January 17, 2006, by Teaching at Nottingham

Jude Carroll on plagiarism

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Jude Carroll: “And what’s interesting about the question “Are any of these people plagiarists?” is actually that question is “What do you mean by the words that are in this definition?”. And one of the things that I think is very interesting is that the definition of plagiarism is not a platonic ideal that sits out there independent of the context and the person and the discipline and the discourse and the level. All of those things sit within the meaning.

“They think that assessment is about looking at stuff, whereas in fact, in the game that we play in Higher Education here in the UK, what we’re supposed to be doing is accrediting learning.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do, is accredit learning and the interesting thing is the way that we measure learning in this game, that we’re playing by these rules, is by saying “OK, to show that you’ve learned, you have to show you’ve understood, and the way you show you’ve understood is by transformation.”

“It’s a really interesting game we play in this place, it’s about transformation. “Unless you’ve changed it, unless you’ve transformed it, unless you’ve done something to it, how do I know you’ve understood it, how do I know it’s passed thorugh your brain?”

“What I think is really interesting about what our students think, is they don’t recognise that we want to see that it’s gone through your brain. We want to see that you’ve used it, registered and done something, transformed it, changed it. So many of our students come from different places where the way you show you know is ‘Here’s a question, here’s an answer, you’ve asked me this question, I’ve shown you the answer.’ So the ‘go find it and show me’ has been extremely helpful for these students for a long time. They’ve got through A levels that way, they may have got through their first degree that way. ‘Here’s the question, here’s an answer. I found the answer, that’s how I show I know.’

“We play it slightly different. We say ‘Show me you’ve understood and the way you show me you’ve understood is that you’ve changed it, you’ve transformed it, you’ve done it in some way’. And then questions like this and this ‘what doesn’t belong?’, ‘what has to happen?’ those are hard for students, so what students need is chances to experiment, to try out, to see how their ideas work, to have a go at it. You can’t explain it to them, they’ve got to figure it out for themselves.

“When you’re doing that designing, what can you do about student plagiarism in there? And, my argument is that plagiarism ain’t going to go away. It’s probably going to get more serious.

“This is probably your best weapon in that kind of thing. It also enhances learning. The evidence is that assessment that says to the student ‘You have to make this, you can’t find it’ is actually saying to the student ‘You have to learn this’. Because it seems to me that learning is about activity, it’s about doing, it’s about getting down and dirty. It’s not a spectator sport. You can’t learn by showing that you’ve found a learned person, it doesn’t strike me that way. I know that other people think about learning in that way but I find that hard myself.

“And so, when you’re saying to a student ‘here is an assessment task that you’re going to have to make, you’re going to have to construct’, you’re saying to the student ‘learning is going to have to go on here’ and I think that is quite a useful thing.

“One of the single most helpful things you can do is require your students to keep drafts up until the Exam Board happens because they may be asked for them. We do this in my institution and it regularly is a key thing in determining whose work this is, which, by the way is the academic decision you have to make. You don’t have to make a decision about plagiarism, you have to make a decision ‘whose work this is?’. And one of the best ways of finding out whose work it is, is to say to the students ‘Let me see your drafts’. I like this because if you require this of students, they might possibly draft, that would be good! And often it resolves it, one way or the other.

“So here’s a brief summary of what I think are seven key things that make a difference.

“I think we won’t be able to talk about all of those, but I think if you’re going to do something about student plagiarism, and I think it’s absolutely possible to do that, and I know institutions that have, I can name ’em for you.

  1. “The first thing you need is a shared common understanding about what you mean by this thing, and that means students and staff.
  2. “You need to spend some time looking at your course and your course design and we’re going to spend most of the time this morning looking at that. You get more bangs for your buck out of redesigning your course than any other single action. Two hours spent thinking ‘what do I want them to do in this assessment’ is going to make a huge differernce. One hour thinking ‘what do I want them to do in this assessment’ is going to make, twenty minutes thinking ‘what do I want them to do in this assessment’ is going to make a really big difference.
  3. “They need induction and guidance. They need, when they walk through this door, regardless of where they come from, they need to be told ‘Hey, new game, new rules’. You’ve come from pratice, you’ve come from Bolivia, you’ve come from A levels, you’ve come from raising kids, wherever you’ve come from you walk through this door, “This is a new game, that’s played by new rules”.If you play this new game by the rules that you used in business or the rules that you used in Thailand, or the rules that you used in A level you might come acropper. So induction can do no more that say ‘New game, new rules, hey’. Induction cannot teach. If I had five pounds for everybody who said “we covered that at induction” I could go to Barbados and lie on the beach.”It is not a place for teaching, induction. There’s no evidence that a student ever remember a single thing that they hear at induction, none at all. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do induction, I think we just should be realistic about what induction can do. And induction can go “Hey, new game, new rules”, but very quickly students need teaching.
  4. “They need teaching, not telling, not explaining, although that’s probably better than nothing. They need teaching, ‘what is this? how do I do it?’.
  5. “You need to change the way that you deal with this issue at this institution because there’s huge evidence to show that blind eyes are turned. At least 50% of people admit that they regularly overlook it. I suspect that the numbers are much higher than that, indeed. But as long as the person who spots it, is the person who suffers the consequences, blind eyes will be turned. So we need policies and procedures that separate out the “I’ve got one here” to the ‘what happens next?’.
  6. “You need a range of detection strategies for the reason I said before. 75% of people only use one detection strategy. 75% of people only use this one. Reading along student work, ‘lumpy bumpy’, here it goes, whoop, five paragraphs, ‘shoom, shoom, shoom, shoom shoom’, really fast, even semicolons use correctly, ‘lumpy bumpy student work’ here we go.And so people use change of discourse, change of level of grammar, change of nature of writing, that kind of thing. Most people only use that one. If you only use that one, you catch international students, you catch struggling students, bad writers, and you catch stupid students. And that’s not fair.
  7. “So for example, if we look at our detection statistics in any institution in the world, and trust me, I’ve looked, you see for example international students as massively over-represented. Well, they would be if you use ‘lumpy bumpy, lumby bumpy, shoom, shoom, shoom, shoom, lumpy bumpy’. It’s just so much easier to spot.”So we need wider, more sophisticated, more tailored, various detection strategies and then we need this.
  8. “Because without this, people won’t use your procedures. If they don’t trust it, they won’t use them. End of story. So, it all needs to work together. The bad new is, until you do it all, you’re probably not going to make much difference. The good news is, if you do them all, it does make a difference.”

Jude Carroll (External Consultant).

Jude was the invited plenary speaker at the University’s Eighth Learning & Teaching conference (January, 2006). This video was originally published as part of PESL’s Teaching at Nottingham collection.

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