Do teachers make it easy for students to plagiarise?
When teachers set assignments, sometimes they make it very easy for students to plagiarise. This is down to tasks being poorly designed, in a way that encourages students to find the answer (for example, on the Internet). Examples of poor task design are:
- Setting the same tasks year on year.
- Setting tasks that have only one answer.
- Setting tasks that require students to show concrete knowledge.
- Allowing last minute changes of topics.
Conversely, teachers can reduce the risk of students plagiarising by designing tasks in such a way that does not encourage students to simply find the answers.
Examples of good task design include:
- Requesting the assignment in an alternative format (for example, a poster rather than a report).
- Asking the students to catalogue, critique, plan, defend, justify or rank,
rather than to explain or describe.
- Giving the students individual or unique data sets or contexts.
Teachers can further build in checks to ensure students are not plagiarising. Examples of such checks are:
- Requesting that a percentage of the students complete brief vivas each time you set an assignment. The viva is academic version of oral questioning, conducted after the submission of the work, to ensure that the student knows enough about the subject to make it at least plausible that the assignment is their own work.
- Setting a post-hand-in writing task to be done under exam conditions. This might examine either understanding of the content of the final product or understanding of the process used to make the final product (for example, “What were two key resources you used and why were they important?’)
- Asking your students to alter the final assignment under exam conditions (for example, “You wrote the programme to do X, how would you change it to do Y?’)
- Making a comparison of the student’s exam performance and assignment performance.
Students can also be required to submit evidence in the process of producing their assignment. This might include:
- Drafts and planning notes.
- Copies of research papers used.
- Records of supervision meetings.
- Notes from group work.
- Notes from reflective learning – for example, you can ask students to keep a diary recording their reflection on their learning during the course of researching and producing their assignment.
Most of the suggestions on this page were collected from investigations by D Parapadakis (2004), “Using IT to combat plagiarism -10 years of success and failures’, in conference proceedings of Plagiarism: Prevention, Practice and Policy, 143-150, and Culwin, F. (2006), “Either my students are getting naughtier, or the tools are getting better!’, paper presented at 2nd International Plagiarism Conference, July 2006 (link). They are reproduced in the highly recommended, excellent booklet produced by Oxford Brookes University, Reduce the risk of plagiarism in just 30 minutes, which you can download for free.