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Keywords:

  • academic integrity;
  • plagiarism;
  • dental students;
  • academic staff

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendices

Introduction:  This project has investigated student and staff perceptions and experience of plagiarism in a large Australian dental school to develop a response to an external audit report.

Methods:  Workshops designed to enhance participants’ understanding of plagiarism and to assist with practical ways to promote academic integrity within the school were provided to all students and staff. Anonymous surveys were used to investigate perceptions and experience of plagiarism and to assess the usefulness of the workshops.

Results:  Most participants felt that plagiarism was not a problem in the school, but a significant number were undecided. The majority of participants reported that the guidelines for dealing with plagiarism were inadequate and most supported the mandatory use of text-matching software in all courses. High proportions of participants indicated that the workshops were useful and that they would consider improving their practice as a result.

Conclusions:  The study provided data that enhanced understanding of aspects of plagiarism highlighted in the report at the school level and identified areas in need of attention, such as refining and raising awareness of the guidelines and incorporation of text-matching software into courses, as well as cautions to be considered (how text-matching software is used) in planning responsive action.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendices

Academic integrity in general and plagiarism in particular are current concerns of academics with responsibilities for student assessment and the assurance of standards. Much attention has been paid to this issue in the higher education literature, and dedicated conferences (e.g. the Australasian and Pacific Educational Integrity and the UK Plagiarism conferences) and journals (e.g. the ‘International Journal of Educational Integrity’ and ‘Plagiary’) demonstrate its relevance across a range of disciplines. There is general consensus regarding the value of reinforcing and modelling ethical behaviours, including academic integrity early in professional programmes such as dentistry (1), and there is an expectation and indeed a requirement that health care professionals are ethical, honest and responsible (2).

Although it might be reasonable to expect levels of concern with plagiarism to vary according to discipline and that for programmes such as dentistry with its heavy emphasis on clinical skills rather than academic writing, plagiarism may be less of an issue. However, a search of leading dental education journals has identified a number of investigations with a focus on academic integrity that have occurred in the context of dental education. The focus of such investigations in recent years has encompassed not only academic integrity issues (3) and general explorations of the academic environment in dental schools (4) but also more specific canvassing of acceptable group work practices (5), attitudes towards (6) and prevalence (7) of cheating and other academic integrity violations (8) and student and/or staff opinion on the appropriateness of penalties (9). The breadth of focus and number of these investigations suggest that dental educators share many plagiarism concerns with their colleagues in other disciplines. Academic integrity violations and cheating have been shown to be prevalent in dental schools, and this has partly been explained by the stresses of workload and the perception that ‘everyone does it’ (3, 7, 8, 10, 11). Dental students have also admitted to being reluctant to report unacceptable behaviours of their colleagues. It has been suggested that acceptance of unethical behaviours and ‘turning a blind eye’ could potentially carry through to behaviours beyond graduation and impact negatively on the integrity of the profession (5).

The study reported in this paper was initiated in the dental school of a large, Australian research-intensive university in response to findings related to plagiarism included in an external audit report. The school in question offers a 3-year Bachelor of Oral Health (BOralH) programme (approximately 25 students per year cohort), a 5-year Bachelor of Dental Science (BDSc) programme (approximately 65 students per year cohort) and a 3-year Doctor of Clinical Dentistry (DClinDent) programme (approximately nine students per year cohort). The first year of the BOralH and BDSc programmes is characterised by a number of shared courses. Whilst a core component of the programmes at the school is clinical in nature, there is a requirement for students to demonstrate their developing ability to access and evaluate information sources and to articulate appropriately their understandings in both written and oral forms. Academic writing with accurate acknowledgement of sources used is a skill that is introduced in the first year and supported with workshops and structured assessment and developed in subsequent years (12).

The external audit conducted in 2009 [(13), pp 38, 39] identified three specific problems related to the way plagiarism was handled across the institution: inconsistent responses to alleged instances of plagiarism; lack of confidence by course coordinators in dealing with plagiarism; and student perceptions of the prevalence of plagiarism. The report recommended that an audit of current practice be undertaken with a view to developing consistent guidelines and strategies across the different schools.

The Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) report did not specifically refer to the dental school, and plagiarism had not previously been perceived to be a significant issue by school staff, but as dentistry was one of only five of the university’s 34 schools included in the sample selected for audit, it was considered advisable to further investigate the extent to which institutional concerns were relevant to this specific school and, if necessary, to develop an appropriate response to any concerns identified.

An academic from within the school was appointed to frame and conduct the investigation, and assistance was provided through the University of Queensland Assessment Network (UQAN), which had been established to encourage and support a range of assessment enhancement projects (14). A small amount of funding was available through this scheme, which enabled the project leader to expand her original focus to include the development and implementation of initiatives designed to raise student and staff awareness of plagiarism and to explore possibilities for its reduction. Through the UQAN, she was able to draw on the expertise of a member of the university academic development unit and a research assistant for collaboration on tasks such as provision of a professional development workshop for staff and the observation and collection of data from an information session for students. The network also provided collegial support and was a source of feedback during project development and implementation.

Project Aims

The project had three aims that were guided by scholarship of teaching and learning research questions framed to investigate both ‘context’ (to understand the problem and inform strategies) and ‘impact’ (to evaluate an intervention and inform its next iteration) (15).

  • 1
     What are current staff and student perspectives on plagiarism in the School of Dentistry? Is plagiarism an issue? Are current guidelines and practices adequate?
  • 2
     What is staff and student reaction to the proposed mandatory use of text-matching software (Turnitin)?
  • 3
     How effective is a small-scale intervention – workshops for students and staff designed to raise awareness of the importance of promoting academic integrity, institutional policies and strategies for reducing plagiarism through assessment design and development of student knowledge and skills?

Data collection throughout the project was ultimately intended to inform the development of a consistent and thorough approach to address plagiarism at the school level in a way consistent with best practice across the university.

Methods

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendices

The study involved an intervention – voluntary workshops for students and staff – and the collection of data through paper-based surveys.

Participants

All academic staff (approximately 20) and all undergraduate students enrolled in the first year of the BOralH and BDSc programme (110), the fifth year of the BDSc programme (69) and DClinDent students (9) in the School of Dentistry were invited to participate in the study. The invitation was initially offered only to students enrolled in Year 5 of the BDSc programme. However, preliminary analysis of the evaluation data suggested that these students found the workshop so valuable that it was decided to provide additional workshops for Year 1 BDSc and BOralH students and Year 1 DClinDent students.

Strategy

Students

The project was approved by the institutional human ethics review committee, and informed consent was received from all participants. Student participants were invited to attend a workshop designed to enhance their awareness of plagiarism and to provide them with resources and support for best academic practice. Separate workshops were provided for each of the three different student cohorts, and these were tailored to the experience and requirements of each group. Each workshop contained material on information skills as well as on plagiarism and academic integrity. An anonymous and voluntary survey was distributed to participants at the workshop to evaluate its effectiveness in achieving its aims and to collect data on the student perspective on the adequacy of how plagiarism was detected and dealt with at the school.

Staff

Staff participants were invited to attend a workshop offered by a member of the university academic development unit. The workshop was designed not only to enhance their awareness of plagiarism and academic integrity but also to provide support in designing assessment tasks that reduced the risk of plagiarism and to develop staff skill in using the text-matching software tool, Turnitin. Staff accounts of current practice, opinion on the use of Turnitin and feedback on the effectiveness of the session were collected using an anonymous and voluntary survey on completion of the workshop.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendices

Although workshop attendance and completion of surveys were voluntary, participation rates were high, particularly in the first and postgraduate student groups, thus indicating that respondents were broadly representative of the participant groups targeted for the study. Higher instances of plagiarism have been observed for international students, and this has been attributed to both language and cultural factors (16), so it is a strength of the study that the views of non-English-speaking background (NESB) students are well represented (Table 1).

Table 1.   Student and staff participants
 Year 1 studentsYear 5 studentsPostgraduate studentsStaff
  1. NESB, non-English-speaking background.

Number (% of eligible participants)103 (94)43 (62)9 (100)12 (60)
NESB (%)46491125

Student and staff perspectives on plagiarism as an issue

Both staff and student responses to the question ‘Is plagiarism a problem in the school?’ appeared inconclusive. Although a relatively high proportion of staff and students either considered plagiarism not a problem at all or one that was dealt with effectively (Table 2), the highest proportion of responses from all but one of the groups was ‘Undecided’. The exception was the Year 5 student group, 30% of whom responded that plagiarism was a problem that was not being dealt with effectively or consistently. By way of contrast, no postgraduate students identified plagiarism as an issue.

Table 2.   Is plagiarism a problem in the school? (% of respondents)
 Year 1 studentsYear 5 studentsPostgraduate studentsStaff
Yes but it is detected and dealt with effectively and consistently2312033
Yes and it is not being detected and or/dealt with effectively and consistently43008
No17374417
Undecided56215642

Worth noting also is that despite none of the staff participants reporting ever having detected a case of plagiarism in their courses, only 17% felt that plagiarism was not a problem within the school and 42% were ‘Undecided’ on this issue.

The adequacy of current guidelines for dealing with plagiarism

First-year students rated both the clarity and adequacy of school guidelines more highly than other students or staff (Table 3). The opinion of the fifth-year and postgraduate students and staff on the adequacy of guidelines for ensuring consistency was much lower and in line with generally higher levels of concerns with plagiarism expressed by this group.

Table 3.   Percent agreement with questions related to plagiarism guidelines
 Year 1 studentsYear 5 studentsPostgraduate studentsStaff
Do you feel that the school has clear guidelines in place for dealing with plagiarism?90445650
In your opinion, are these guidelines adequate for ensuring consistency?83373333

2. Mandatory use of Turnitin

The majority of students and staff supported the mandatory use of Turnitin in all courses with the exception of postgraduate students, many of whom (44%) were still undecided on the value of this practice (Table 4). Those who supported the unlimited use of Turnitin prior to submission of work considered that this practice had the capacity to reduce unintentional plagiarism and consequently to enhance the quality of written work. Some more cautious and possibly cynical first-year and postgraduate students felt that unlimited use would merely allow their peers to learn to ‘beat the Turnitin system’.

Table 4.   Should Turnitin should be mandatory in all courses? (% respondents)
 Year 1 studentsYear 5 studentsPostgraduate studentsStaff
Yes61673367
No13212225
Undecided2612448

3. Workshop effectiveness

The majority of participants in each of the groups agreed that the workshops had improved their understanding of academic integrity and plagiarism (Table 5). Most of the student participants indicated intentions to approach assessment tasks differently in future, and a high proportion (92%) of staff appear at least likely to consider modifications to assessment task design to reduce the risk of plagiarism.

Table 5.   Percent agreement with questions related to the effectiveness of the workshop
 Year 1 studentsYear 5 studentsPostgraduate studentsStaff
Do you feel this workshop has improved your understanding of academic integrity and plagiarism?867778100
Following this workshop, do you think you would do anything differently in the synthesis of your assessment tasks to reduce the risk of plagiarism?806367
Following this workshop, do you think you may redesign any of your assessment tasks to reduce the risk of plagiarism?92

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendices

The results of the current study are generally in line with the university’s external auditors’ (13) findings. Overall, the study achieved the aim of providing the school with useful information to guide future activities in the support of academic integrity. Although plagiarism was not identified as a major issue, staff and student perceptions differed in some aspects and areas were highlighted as needing attention. The study has been of value in enhancing understanding of the current context and raising questions that need further investigation.

Whilst it can be reassuring to find that only a minority of students and staff believed that plagiarism was a problem in the school, it is worrying that such a large proportion of respondents chose the ‘Undecided’ option where it was offered. This clearly indicates that further attention to this issue is required and possibly shows a lack of confidence in respondents’ understanding of exactly what constitutes plagiarism and their ability to avoid or detect it. The contrasting perspectives of undergraduate and postgraduate students may also need to be further explored with reference to assessment requirements – particularly those of fifth-year and postgraduate students.

The increase observed in the current study in the proportion of students from 1st to 5th year who thought plagiarism was a problem may be due to the older students ‘learning’ that they could get away with it. Honny et al. (8) explain this phenomenon as the increased likelihood that individuals will engage in particular behaviours if they observe that certain behaviours performed by others lead to benefits for them. The impression that plagiarism is of benefit can be given to students as a result of the failure of academics to routinely detect and report instances of suspected plagiarism. Explanations for breakdown in the implementation of academic integrity guidelines are linked to the time and resources required and teacher anxiety (17). Universities therefore must provide streamlined processes and trained academic support staff to reduce these barriers to upholding academic standards and student confidence in these processes.

With the exception of Year 1 students, unacceptably high proportions of respondents indicated reservations regarding the clarity and awareness of the processes and guidelines. Student comments indicated that they were aware that plagiarism was not permitted but that they were not aware of the relevant school processes and consequences.

Not sure about guidelines for dealing with plagiarism but it is very clear it is not acceptable at all. (Year 1 student)

Failure to address lack of clarity on matters of plagiarism can enhance student perceptions that cheating is acceptable or at best is treated with indifference within dental schools (3). However, whilst the school can address this issue to some extent, a lack of clear guidelines or an inconsistent enforcement of policies needs to be first addressed at the institutional level. As a result of the audit, a cross-university working party has been formed to revise policy and to develop clearer guidelines for the use of both staff and to support these through the provision of resources such as online tutorials and examples of appropriate ways of dealing with different levels of academic integrity breaches.

The use of plagiarism detection software is now widespread in higher education, but feedback provided through the study suggests that caution is needed before mandating its use across the school to reduce the likelihood of arousing the resistance of those who have indicated a negative response to the proposal and those who are still undecided on this matter. These results indicate the advisability of allowing staff to use Turnitin in variable ways (18). It may also be necessary to stress the educative rather than the detection application of the software (19), so the tools should be used to support student development of academic integrity, rather than to ‘catch and punish’ them. Davis (16), for example, reported positive learning outcomes and improved quality of submitted work through the use of tutorial discussions of Turnitin reports. Whilst most students in the current study were very positive about being able to access Turnitin reports prior to submission of assessment pieces, a number demonstrated awareness of the potential pitfalls of permitting unlimited attempts prior to submission (16). Staff therefore also need to design strategies to avoid undesirable outcomes when using text-matching software.

The perceptions of all groups that the workshops had improved their understanding of the issue were affirming and suggest that such workshops would be valuable components of future staff and student induction into the school. The workshops also raised staff awareness of their role in reducing plagiarism by redesigning assessment tasks (20). Reusing old assessment tasks and topics makes it easy for students to plagiarise from the work of others. Individualising tasks, including a reflective component and requiring drafts to be submitted can reduce the opportunity for students for plagiarism to occur.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendices

This study has been a useful exercise in engaging staff and students in the issues of academic integrity and plagiarism. The unexpectedly large proportion of ‘undecided’ responses to some questions suggests that plagiarism is not currently a burning issue for many staff or students, so the awareness raising outcome of the project may serve as a timely precursor to forthcoming institutional efforts in support of consistent approaches to the encouragement of academic integrity. Although the information provided requires further investigation for confident interpretation in some instances, the information gained has proved useful in identifying issues to be addressed at the school level and in identifying cautions to observe if unnecessary risks are to be avoided. The study has also proved useful in demonstrating that relatively minor interventions such as single workshops can be effective ways of promoting academic integrity with both students and staff.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendices

The authors thank Anne Bennison for her contribution to this project by overseeing the student workshops and collecting the survey data. The support of the University of Queensland Assessment Network (UQAN) is also gratefully acknowledged.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendices
  • 1
    Hutchins B, Cobb S. When will we be ready for academic integrity? J Dent Educ 2008: 72: 359363.
  • 2
    Nash DA. On ethics in the profession of dentistry and dental education. Eur J Dent Educ 2007: 11: 6474.
  • 3
    Andrews KG, Smith LA, Henzi D, Demps E. Faculty and student perceptions of academic integrity at U.S. and Canadian dental schools. J Dent Educ 2007: 71: 10271039.
  • 4
    Divaris K, Barlow PJ, Chendea SA, et al. The academic environment: the students’ perspective. Eur J Dent Educ 2008: 12(Suppl 1): 120130.
  • 5
    Sisson K, Newton J. The attitudes of dental students towards socially acceptable and unacceptable group working practices. Eur J Dent Educ 2007: 11: 160167.
  • 6
    Al-Dwairi ZN, Al-Waheidi EM. Cheating behaviors of dental students. J Dent Educ 2004: 68: 11921195.
  • 7
    Muhney KA, Gutmann ME, Schneiderman E, DeWald JP, McCann A, Campbell PR. The prevalence of academic dishonesty in Texas dental hygiene programs. J Dent Educ 2008: 72: 12471260.
  • 8
    Honny JM, Gadbury-Amyot CC, Overman PR, Wilkins K, Petersen F. Academic integrity violations: a national study of dental hygiene students. J Dent Educ 2010: 74: 251260.
  • 9
    Teplitsky PE. Perceptions of Canadian dental faculty and students about appropriate penalties for academic dishonesty. J Dent Educ 2002: 66: 485506.
  • 10
    Fuller JL, Killip DE. Do dental students cheat? J Dent Educ 1979: 43: 666670.
  • 11
    Monica M, Ankola AV, Ashokkumar BR, Hebbal I. Attitude and tendency of cheating behaviours amongst undergraduate students in a Dental Institution of India. Eur J Dent Educ 2010: 14: 7983.
  • 12
    Ford PJ, Foxlee N, Green W. Developing information literacy with first year oral health students. Eur J Dent Educ 2009: 13: 4651.
  • 13
    Report of an Audit of The University of Queensland. Melbourne: Australian Universities Quality Agency 2009. Report No.: 74.
  • 14
    Goos M, Hughes C, Webster-Wright A. Report of the Associate Fellowship: Building capacity for assessment leadership via professional development and mentoring of course coordinators. Sydney: Australian Learning and Teaching Council, 2009. Available at: http://www.altc.edu.au/system/files/resources/Goos%20UQ%20Fellowship%20Report%202009.pdf.
  • 15
    Hubball H, Clarke A. Diverse methodological approaches and considerations for SoTL in higher education. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning [serial on the Internet]. 2010; 1(1): Available at: http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cjsotl_rcacea/vol1/iss1/2.
  • 16
    Davis M, Carrol J. Formative feedback within plagiarism education: is there a role for text-matching software? Int J Acad Integrit 2009: 5: 5870.
  • 17
    Nadelson S. Academic misconduct by university students: faculty perceptions and responses. Plagiary 2007: 1: 6776.
  • 18
    Cox MJ, Schleyer T, Johnson LA, Eaton KA, Reynolds PA. Making a mark--taking assessment to technology. Br Dent J 2008: 205: 3339.
  • 19
    Scanlon PM. Student online plagiarism: how do we respond? Coll Teach 2003: 51: 161165.
  • 20
    Bassendowski SL, Salgado AJ. Is plagiarism creating an opportunity for the development of new assessment strategies? Int J Nurs Educ Scholarsh 2005:2:Article 3.

Appendices

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendices

Appendix 1

Staff Survey

Academic integrity and plagiarism understandings of academic staff and undergraduate students

Staff Questionnaire

Investigators: Dr Pauline Ford Senior Lecturer, School of Dentistry University of Queensland Dr Clair Hughes Higher Education Research and Scholarship, TEDI University of Queensland

Please tick this box if you consent for your anonymous information to be used for research purposes □

  1. Thank you for your participation!

What best describes your appointment with the School of Dentistry?How many years of university teaching experience do you have?
□ Full time□ <1 year
□ Part time□ 1—5 years
□ Casual□ 6—10 years
 □ More than 10 years
Do you have a formal teaching qualification?Are you responsible for designing and/or marking assessment tasks for students at the school?
□ Yes□ Yes
□ No□ No
What is your first language?
□ English
□ Language other than English
As far as you are aware, does the school provide information to students on acceptable academic practice and conventions?
□ Yes
□ No
If you answered yes, what is your understanding of how and when this is done?
 
Do you feel that the school has clear guidelines in place for dealing with plagiarism?
□ Yes
□ No
□ Undecided
In your opinion, are these guidelines adequate for ensuring consistency?
□ Yes
□ No
□ Undecided
In your opinion, is plagiarism a problem in the school?
□ Yes but we detect and deal with it effectively and consistently
□ Yes and we are not detecting and/or dealing with it effectively and consistently
□ No
□ Undecided
In your opinion, is plagiarism a problem in your courses?
□ Yes but we detect and deal with it effectively and consistently
□ Yes and we are not detecting and/or dealing with it effectively and consistently
□ No
□ Undecided
Have you ever detected a case of plagiarism in your course?
□ Yes
□ No
If you answered yes to the above question, did you notify the Head of School?
□ Yes
□ No, I dealt with the issue myself
□ No, I wasn’t sure of the procedures so I ignored it
Do you feel that this workshop improved your understanding of academic integrity and plagiarism?
□ Yes
□ No
□ Undecided
Following this workshop, do you think you may redesign any of your assessment tasks to reduce the risk of plagiarism?
□ Yes
□ No
□ Undecided
Following this workshop, do you think you will use Turnitin in any of your courses?
□ Yes
□ No
□ Undecided
Do you think that the use of Turnitin should be mandatory in all courses?
□ Yes
□ No
□ Undecided

Appendix 2

Student Survey

Academic integrity and plagiarism understandings of academic staff and undergraduate students

Student Questionnaire

Investigators: Dr Pauline Ford Senior Lecturer, School of Dentistry University of Queensland Dr Clair Hughes Higher Education Research and Scholarship, TEDI University of Queensland

Please tick this box if you consent for your anonymous information to be used for research purposes □

  1. Thank you for your participation!

What is your first language?Have you undertaken tertiary education prior to enrolment in this programme?
□ English□ Yes
□ Language other than English□ No
Does the school provide information to students on acceptable academic practice and conventions?
□ Yes
□ No
If you answered yes, what is your experience of how and when this is done?
 
Do you feel that the school has clear guidelines in place for dealing with plagiarism?
□ Yes
□ No
□ Undecided
In your opinion, are these guidelines adequate for ensuring consistency?
□ Yes
□ No
□ Undecided
In your opinion, is plagiarism a problem in the school?
□ Yes but it is detected and dealt with effectively and consistently
□ Yes and it is not being detecting and/or dealt with effectively and consistently
□ No
□ Undecided
Do you feel that this workshop improved your understanding of academic integrity and plagiarism?
□ Yes
□ No
□ Undecided
Following this workshop, do you think you would do anything differently in the synthesis of your assessment tasks to reduce the risk of plagiarism?
□ Yes
□ No
□ Undecided
Do you think that the use of Turnitin should be mandatory in all courses?
□ Yes
□ No
□ Undecided
If Turnitin were used in all courses, do you think students should be allowed to run their work through the software an unlimited number of times?
□ Yes (Why?________________________________________________________________)
□ No (Why not?________________________________________________________________)
□ Undecided