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Guest Post: Plagiarism – Assessment – Collaboration

Today's post is from a team of educators at Florida State College at Jacksonville. Sheri Brown, Marilyn Painter, and Susan Slavicz work as a cross-division team to understand students' perceptions of plagiarism and to address their needs through education and training. They presented this research at the Georgia International Conference on Information Literacy in September 2018.

By Sheri Brown, Librarian; Marilyn Painter, Professor of English; and Susan Slavicz, Director, Academy of Teaching and Learning
Florida State College at Jacksonville

The plagiarism bug just can’t seem to be eradicated. It is an issue that faces all institutions. At Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) English faculty joined with faculty librarians to collaborate on an assessment to combat student fallacies regarding plagiarism.

Photo of the authors
Sheri Brown, Librarian; Marilyn Painter, Professor of English; and Susan Slavicz, Director, Academy of Teaching and Learning at Florida State College at Jacksonville

Students plagiarize for numerous reasons. In a review of the literature on plagiarism, C. Park (2003) discusses student ignorance of academic integrity or digital ethics, emphasis on grades vs. learning, poor time management and research skills, personal values or attitudes, peer pressure, temptation and opportunity, and negative attitudes towards assignments and teachers. The broad range of reasons behind plagiarism indicated that students needed better and more thorough instruction on using sources in academic writing.

The question facing the English faculty and librarians was how do we best instruct students on ways to avoid plagiarism? We wanted:

  • Consistency in presentation of information to students
  • To link learning outcomes for information literacy to assessment
  • Students to pretest
  • Students to watch a video
  • Students to retest

The library had recently purchased ProQuest’s Research Companion database which guides students through the research process and helps them develop critical thinking and information literacy skills.The database is made up of three components – units that discuss finding information, evaluating information, and using information. There are nine learning modules, 80 short videos and pre-and post-assessments.

The using information section contains the module on plagiarism titled, “How Do I Avoid Plagiarism and Find My Own voice?” There are ten very short videos (approximately 15 minutes total viewing time) covering topics like “introducing sources”, “paraphrasing”, “summarizing”, and “quoting”.  This was our starting point.

After much discussion, it was decided that students would view the Research Companion videos in the plagiarism module and faculty and librarians would create a unique assessment for the targeted classes because the pre-and post-assessments could not be tracked through our LMS. The college-developed assessment would evaluate gaps in understanding of the steps needed in proper citing, including using direct quotes, correct paraphrasing, and correct summarizing to avoid plagiarizing by the student.

Method

Spring 2017 and 2018 Communications Outcome Assessment:

Students will be able to cite and document information correctly.

MEASURE 1: Direct Assessment of Avoiding Plagiarism and Using Sources by Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting in Blackboard

Students in ENC 1102 will view Proquest Research Companion Module 8 videos, which cover avoiding plagiarism and using sources effectively by properly summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting while maintaining the author’s voice. After the lesson, students will take a seventeen-question, multiple-choice assessment.

Target

At least 13 out of the 17 questions (~76.5%) will be answered with at least 80% accuracy.

In 2017, difficulties in data collection prevented us from disaggregating the data on this assessment. College-wide, we had a total of 358 students completing the exercise with usable/measurable data.

In 2018, difficulties in data collection again prevented full disaggregation of data, but we were able to report overall results and contrast the mode of instruction (e.g., campus or off-campus classes vs. fully online classes). College-wide, a total of 404 students completed the assessment with usable/measurable data (because several sections were missing Question 17, that item has 363 responses). Because some assessments only had 16 questions, the data is based on 363 rather than 404 student responses

Analysis

In 2017, 12 out of the 17 questions were answered with at least 80% accuracy, not quite meeting expectations. Again in 2018, 12 out of the 17 questions were answered with at least 80% accuracy, not quite meeting expectations. However, it was the same 5 questions that did not meet expectations as in the prior cycle, and 4 out of those 5 cases showed substantial gains over the prior year, moving up an average by 4.734 percentage points (highest gain = 9.17). Two of the items came within a percentage point of meeting expectations, showing overall good improvement.

Overall, students performed well on questions which involved simple recitation of rules of or generalizations about avoiding plagiarism or correctly summarizing, paraphrasing, and citing. However, when faced with questions that involved recognizing correct application of summarizing and paraphrasing, student performance went down sharply.

Given the overall results, the logical conclusion to draw seems to be that in general, students understand instructions involving the principles of correct citing and documenting, but they are having difficulties applying those principles or even recognizing correct application of those principles in action. Indeed, the questions where students performed least well involved paraphrasing or a mix of paraphrasing and quoting. Paraphrasing is a challenging skill to master and takes a great deal of practice.

Although this measure’s target was not met, our Improvement Plan was successful in its real goal of improving student performance on application (over and above knowledge) of documentation skills. Clearly, it was helpful to use the videos in conjunction with the Library Learning Commons to introduce these concepts and follow up with practical application activities to help students transfer knowledge from the conceptual to the applicable, since doing so did raise scores on practical application items substantially.

Certainly, we will continue these practices while searching for methods to supply even more practical application practice, possibly with more variety and modes of instruction.

Park, Chris. 2003. “In Other (People’s) Words: Plagiarism by University Students—Literature and Lessons.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 28(5):471–88, DOI: 10.1080/02602930301677