Comparison of behaviour and attitudes towards plagiarism between undergraduate and post-graduate taught level in MVLS at the University of Glasgow

By Carolyn Loveridge and Kimberly Davis

In this blog post, I would like to talk about and share some interesting results which are part of my ongoing MEd Academic Practice Project which is under the supervision of Kimberly Davis. I will give an overview of the background and rationale behind the project, the aim and research questions, the methods which were employed, key results so far, and finish with some conclusions and key lessons learned for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) studies.

Introduction

Academic integrity is recognised in the University of Glasgow’s (UoG’s) Learning and Teaching Strategy, where one priority is listed as ‘maintaining and promoting academic integrity and respect in terms of our behaviours and the approach we take to academic standards and quality’. Furthermore, one of the UoG’s Graduate Attributes is for students to be Ethically and Socially Aware, where they should ‘consider and act upon the ethical, social and global responsibilities of their actions’.

Plagiarism, a recognised sub-set of academic misconduct (Eaton, 2017), can have significant consequences for students, staff and the institution. The outcome for students who are disciplined for plagiarism range in severity from being asked to re-submit an assignment to being expelled and unable to complete the degree programme. Plagiarism can also impact staff in terms of increased workload and emotional strain from referring cases to senate and having to re-grade assignments (Vehviläinen et al., 2018). At the institutional level, plagiarism can impact the reputation of the University and it necessitates cost and resources in terms of staff and computer software to help police it.

Plagiarism continues to be a significant problem, not just in MVLS at the University of Glasgow but in other colleges within the University and the wider HE sector globally (Eaton, 2021) and so it is clear that more research and novel strategies are required to help combat it. It is possible that factors contributing to plagiarism are different when transitioning from one level of study to another (Sheard et al., 2003) and it is noteworthy that there is a significant gap in the literature for research comparing differences in plagiarism behaviour between undergraduate (UG) and post-graduate taught (PGT) level.

Aim/Research Questions

The aim of this project was to investigate differences in plagiarism between UG and PGT level in MVLS at the University of Glasgow. The specific research questions were to examine (i) trends in plagiarism incidence in MVLS and (ii) student and staff perceptions regarding plagiarism behaviour, the support which is available and what could be done to mitigate plagiarism.

Methodology

This study was approved by the School of Education ethics committee and used a mixed-methods approach involving: (i) quantitative analysis of senate office data to investigate levels of plagiarism which have occurred in MVLS from 2014/15-2021/22 academic sessions; (ii) conduction and quantitative analysis of an online survey with a random sample of UG (n= 18) and PGT (n = 32) students; (iii) conduction and qualitative analysis of focus groups with students (n=4) and staff (n=7).

Results

Senate office data revealed that in all years analysed, there is more plagiarism among (i) PGT than UG students; (ii) mature (over 25 years) compared to not mature (25 and under) students; (iii) international and EU students compared to UK students. Levels of plagiarism amongst all groupings have increased to their highest levels between 2018 and 2022. Survey data revealed that there were no statistically significant differences in Lickert-style question responses between UG and PGT students for all categories. The student focus group revealed 5 key themes – particular areas of concern were where there is a gap between UG and PGT study and the transition for international students to study in the UK. The staff focus group identified 6 key themes – of significant concern were barriers encountered when trying to combat plagiarism, but elements of good academic teaching practice, particularly in the area of assessment and feedback, were highlighted as being important to mitigate plagiarism.

Conclusion

The results from this study demonstrate important new perspectives on plagiarism, particularly surrounding the transition from UG to PGT study and the importance of maintaining good standards of academic teaching practice. The creation of a new Moodle resource for students to complete on Good Academic Practice which addresses these points could be beneficial to combat plagiarism.

Key Lessons Learned for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Studies

            The most important lesson I have learned is to allow plenty of time for ethical approval for this type of project – this is very helpful with regards to devising timescales for any subsequent projects which I would like to do. It has also been of great benefit to learn what is required with regards to completing an ethics application form as part of MEd – again, this will be highly beneficial for subsequent projects. Also, I feel that using a mixture of methodological approaches allows for different aspects of a phenomenon to be addressed.

References

Eaton, S. E., 2017, Comparative Analysis of Institutional Policy Definitions of Plagiarism: A Pan-Canadian University Study, Interchange, 48: 271–281.

Eaton, S.E., 2021. Plagiarism in higher education: Tackling tough topics in academic integrity. California: ABC-CLIO.

Sheard, J., Markham, S. and Dick, M., 2003, Investigating Differences in Cheating Behaviours of IT Undergraduate and Graduate Students: The maturity and motivation factors, Higher Education Research & Development, 22(1): 91–108.

Vehviläinen, S., Löfström, E. and Nevgi, A., 2018, Dealing with plagiarism in the academic community: emotional engagement and moral distress, Higher Education, 75: 1–18.

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