Advances in technology have resulted in the facility to copy work electronically with increasing ease.These advances and their potential for misuse are viewed with growing concern throughout the education sector.
In 2002, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) established a Plagiarism Advisory Service (JISCPAS) to provide advice and guidance on all aspects of plagiarism prevention and detection to UK Higher Education Institutions and Further Education Colleges. From the outset the service promoted the adoption of an integrated approach to plagiarism prevention that required consideration of institutional policy and procedures, teaching practice and the development of students’ study and essay writing skills.
The practicalities of avoiding plagiarism can sometimes be difficult for students to comprehend. Although, plagiarism detection software is designed to identify specific instances of plagiarism in student work it can, however, be used to help educate students about the need for, and mechanics of, accurate referencing and citation. The originality reports produced by the Turnitin UK software, for example, will not only demonstrate where citation has been inadequate, but will also indicate if particular types of resources are causing problems for the individual student. In addition, the visual elements of the report clearly highlight where patch writing has occurred, and thereby provide an opportunity for both student and lecturer to discuss the requirements of academic writing in a constructive and timely manner. Utilising detection software tools in formative assignments can help to redress the problems of inadequate referencing and citation before bad practice becomes entrenched.
Where plagiarism is identified, however, a recent study by JISCPAS considering the range and nature of penalties applied in UK HEIs has highlighted the need for a transparent and consistent approach within institutions to the allocation of penalties. The Academic Misconduct Benchmarking Research (AMBeR) project identified a range of 25 potential penalties available in cases of student plagiarism that ranged from an informal warning to expulsion, with 12.7% of the institutions surveyed listing a fine as a potential penalty. The research further revealed that of the 153 institutions included in the final analysis the regulations in 28.8% of the institutions allowed the full range of penalties to be applied in any given circumstance, a further 30.7% of institutional regulations differentiated applicable penalties with regard to the previous history or perceived severity of the infringement, whilst a further 19.6% of institutions surveyed employed a penalty allocation policy with a high degree of specificity that considered multiple factors. The second phase of the project, which is currently underway, seeks to determine current practice in the sector with a questionnaire survey of UK HEIs to identify the number and range of penalties applied in an academic year.
In 2002 there was a reluctance within the sector to acknowledge the precise nature of the problem facing UK HEIs in relation to student plagiarism, however, the response from the sector to the AMBeR project clearly suggests that in 2007 institutions have recognised the nature of the problem. Publication of the findings of the second phase of the project will undoubtedly be instrumental in helping institutions achieve a consistent and transparent approach in the sector.