5th International Plagiarism Conference: Day 1 keynotes

The hall in the Sage Gateshead is packed with people who have gathered from all over he world to consider the issue of plagiarism. I’m here to consider what role EAM might play in this.

The day has kicked off with Will Murray taking us on a trip down memory lane with his opening address. He reminded us of where Plagiarism Advice started and more importantly why. For me it’s providing a useful reminder of the scholarly origins of the Turnitin in the UK context. It’s also a reminder of just how complex and multifaceted plagiarism and academic integrity is.

He then handed over to Craig Mahoney the Chief Executive of the HEA who offered a personal and historical welcome to Newcastle and Gateshead. He has offered a powerful reminder of the fact that academic integrity is a moral code and that the implications of falling foul of this are serious and significant. He offered a powerful reminder that detection tools should only ever be part of a holistic approach to academic integrity. In doing so he covered a huge amount of ground which clearly showed just how complex and complicated the assessment, feedback and academic integrity ‘landscape’ is.

After lunch Virginia Barbour shared the perspective from the editor’s desk. She shared a ‘staircase’ of ethics to do with academic publishing which includes things like falsification, fabrication and, of course, plagiarism. Amongst many other bits of data she shared some astonishing statistic that 14% of respondents were aware of misconduct by others. Her suggestion for appropriate steps we need to take to over come the barriers are

She also advocates for using technology as part of this strategy: Cross Check powered by iThenticate. The subsequent issue is what editors do with or about it when it is found, particularly dealing with false positives and the workload issue which is something that this project is, obviously, interested in. She shared the origins on COPE – the Committee on Publication Ethics. She shared he website with flow charts, guidelines and cases. She ended her presentation with the proverbial elephant in the room.

Our first keynote Tracey Bretag from the U of South Australia offered us an image of an iceberg as a point of consideration for her Big 5 of Academic Integrity. She offered a definition from ICAI of the 5 fundamental values of academic integrity which, as she pointed out, is excellent on many levels. One of the most interesting thing that she explained was the findings of the policy analysis that her project undertook in the Australian sector. It shows how far we (they’ve) come but also how far there still is to go. She listed the 5 core elements of exemplary policy:

  • Access: easy to locate, read and understand.
  • Approach: statement of purpose with educative focus up front and all through the policy s that it is consistent.
  • Responsibility: details for all stakeholders not just students.
  • Detail: making sure that it is adequate but not excessive.
  • Support: making sure that proactive and embedded systems are in place to implement the policy.

She then went on to report on the massive survey of students they undertook, explaining how it is different to other surveys that have been conducted because of its focus on policy. She offered some highlights of their findings which were compelling and which, as all good research does, uncovered more questions to consider. The discrepancy between home and international students and between undergraduate and postgraduate students is particularly interesting. She then went on to consider the role of managers and senior managers in this. Part of this discussion was unpacking the foundation concepts of Academic Integrity and how these are understood in the academy. She argued that it:

  • is grounded in action
  • is underpinned by values
  • is multifaceted and has multiple stakeholders
  • tends to be understood by many in terms of what it is not
  • is important in assuring the quality of the academic process.

She shared the deliverables of the project which look very juicy indeed and will be freely available. Her metaphor of the iceberg came back at the end which reminded us that them values that underpin this are huge and not visible. It’s fantastic to hear that her and her team have successfully bid for a OLT (Office for Learning and Teaching) funding to extend this work. I look forward to seeing more great stuff emerging from the research team.

After lunch Virginia Barbour shared her view from the editor’s desk. She shared her ‘staircase’ of academic ethics which includes things like fabrication, falsification and, of course, plagiarism. Amongst the data she presented was the rather astonishing statistic that 14% of respondents know of misconduct amongst others. I got a very real sense that the problems she is facing are very similar to those we find in the University sector and lends weight to those who argue that the impact of plagiarism as a student often returns in their professional life. This has triggered some further thinking about the ‘arms race’ with which we are engaged with our students and the fact that ultimately, if we don’t get them while they are at University, chances are it will catch up with them at some point in their lives.

She shared some suggestions as to how we might approach the problem of overcoming the barriers to combating plagiarism and other ethics issues:

  • accept there is a problem
  • accept that combating it will involved time, money and effort
  • that we improve detection (through the use of technology)
  • ensuring that we take action
  • tackling the root problem.

She acknowledged that the last three moved from being relatively easy to very, very hard.

She shared information about COPE and showed their website which has lots of interesting stuff including some decision trees, guidance and some cases. Questions to her were focused in the responsibility of reporting instances of plagiarism to employers but, as Virginia made clear, this is enormously complicated.