An epidemic of plagiarism strikes our Universities
The current threat and the delayed treatment: A literature review analysis
Dr BENMESMOUDI Aali/University of Mascara
مقال نشر في مجلة جيل العلوم الانسانية والاجتماعية العدد 48 الصفحة 139.
In this paper we try to clarify the phenomenon of plagiarism which threatens the credibility of both the examination and the learning process. The seriousness of our topic and the consequences that may happen as a result to that led us to a deep analysis of the phenomenon; therefore, we ask the main questions that should be answered if we want to cover all the dimensions of the topic. The main concern is to distinguish between plagiarism and the quote; hence, we summed many definitions. After that, we introduced the different types of plagiarism in Algeria and the world, and we reinforced our analysis with some studies, after that I presented some solutions
Keywords: Plagiarism, online plagiarism, offline plagiarism, self plagiarism, cheating in exams.
When I was preparing my previous article about cheating, I noticed that most of references linked cheating to plagiarism, and investigated both at the same time. This combination gave me an idea to treat the topic of plagiarism too. Again, I faced the same problem I had already faced when dealing with cheating; what is meant by plagiarism?
To answer this question I introduced a series of definitions in order to find the common points among them, and to deduce a standard definition to the phenomenon. After that, I distinguished the different types of plagiarism; all the types belong to two main categories: online and offline plagiarism.
As far as the causes of plagiarism are concerned, I introduced some studies in order to find out the common reasons of plagiarism throughout the world. After that, I restricted my analysis on the factors of plagiarism among the Algerian students, where I reordered them in terms of their importance. Then I tried to provide some solutions on the basis on my experience as a teacher at the University.
You may hear people, and mainly teachers and students talk about a phenomenon called plagiarism, however, nobody can give you an exact definition to it. This vagueness pushed those people to misunderstand plagiarism; as a result they will commit it unwillingly.
Defining plagiarism is as important as treating it; since many students do not make difference between borrowings an idea and stealing it, they ignore how to discuss ideas without adopting their owners’ point of view.
As far as defining plagiarism is concerned, it is defined ‘according to Collins dictionary of the English language as: ‘plagiarism is the act of plagiarizing, which means to appropriate ideas, passages, etc…from another work or author. It involves literary theft, stealing by copying the words, ideas of someone else and passing them off as one’s own without crediting the source’ (1). This definition bears two main ideas: stealing ideas, and do not mention the source or the real owner. We’ll see that almost all the definitions refer to those meanings, for instance, let’s see another definition to compare. Lars R. Jones defines plagiarism in his handbook about cheating and plagiarism entitled ‘academic integrity and academic dishonesty’ as follows: ‘it is the use of another writer’s words or ideas without acknowledging the source, and is a kin to theft; according to the Harbrace college handbook… simply put plagiarism is the theft of intellectual property belonging to another. This includes both the theft of unwritten ideas and concepts as well as the theft of written texts, notes, computer programs, designs and visual materials’ (2).
Once more we find that the two main ideas ‘stealing ideas and not mentioning the source’ are included in the second definition. Therefore, we can conclude that using others’ ideas, a passage… is allowed when mentioning the owners, otherwise it is considered as a theft. To be sure from this conclusion, let’s see another definition, I mean that given by the American association of university professors which defines plagiarism as: ‘taking over the ideas, methods, or written words of another, without acknowledgment and with the intention that they be taken as the work of the deceiver’ (3).
- The types of plagiarism:
We should refer that plagiarists may steal their own works and republish them as new products; this kind of plagiarism is called: self-plagiarism. It is defined by “Ithenticate professional plagiarism prevention” ‘as a type of plagiarism in which the writer republishes a work in its entirety or reuses portions of a previously written text while authoring a new work’ (4).
In addition to this kind of plagiarism, there are other types classified under the following categories (5):
- Copying from books
- Copying from peers
- Group collaboration on an individual assignment
- Online copy-and-paste
- Online paper mills.
Each category contains a set of types, for instance, ‘copying from books’ includes: copying from scientific magazines, papers, newspapers, memoires, doctorates, students’ final reports… therefore, we’ll have a great number of types used by plagiarists.
Another point of view sees that we can distinguish four main ways followed by students when plagiarizing (6):
- Stealing material from another source and passing it off as their own
- Submitting a paper written by someone else and passing it off as their own
- Copying sections of material from one or more source texts, supplying proper documentation but leaving out quotation marks, thus giving the impression that the material has been paraphrased rather than directly quoted
- Paraphrasing material from one or more source texts without supplying appropriate documentation.
It seems that plagiarism and cheating have the same characteristics since both are morally considered as an immoral act, a misconduct, unethical, furthermore, some consider that plagiarism is a kind of cheating.
Unfortunately, we do not have any statistics about the spread of plagiarism in our Universities, unless from time to time we hear about some incidents happening here and there without a serious treatment of the phenomenon. Therefore, many questions deserve to be answered if we want a rational view about it.
Let’s start with the first question that may be asked, if the learners depend more on online plagiarism than offline plagiarism. It is needless to remember that the internet has made plagiarism easier, mainly with the appearance of illegal sites which provide plagiarists with these dirty services. For instance, we can mention paper mills ‘such as buypapers.com, which makes money by selling assignments written by other students. Buypapers.com alone boats over 20000 papers in its database, offering them for sale for as little as 9.95 US$ per assay with an electronic delivery system that can deliver in 30 minutes or less’ (7). Nevertheless, students still depend more on offline sources to plagiarize, and this result has been confirmed by some studies. For this reason; to see which means of plagiarism are used more, online sources or offline ones, a study was conducted by Shifra Baruchson Arbib and Eti Yaari, ‘findings of the present study indicate that students perceive plagiarism offences from online sources as significantly less dishonest than similar offences using printed sources’(8).
Another study entitled ‘Internet plagiarism among college students’, conducted by Patrick M. Scanlon and David R. Neumann, showed that ‘a substantial minority of students reported they use the Internet to copy and paste text into their papers without citation…24.5% of these students reported plagiarizing online sometimes to very frequently should be cause for concern, although these numbers do not suggest an epidemic of Internet-facilitated plagiarism’ (9). Once again the results proved that online plagiarism is still under control, hence, we have to decrease it by finding effective solutions as soon as possible to avoid the expected disaster.
- The causes of plagiarism:
We need to know the causes of plagiarism; why do students plagiarize? ‘The all-too-often excuse used is somewhere along the lines of ‘I didn’t have the time”’ (10); it is the most common reason used by plagiarists to justify their sinful act, although the real reasons were never mentioned. Many studies have been conducted for this purpose, in this respect we can mention the conclusion brought by Vanja Pupovac et al in their study: ‘ students are generally aware that plagiarism is a form of dishonesty, but they still commit it, especially if they have a tight deadline or too much work to do and not enough time’ (11). We notice that this study, conducted in four different European countries, found that time pressure is the most important factor which motivates students to plagiarize; this is a scientific finding and it should be respected, therefore, we have to give enough time to students to present their research papers.
Among the reasons which lead to plagiarism, the lack of training on how conducting a research, another important factor; students try to compensate this weakness by plagiarizing. Usually, the Universities include a module of methodology; however, this does not fulfill the students’ needs; since it provides them only with the theoretical knowledge and ignores the practical side necessary to conduct a study. We focus here on the importance of including such training in the curriculum: how choosing a topic, the method used, and the different steps that should be followed to do a scientific research.
We said before that some researchers see plagiarism as a kind of cheating, and this point of view allows us to consider that the causes of cheating are at the same time causes of plagiarism. Therefore, the small or non- existent penalties may motive students to plagiarize, this is why a hard punishment should be imposed on plagiarists, and these regulations which contain the penalties must be displayed in the university yard so as they will be known by everyone. The fear to be caught may also be another reason for not plagiarizing; the department should display names of plagiarists, through this scandalous situation we expect to increase the fear from being caught and decrease the rate of plagiarism in our universities. These results were confirmed by the previous study, when the authors say: ‘most students believe that plagiarism will not be detected by their tutors, so they resort to it despite warnings and rules against it. According to the Croatian study only an objective plagiarism detection method and penalty for perpetrators will deter students from plagiarizing… although it is easier to plagiarize in the age of ICT, it is also easier to detect and measure plagiarism.’ (12)
The result above emphasizes the role of the availability of data on the internet and the absence of serious penalty in increasing plagiarism, therefore, it suggests a detection method to make detecting plagiarism easier; hence, the new means of communication are badly seen since their disadvantages cannot be overcome till now.
- The methods of plagiarism:
Plagiarists used different methods when committing plagiarism, the common one is copying directly from the source which can be a book, a dissertation, or a scientific magazine…many studies concluded that there are no considerable differences between online sources and offline one. For instance, in a study entitled: ‘does the online environment promote plagiarism? A comparative study’, conducted by David C, aiming at investigating if there are differences between plagiarism levels in doctoral dissertations submitted by students enrolled at traditional institutions and those by students attending online counterparts. The main question asked was: does the online environment promote plagiarism? And it hypothesized that there are differences in the benefit of online students (13).
This quantitative study sought to gather data on the prevalence of plagiarism among the most significant of graduate capstone projects the dissertation. A comparison between dissertations set by students attending a virtual doctoral education program and those attending a traditional institution.
The participants belong to two main categories:
-Online institutions: 184 doctoral dissertations were randomly selected from all full-text dissertations published from 2009 to 2013.
-Traditional institutions: 184 doctoral dissertations were randomly selected from all full text dissertations published from 2009 to 2013.
The results showed that notion that the internet and online work are more likely to contribute to the instance of plagiarism appears to be unfounded. An alternative explanation could be that students at both traditional and online institutions utilize the same types of sources. That is, online databases and literature. This plagiarism should be expected to be comparable across institution types. As such, the cutting and pasting of material are equally accessible to both traditional and online students.
- More than half of dissertations, regardless of institution type, contain plagiarized material.
- Traditional dissertations were more likely to contain medium levels of plagiarism than online counterparts.
- It appears that online learners either are more competent at citing and paraphrasing, or simply are likely to try to borrow text from sources.
- Half of all sampled dissertations had evidence of plagiarism
The findings of this study go against the hypothesis set by the researcher, that is to say it found no differences between dissertations prepared by online and offline school learners. Therefore, it called to have strict standards of dissertations line with the technological development. The researcher succeeded in discovering the main differences between traditional dissertations and online ones.
In a research entitled: ‘students plagiarism in higher learning institutions in the era of improved internet access: case study of developing countries, done by Vicent Naano Anney and Mary Atanas Mosha in 2015 to investigate students’ plagiarism practices in Tanzania higher learning institutions; therefore, he asked the following questions (14):
-What are the motivating factors for students’ act of plagiarism in a resource constrained higher learning institutions?
-how do students teachers perceive plagiarism?
To achieve this goal, the study uses a case study within qualitative research approach. The sample was selective; it contains 320 students who were suspected of plagiarism. The researchers after choosing the participants, used group discussions and document analysis as a first step to see the plagiarized paragraphs. The study concluded that the reasons were:
- The lack of sources
- The lack of skills on how to acknowledge sources of information
- Students’ inadequate skills, laziness
- Furthermore, students had heard about plagiarism only at the University.
- Plagiarism in the Algerian University:
It is obvious that almost all the students plagiarize when preparing their research papers; we rarely browse a research paper done by a student purely made by him. This phenomenon made the TD’s useless and with no scientific return, this is why those classes lost their importance in the learning process. In addition, the lack of clear regulations which criminalize this behavior led the teachers to hesitate in punishing their learners when committing plagiarism. With the spread of the scientific researches in the different field of study on the internet, and the availability of sites which provide such services, the students became lazier in doing their best in preparing the research papers.
We should discuss some crucial points to better clarify the reasons which motivate the Algerian student to plagiarize. The first factor which seems to be very important is the scientific level of the student in his specialty; the student is not capable of conducting a research because of the weak capacities he has in both the scientific and the methodological sides. Therefore, this weakness leads the learner to try to compensate it with plagiarism attempts in order to obtain ready works through any way, of course an illegal way. We can prove this assumption by the facts gathered from the reality, as teachers we usually notice the incapability of our students when we ask them to do their research papers, instead of doing their best they include sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters, or even the whole work stolen from books, magazines, dissertations, or from the internet.
The second most important factor is the minimal or the absence of the punishment imposed on the plagiarists; who often benefit from forgiveness of the administration, or at least are condemned by a symbolic punishment. This indulgence encourages the students to commit plagiarism, and makes them believe that this act is a sort of intelligence. Although the availability of the regulations which deal with the different types of the academic misconducts, the collusion from different parts in the University hamper their application in case of plagiarism.
The third possible reason is the indulgence of some teachers, and their ignorance of how to detect plagiarism, this is why the teachers should bear part of the responsibility about what his student writes. Some teachers do not even read the papers written by the students who supervise them; they accept whatever their learners write without verifying the sources from which they took their ideas. The teachers’ laziness encourages the learners to plagiarize more and more, and contribute in making the future generations of the students imitate their classmates.
In addition to other reasons may lead our learners to plagiarize, such as the insufficiency of the time given to the student to prepare his research paper, the commonness of plagiarism among students…etc
After this short presentation of the reasons which motivate the Algerian student to plagiarize, we have to wonder about the solutions we can suggest to overcome this phenomenon, or at least to reduce its rate. In this respect we can say that we have first to adapt the regulations with the new forms of plagiarism, and to re-establish the definition given to it. This new definition has to include the new aspects of plagiarism, such as the different types of online plagiarism. In this respect, nowadays the plagiarists use the internet as a main source from which they obtain their theses’ materials. Nonetheless, we do not have the adequate tools to face this threat; hence we should adapt the regulations through adopting new strategies. In addition to the legislative side, we have to think about the techniques that must be invented to overcome any plagiarizing’ attempt; for instance, we can face the online plagiarism through an advanced system of detection.
After this analysis, the scene has become clearer now; plagiarism is the most dangerous phenomenon that threatens the educational system, as well as the credibility of the researches done in the Universities and higher schools. Therefore, a series of studies have been conducted; and we are concerned more in the factors of plagiarism, the different types of plagiarism. In this paper we focused on the reasons that lead plagiarism to spread in this scary way; hence, we investigated the causes of plagiarism, and we reinforced that through discussing some studies.
We found that the main reasons of plagiarism are:
- The shortage of time
- The inefficiency and inability of learners
- The ignorance of the difference of plagiarism and citation
- The small or non- existent penalties and many other reasons.
As far as the types of plagiarism are concerned, we can divide them into two main categories: online plagiarism and offline one, in terms of using the new technologies or traditional methods. In addition to another classification based on sorting the types in the following categories: Copying from books, copying from peers, self-plagiarism, group collaboration on an individual assignment, online copy-and-paste, and online paper, as mentioned before. We also dealt with the haziness of the concept of plagiarism itself, wherefore; we brought a set of definitions to make it clearer. Finally, we supported our arguments with the findings of some studies.
It seems that the Algerian students plagiarize for different reasons:
- The students’ incapability of conducting a scientific research;
- The punishment imposed on the plagiarists is not serious;
- The indulgence of some teachers, and their laziness in detecting plagiarism
As a result to this arrangement, I provided the following solutions:
- Adapting the regulations to the new forms of plagiarism;
- Adopting an advanced system to detect plagiarism, mainly on the internet.
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- John paynter and Conor J. Mills/previous reference .
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