

If you answered no to this question, please return the questionnaire now.

2. Why do you think universities say that it is important to avoid plagiarism?

 

 

3. What do you think you have to do to avoid plagiarism?

 

 

4. Do you think you can successfully avoid plagiarism?

Yes ____ No ____ Not sure _____

Can you give any reasons why it is easy or difficult for you to avoid?

 

 

5. What kind of help with this problem would you like to have when you start your degree course studies?

 

 

Could you please write here the name of your EAP class teacher? _____________

Thank you. Please hand back the questionnaire.

In retrospect, the questions might have been made grammatically less complex. A number of students replied without answering the particular question, apparently by latching on to a key word or phrase in the question and writing about that, regardless of the actual wording.

 

QUESTIONNAIRE ON PLAGIARISM: ANALYSIS

 

1. Do you know what plagiarism is?

Yes 103 No 32 Not sure 3

 

The "yes" answers (103) were further divided into those whose answers generally made sense (69) , those whose answers showed confusion (21), and those whose answers were lacking or totally incomprehensible (13)

This was done impressionistically, and has no further significance. The categories are not watertight and do not have clear-cut boundaries.


2. Why do you think universities say that it is important to avoid plagiarism? Responses from "coherent" group (n = 69)

 

RELATING TO OTHERS: MORALITY

stealing/cheating/crime/illegal 17

not good/immoral 2

 

RELATING TO OTHERS: RESPECT

(lack of) respect for others' rights 10

" " work/originality 9

" " patents/copyright 2

 

RELATING TO SELF: ACADEMIC SKILLS

Need for own ideas/creativeness 19

 

RELATING TO SELF: PERFORMANCE

shows/affects true picture of one's own ability 5

blurs distinction betw. poor & good acad. performance 1

Others: unclear/off-topic/no response 4

Some students give more than one answer.

 

 

3. What do you think you have to do to avoid plagiarism?

 

*** = 69

** = 21

* = 13

TECHNICAL SOLUTIONS

     

use quotes

14

1

 

use references

17

   

use footnotes

2

 

1

GENERAL SOLUTIONS

     

paraphrase/own wds

4

2

 

develop own ideas

15

 

1

practice

3

   

reflection

4

2

 

be honest

 

2

 

strong self esteem

 

1

 

HONEST ANSWER

don't know

 

1

 

 

1

AVOID BEING PLAGIARISED

 

1

   

IRRELEVANT

15

13

5

NO ANSWER

4

 

5

"IRRELEVANT" responses include "yes", "every student should do so", "it's my responsibility to avoid it because I hate plagiarism", etc

Some students made more than one point in answer to this question.

 

 

4. Do you think you can successfully avoid plagiarism?

 

 

*** = 69

** = 21

* = 13

Yes

40

17

8

No

2

1

1

Not sure

27

3

3

N/A

   

1


All except one student actually answered this question, because it was formulated as a straight yes/no question. Compare with the number of n/a's (no answers) to the other questions.

 

Can you give any reasons why it is easy or difficult for you to avoid?

 

 

*** = 69

** = 21

* = 13

EASY; teacher has told us how to do it

1

1

 

confidence

4

   

know the techniques

7

   

if you understand/ stress own ideas etc

5

   

(no reason)

 

6

 

HARD to separate your ideas from others'

 

1

 

may do unwittingly

7

7

1

poor English/lack of repertoire

4

2

1

boundaries hard to establish

3

   

to have original ideas

1

   

unused to Western academic approach

1

   

OTHER

7

2

2

IRRELEVANT

15

7

6

N/A

14

1

3

It is interesting that the lack of answers is highest in the generally most coherent students. I suspect that "unused to the Western academic approach" represents the tip of an iceberg.

 

5. What kind of help with this problem would you like to have when you start your degree course studies?

 

*** = 69

** = 21

* = 13

ALL

need no help

4

1

1

6

not sure

2

3

4

9

practice generally

5

1

 

6

writing practice (including paraphrasing, summarising skills, referencing skills

10

1

3

14

practice expressing own opinion

1

   

1

in own language (??)

1

   

1

strategies for avoidance

1

   

1

establish boundaries

1

   

1

know extent of problem

1

   

1

consult supervisor/teacher

4

1

1

6

consult students

2

   

2

study good examples

3

1

 

4

study bad examples

2

   

2

have work checked before handing in

1

 

1

2

OTHER

7

4

 

11

IRRELEVANT/UNCLEAR

2

3

 

5

N/A

22

6

3

31

Again, the lack of answers here is generally in the "most competent" group. Given this, one might interpret this as meaning "need no help" in many cases. A higher proportion of students at the lower end of the coherence range seem to be explicit in the type of help they would like to have

 

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS ON SURVEY

 

3/4 of students "know what plagiarism is"

 

just under half "think they can successfully avoid it" (47.1%)

only 6 students explicitly said they need no help (all right, 37 if you include n/a)

 

need for assistance with this problem

 

Of course, students on the presessional course have not yet had their departmental handbooks and the guidelines, exam regulations, etc which they get at the beginning of the academic year. Some students had had the topic mentioned in their presessional classes, others not. Although a lot of their answers appear to show an understanding of the problem, collectively there is a lot of divergence of views among the students, which suggests that help needs to be specifically targeted according to their perception of their problem and the standards of the department and perceptions of academic staff of the department (and in this connection I am grateful to Eric Borg for sight of his 2002 BAAL paper on Local Plagiarisms - for a related abstract see online.northumbria.ac.uk/LTA/media/docs/abstracts.doc)