What is academic integrity?
Academic integrity is a core value for higher education. For ANU students, this “embodies the principle that a student’s work is original and authentic.” Working within an online environment generates many new issues around academic integrity and raises the need to educate students about academic integrity and the expectations of working within an academic environment.
Academic integrity in the media
As such a foundational part of higher education, breaches of academic integrity including misconduct and plagiarism cases frequently appear in the media. Recently there has been significant attention on Australian universities embroiled in cheating scandals. Here are a few headlines to take a look at:
- “Cheats slip through the cracks at University of Sydney” – Sydney Morning Herald, 7 April 2015
- “Cheating at major Australian universities may be easier than many realise” – The Age, 25 January 2016
- “Australian National University investigates essay farm” – Canberra Times, 13 January 2016
Investigative reporting series Four Corners on the ABC recently aired an expose on cheating in Australian universities entitled “Degrees of Deception“, which discussed the software Turnitin as “anti-plagiarism software”, and any institutions not using are framed as being irresponsible (look around 31 minutes into the episode for this section). This is commonly how students and academics perceive Turnitin – as a punitive tool. Turnitin, though, is not necessarily designed to catch cheaters and is not a foolproof method for detecting plagiarism.
How does Turnitin really work?
Turnitin is a text-matching software that matches students written submissions against many electronic sources, including the internet, journal articles, published ebooks and assignments submitted to Turnitin by students from other institutions world wide that are stored in Turnitin’s extensive database. The originality checking functionality uses “pattern matching technology to identify similarity between a submitted paper and what is housed in the database.” (UNSW Turnitin Page)
According to Turnitin’s website (PDF):
“Turnitin’s proprietary software then compares the paper’s text to a vast database of 12+ billion pages of digital content (including archived internet content that is no longer available on the live web) as well as over 110 million papers in the student paper archive, and 80,000+ professional, academic and commercial journals and publications. We’re adding new content through new partnerships all the time. For example, our partner CrossRef boasts 500-plus members that include publishers such as Elsevier and the IEEE, and has already added hundreds of millions of pages of new content to our database.”
What don’t Turnitin reports tell you?
The reports generated from Turnitin do not necessarily indicate if a student has plagiarised. As lecturers or teachers, you are still required to analyse the information received back from Turnitin to make a judgement and determine if a student has plagiarised or if they have not cited or paraphrased material correctly. Just because a student receives a high similarity score this does not mean they have plagiarised. As a teacher you still need to review the paper to see why the high score is being generated. We will investigate in detail how to interpret the originality reports in the next two days of the course.
Turnitin also does not necessarily detect whether an assignment is the student’s original work. For example, if an assignment was purchased from an essay mill or a ghost writing site, it may in fact be original work, but not by the student who submits it. There are also some ways to alter documents so that the text cannot be matched by the Turnitin databases, even if it is plagiarised.
The majority of cases are not intentional
Recent investigations by the University of Sydney have shown that the majority of academic misconduct cases (53%) are due to negligent plagiarism, rather than intentional plagiarism. In these cases, students were confused, careless, or uninformed about referencing expectations, styles, or unsure how to incorporate the work of others into their own writing.
For the next two days of the course, we will look in detail at Turnitin originality reports and discuss how to interpret the types of matches that are commonly seen at universities. Then, we will learn about different types of academic misconduct, and discuss the possible outcomes for some example cases of misconduct.
- University of Sydney Academic Misconduct Taskfore Report – “An Approach to Minimising Academic Misconduct and Plagiarism“. (PDF document)
- Journal article – Green, D.; Lindemann, I.; Marshall, K.; and Wilkinson, G., “Student Perceptions of a Trial of Electronic Text Matching Software: A Preliminary Investigation”, Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 2(3), 2005. Available at: http://ro.uow.edu.au/jutlp/vol2/iss3/4
- Four Corners episode, “Degrees of Deception”. Aired 20 April 2015 on the ABC. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2015/04/20/4217741.htm
Share your thoughts
Now we’d like to hear from you. Feel free to respond to one of the prompts below, and we encourage you to respond to the posts of others as well. Please note: If you are participating in the course for professional development at the ANU, you will need to write a short response to each post to receive credit for this course on HORUS.
A few questions you can respond to
- Why did you take this course? What aspects of academic integrity and/or Turnitin are you particularly interested in learning about?
- What are your biggest concerns regarding academic misconduct and/or plagiarism (in your course, school, discipline, in higher education more broadly)?
- Tell us about your experiences with academic misconduct and/or plagiarism in your teaching. What types of academic misconduct have you seen or heard about? What have been some of the challenges of dealing with it?
Leave a comment below with your thoughts.