Why do Students Plagiarise & Purchase Essays?

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Each year UWE Bristol funds Pedagogic Projects across the University on a variety of themes. In this blog, Jackie Chelin discusses her 2020/21 project on academic integrity.

Why this project?

Long standing issues with plagiarism are being compounded by students’ use of essay mills. There is a real need to help students to understand and embrace the value of academic integrity in their studies. This includes helping them to understand what is and what is not academic misconduct, what is collaboration and what is collusion, as well as how plagiarism might impact their academic progress and future employment.

Crucially, we wanted to hear from the students themselves about the terminology and the activities that would engage them in raising their awareness and understanding, particularly in relation to the merits of good academic, and professional, practice.

What were we trying to do?

  • Understand better student attitudes to plagiarism and cheating and then to work in partnership with them to develop more comprehensive and meaningful guidance and resources.
  • Address the increasing number of assessment offences by taking a student-centred approach and tackling the causes of the problem, e.g., by developing approaches / co-creating resources with students that will help to prevent plagiarism.
  • Complement, extend, and feed into the work of other projects and initiatives across the university.

What actions did we take?

We administered a Qualtrics survey which attracted 323 (anonymous) responses over a three-month period, followed by a focus group with students from all four faculties in which we used case studies to discuss scenarios relating to different types of assessment offence.

We are now working with a group of level 2 film-making students to create an interactive “branched scenario” online resource using H5P technology. Students will be able to travel through this, making decisions at various points that lead them to a better understanding about the consequences of the interactive choices they made, and which they can go back and rectify.

What did we discover?

Students have a wide range of opinions and these are not that different from ours! They are fairly au fait with notions of plagiarism but much less clear on collusion and contract cheating – which might well reflect the relative emphasis we place on these aspects in our guidance and web-based information. Indeed, they want more discussion of essay mills.

Students know quite a lot about the assessment offences process, although not all this knowledge is accurate. They want more training, guidance, and information because they want to do the “right thing”.

Lack of time is a key factor in plagiarism – both in blatant and inadvertent plagiarism. The nature of the assessments that students are asked to undertake also has a bearing, i.e., many students would like assignments that are more meaningful, personal, and interesting to them (which arguably reflects current discussions around inclusivity and decolonisation of the curriculum).

What are we recommending from this project?

There are three categories of recommendations, as outlined below, which could fit into a wider, collaboratively created, university assessment strategy.

In relation to education and guidance, we recommend that:

  • the online interactive resource being created with the film-making students be used, as appropriate, in inductions, embedded into programmes, modules and workshops. This would take the best aspects reported elsewhere and combine this with a more integrated, attractive, and flexible approach (Sefcik, 2020)
  • More support for reading, note taking, paraphrasing, group work, citation and referencing is produced in a range of formats, e.g., online bite-sized resources, for integration into the virtual learning environment, and face to face bookable workshops (both online and on campus)
  • the university develops a repository of sample students’ work to help them to understand what is expected in terms of academic writing and referencing
  • links are included in assessment briefs to relevant guidance and support, particularly to provide clarity about exactly which aspects of referencing and citation (for example) are being assessed, and how.

In relation to assessment, we recommend that:

  • formative assessments be included in the first six weeks of term to provide students with more confidence about incorporating published sources in their work
  • consideration be given not just to the timing but also to the number of assessments students are asked to undertake
  • alternatives, or a choice of assessments, are developed for each module (Bretag, 2019)
  • more advice on assessment design is developed, combined with a review of the coding mechanisms for assessment offences, to be able to trace assessment types that are susceptible to assessment offences.

In relation to communications, we recommend:

  • developing a stronger values-led rather than sanctions-led approach to assessment offences, e.g.
    • the co-creation of an academic integrity policy along with students,
    • the use of relevant social media and student-facing communications to promote the benefits of good academic practice, e.g., deeper learning, personal satisfaction and to support future career (Amigud, 2020).

In making the recommendations we applied an “inclusivity lens” to try to ensure that the outcomes would positively impact all students, allowing them to have access equally, and in an integrated way, to the learning, skills, and knowledge they require, irrespective of previous experience, background, culture, or nationality.

For further information please contact the author of this blog: Jacqueline Chelin, Deputy Director of Library Careers and Inclusivity, UWE Bristol

One thought on “Why do Students Plagiarise & Purchase Essays?”

  1. Fantastic work, Jackie and the project team. I am looking forward to seeing the online interactive resource produced by our Level 2 Filmmaking students.

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