5th International Plagiarism Conference: Day 1 sessions and workshops

The first morning session was entitled ‘Can we rely on text originality check systems’ delivered by three colleagues from Stockholm U. They started by exploring the background to their study by offering national statistics for Sweden which showed that plagiarism is the dominant problem in terms of student discipline issues. Their research was considered in terms of a national procurement strategy for a text-matching system which included two national tools. It’s interesting to note what this research didn’t consider the role it might play in a larger assessment management strategy. They compared GenuineText, Urkund and Turnitin; the first two of these are Swedish systems. Their findings were that Turnitin was considerably faster than the other two in terms of simply returning the reports. They also compared the number of matches found by discipline area. Again, Turnitin performed best but even it found less than half of the references in the text. This is a reminder that these tools can only ever be expected to return partial not complete matches and should be used accordingly although, as the presenters acknowledge this may be because some of the references tested were in Swedish. This reminds us that these tools are only ever useful in a holistic approach to academic integrity. The research also considered the ease of use and it was interesting to see screen grabs of the two Swedish tools with which I was unfamiliar. Their findings were that Turnitin came out best against their measures.

After a refreshing cup of tea, I headed down stairs to the session on a ‘Phenomenographic exploration of the perception of plagiarism’ presented by Stella Orim. Teddi Fishman who is chairing the session introduced it in terms of students who get constructed as ‘other’ within discussions around plagiarism. This is an interesting reminder of how this work overlaps with critical race pedagogy and theory. It also brought to mind Tracey Bretag‘s mention of international students which reminded me that what constitutes an international student is by no means stable (an Australian student studying in the UK is an international student after all). The study considered students studying a postgraduate degree in the UK who had completed an undergraduate degree in Nigeria. She identified six themes:

  1. a lack of prior awareness
  2. understanding of the concept of plagiarism
  3. a fear of the concept
  4. the level of importance given to it at their previous institution
  5. an institutional system being in place in their previous institution
  6. possible ways of mitigating the concept in their previous institution

It was fascinating to hear her findings and particularly what it tells us that we need to do in the UK HE sector to provide appropriate support and guidance to students who come to study with us from Nigeria. It also makes some very valuable suggestions for the Nigerian government in terms of providing support to students prior to travelling overseas to study. She has identified the fear that is generated in students upon coming to the UK for study and the impact that this has on their learning.

Next up was Xiaodong Yang exploring the epistemological and etymological origins of the term ‘plagiarism’. It’s interesting to see postmodernism, postcolonialism and hermeneutics as his theoretical framework. In combination these powerfully unsettle what we might understand plagiarism to mean. The subjects for this study were all from a Confucian heritage who had all been charged with plagiarism.

In the last session before lunch I had the pleasure of chairing a session delivered by Anwar Amjad from the Higher Education Commission in Pakistan on ‘User Acceptance of Turnitin application in Pakistan HEIs’. He started by sharing the development strategy which is being pursued in Pakistan and the strategic direction of the HEC. He indicated that the provision of new digital resources has had an impact on the incidence of plagiarism in HEIs. It’s interesting to see how videoconferencing has been used to provide training. This study used the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) to measure the perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use of Turnitin. It’s interesting to see that while the perception of the usefulness and ease of use was quite high, the actual use remained quite low. It’s possible from that streamlining the workflow for academic staff might be an important factor in this.

After the second keynote I had the pleasure of chairing another session delivered by Prof Peter Taylor from the Open U. He opened with an overview of the institution and the very particular problems that their distance learning and open access model presents. Later it became clear that their scale is also significant. He then took us through the journey they’ve been on in their institution, particularly in terms of putting policy into practice. The context in 2007 was probably pretty similar to other institutions here in the UK if not elsewhere. The problems of detecting it were quite small in comparison to the others that came after that in terms of prosecution and penalties which reflected Virginia Barbour’s observations in her keynote. One thing that might be slightly different to other institutions is the OU’s very centralised structure, something that almost certainly is a real strength when it comes to things like plagiarism policy. He shared the website that they’ve developed and their open access materials on the learning space. The problems they’ve encountered are very similar to those experienced elsewhere in terms of consistency, reporting, tutors turning a blind eye etc. It’s interesting that they’ve used CopyCatch and Turnitin in combination because of their different strengths. It’s great to hear someone talking about the resource implication of all this (particularly in terms of things like turnaround time) and Mantz Yorke’s efficacy/efficiency balance comes to mind. The volumes they’re dealing with at the OU prove that managing this from an ‘economy of scale’ perspective is vital. The low incidence rate is also pretty reassuring (less than 1%). I like the idea of the buddy system to mentor and support new academic conduct officers and setting performance standards.

Erica Morris from the HEA finished off the day with a workshop in designing out plagiarism. Her focus was in institutional strategies and she even had a nice picture of our campus on one of her slides.


Thinking about assessment for learning is, she argues, central to any successful strategy for designing out plagiarism. She very helpfully considered this in terms of the ‘what’, the ‘how’ and the ‘when’ of assessment. I would want to add the ‘why’ as well, drawing on Bloxham and Boyd’s work.