SUSPICIOUS MINDS: A LECTURER'S VIEW OF PLAGIARISM AMONG UNIVERSITY STUDENTS
Plagiarism is a serious and growing problem which significantly diminishes the academic integrity of university education (Walker 2010). Since the advent of the Internet and the consequent free access to large amounts of information, the endless possibilities for ‘copying and pasting’ large tracts from online documents and submitting this as original coursework makes plagiarism so easy that many students find it difficult to resist the temptation (Scanlon, 2003). Students who submit plagiarized coursework, and which is not being detected, are failing to develop a broad range of skills and capabilities such as study, research, analytical and writing skills. (Cismas 2009)
Plagiarism takes many forms, from less serious behaviors such paraphrasing others’ work without including the appropriate acknowledgement, to copying entire sections from someone else’s work and presenting it as your own, to purchasing an entire document and submitting it as coursework. There is a large and increasing body of academic literature dedicated to examining the problem of plagiarism in higher education. This literature examines issues such as knowledge and attitudes of students and teaching staff to plagiarism (Shirazi 2010), the design of tools to detect plagiarism (Kustanto 2009; Lackes 2008) and the development of strategies to inform and educate students in order to avoid unintentional plagiarism (Elander 2010).
This paper reports on a study undertaken at a Catalan university on the views of teaching staff to plagiarism among university students. The paper aims to help fill some of the ‘gaps’ in the existing literature. Firstly, the main focus of research on this issue has traditionally been on students and their attitudes to and perceptions of plagiarism. In contrast, this study focuses on university lecturers, in terms of their definitions of plagiarism, perception and attitudes, as well as individual strategies for detection and prevention of plagiarism in university coursework. Secondly, unlike much of the existing research, the present study takes a qualitative approach with the intention of developing a holistic understanding of this complex problem. The data collection was based on in-depth interviews and focus groups. Thirdly, unlike many existing studies undertaken in the context of the ‘anglo saxon’ university model, this study was carried out in the Spanish public university education system. It is important to note that although the strategies adopted in the ‘anglo saxon’ system to prevent plagiarism are also applicable in the Spanish context, the legal situation regarding student discipline requires a very different approach to responding to plagiarism once it is detected.