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  • Writer's pictureKane Murdoch

The future of plagiarism.

Evening all,


You may have noticed I think out loud a lot. Believe it or not I also think silently sometimes. One of the things I've been slightly obsessed with thinking about lately is the middle term in higher ed, and what avenues we might take (in my various areas of interest). That's because out there, we have choices. That's why I'm interested.


The short term is, to use a highly technical term, a shitstorm. Anyone who doesn't think so is just wrong. It's even worse than you all imagine. Let me give you a little example.


The tweet below is from Charles Knight (well worth a follow). He works for AdvanceHE in the UK. He's currently taking a higher qualification of some sort (I forget which), and he's giving us all useful insights into higher ed in the age of AI. Charles is explicit about how he is using AI (ethically) but pointing out serious fissures that are obvious to those who are not ethical. And it is absolutely the case that some of our students are unethical. It's actually a greater proportion than anyone wishes to believe.


Moving on, aside from the obvious problems, start here and ask yourself: "How am I going to deal with this as an educator?" This is a lot more than a copy and paste problem.


It is very much the case that what we are facing is not a copy and paste problem. That fact leads me to think that we need to stop doing nearly everything we currently do in response to plagiarism. Plagiarism was never truly as important as the profile it has currently (wall street douchebags aside), but it means very little now. (Side note, I'll have a guest blogger expanding on this topic as soon as he finishes his blog post. No rush mate 😉).


Now, where was I? Oh yes, plagiarism is grossly overrepresented in terms of "cheating" or "misconduct." However, that doesn't mean that it has zero meaning. Plagiarism should be signalling an absence of learning process, but it's much more often considered as a gross breach of academic standards. It's simply not. It's the lowest level transgression.


Do we think that's how it's treated now? Of course not. Any time a uni responds to a media request they assure the world that they frown very severely on plagiarism. The large numbers of students picked up through Turnitin, the ones that appear as "look how well we're assuring learning" numbers in annual reports basically just provide cover for the blinding absence of all the other numbers unis fail to detect.


These ones are much more serious failures of learning. And now AI will be right up there (if it isn't already), as Charles' tweet suggests.


So, I'm going to leave you with a practical idea. If plagiarism is not particularly important in any given assessment item, why not try something different that achieves the same basic aims but cheaper? The way cases are run today is a poor use of resources.


Say we leave Turnitin in place, as a fig leaf, if you must. Do you need to run any kind of "case" for some bit of plagiarism? No you don't. The only reason cases are run is because people want punishment to happen, on some level. Move past it. You could simply send an email saying you saw whatever it is. You could even let it happen again. You could set the third time as your bar. At that point the student may be asked to come in a talk about their learning in the third assessment. This talk should be in your actual assessment policy, and not in the dark hinterlands of the misconduct or plagiarism policies. The student might also be asked about the other two. If they can't demonstrate their learning, they fail (in one way or another).


Hey presto, you have a ticket system, kind of like speeding. We all do things dumb things from time to time, tickets give us a warning, and allow us to keep doing these things, for a while. In our context, we will allow something to happen, but we can send signals that it's unhelpful to the student. We can send actual educational support things too. And it costs virtually nothing, while also raising the risk for the student of getting a a bigger ticket or loss of license the third time. All of a sudden both you and the uni have essentially everything you had before, for a fraction of the price, a better student experience, with a greater focus on actual learning.


In truth, if there was a major shift we probably wouldn't ever need this, but I'm starting to despair that the changes needed will ever happen.


One of these days we're going to have to start planning and acting for a tomorrow that is better than a wasteland for education. Why not tomorrow?


Anywho, that's enough rambling for a Tuesday night, until next time,


KM




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Ian Hall
Ian Hall
Apr 07

alternatively, we could “teach” students who to engage with the literature and create a dialogue in which their voices is present opposed to the monologue that is require in pre-HE learning.


Schools and college assessment is often based on the ability to regurgitate facts (encyclopaedic epistemology) whereas university education requires an engagement with the literature to create a dialogue in which the students voice is present (prototypical epistemology)


If we don’t teach this a a skill and only teach facts, then we can only expect regurgitation of fact which tbh Chat GPT and other AI tools do way better than a student anyway.


The nature of our UG courses mean multiple educators throughout a degree, resulting in a lack of…


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amymilka
Mar 01

Couldn't agree more. Why not reframe plagiarism (and some inappropriate uses of AI) as a failure to understand & meet learning outcomes? Focusing attention on how that disconnect occurred could be much more productive.

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Ian Hall
Ian Hall
Apr 07
Replying to

It’s not necessarily a failure to understand though…. I may fully understand but not be able to communicate that to you in elegant academic prose, so I use the words of others…


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Guy Curtis
Guy Curtis
Feb 28

When I suggest the equivalent of a speeding ticket system for plagiarism at the university where I worked 20 years ago I got told it was unreasonable. I feel I was just ahead of my time.

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Ian Hall
Ian Hall
Apr 07
Replying to

Still need to deal with “how much is too much” - I’ve had academics (and students) tell me anything upto 33% was acceptable, and I’ve seen students referred for <5%


I have also seen 2 papers that were over 60% not get referred (because the module leader didn’t want a negative student review)


One of the Irish Uni’s has a points system that doe something similar to your ticket idea


I have their policy somewhere….

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Joseph Thibault
Joseph Thibault
Feb 27

At a quasi-uni in the US (an "alternative credit provider" as we were known) we took that approach as a response to the sheer number of cases we were receiving that ranged from citation issues to full-on-egregious-copied-from-an-essay-mill-example-site. We took the tactic of highlighting the issue ("this is what we see") and sending it back to the student with a plea/opportunity for them to contact us, or make right and resubmit with documentation or a link to our resources that coached proper conduct.


We called it a "zero tolerance policy" for plagiarism. In my view, it worked, was fair and most students were appreciative of the guidance.


It was the reports of "so and so student hired me to write their…


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Kane Murdoch
Kane Murdoch
Feb 27
Replying to

Thanks mate, hopefully we can start a conversation on this stuff, gotta keep moving and changing.

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