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Education

Plagiarism at Universities rises

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Expulsion threat: Plagiarism detection increases

THE FIRST weeks at University can be hectic.

There is finding friends, finding a decent takeaway, exploring the world in a number of ways that parents don’t like to acknowledge exist.

IGNORANCE NO EXCUSE

There are also, at most universities, a short bedding-in period when students are given an idea of the academic standards they are supposed to attain.

And one message is hammered home early and hammered home often: plagiarism can seriously mess up your academic future. If you are caught, you face a range of punishments which can include having to re-sit a course module up to expulsion from the University.

Even if you help someone cheat – because that is what plagiarism is, cheating – you can be penalised. The student who helps a friend cheat by letting them copy their submitted work is as guilty as the friend they try to ‘help’.

It’s not as if it’s a great mystery to students that the penalties for cheating are serious. That is spelled out by lecturers, and contained in every single course manual and the student code of conduct.

THE PRESSURE TO PERFORM

The pressure on students to perform can be tough. The increase in the numbers of students attending university has debased the value of a degree to the extent that some overseas universities no longer recognise UK universities’ award of one year Master’s degree, let alone regard undergraduate degrees as the hallmark of academic achievement. That applies to universities across the UK.

Most professions will specify that a 2:1 or better is required at undergraduate level for admission to postgraduate study. Graduate traineeships often specify the same requirement as a minimum.

Teaching, for example, is so desperately keen to recruit the best undergraduates and postgraduates that it offers incentives for those with better honours degrees in select subjects. The determination to shed the ‘those who can’t, teach’ label has created a marketplace in which a first class honours degree in a priority subject – physics, maths, chemistry, Welsh – can access £20K of funding for postgraduate qualification as a teacher. A 2:2 degree in any other subject gets you nothing in additional support.

CHEATING NOT NEW

A minority of students have always cheated, but the use of the internet has created an environment in which cheating has become easier. As higher education has become more accessible so has easy access to any number of shortcuts and back-alley ways to bumping up marks.

Looking at some standalone work-related training modules delivered by private companies, there is solid evidence that not only are the lecturers under-qualified to deliver the course material but that they turn a blind-eye to a culture of cut and paste.

The Herald is aware of one course tutor who actively encouraged one person attending such a course to simply resubmit their undergraduate coursework to gain the qualification they were seeking via the provider employing the tutor.

Self-plagiarism is still plagiarism and it is still cheating. More importantly, the training provider – or rather, the course tutor – was, of course, swindling the employer funding the training.

Does it matter?

Of course it does. In a working world in which employers look at qualifications first, how is the employer meant to distinguish between a qualification gained through GENUINE effort, work, and ability and one gained by a cheating recourse to Control-C followed by Control-V?

Those who get away with it are often smug, but they also liars and – ultimately – frauds.

BUYING FAILURE

Essay mills, the last resort of the truly idle cheat, claim to be able to deliver a guaranteed grade in any subject on any topic – for a price.

Essay mills represent cheating on a commercial and contractual scale. An essay mill is a business that allows customers to commission an original piece of writing on a particular topic so that they may commit academic fraud. Students commission others to write their coursework for them through an essay mill in the hope they will attain the grade required.

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education said in 2016: “Providers of these services claim that the essays they produce are ‘100 per cent plagiarism free’, but that is a misleading claim. While the essay may not contain any plagiarised text itself, it becomes an act of plagiarism and academic dishonesty once the student submits it for assessment and represents it as his or her own work.

“If students submit work that is not their own, this compromises the fairness of the assessment process and poses a threat to the reputation of UK higher education. There are potentially serious ramifications for the public if people who falsely claim to be competent as a result of an academic award enter a profession and practise.”

In February this year, the UK Government began a consultation with QAA, universities, and the NUS. At that point, the UK Government suggested it was reluctant to go down the legislative route to try and tackle the problem, but in other countries both the provider AND the student would be guilty of a criminal offence.

Such is the scale of the issue across the UK, and not solely in Wales, that QAA has recommended that the advertising of ‘contract cheating’ services be banned and that criminal penalties be put in place for cheating by the use of essay mills. In New Zealand, essay mills have been fined and had their assets frozen.

PLAGIARISM IN WELSH UNIS

The issue has been thrown into sharp relief by a Freedom of Information Act request made by BBC Radio Wales.

Figures obtained by the broadcaster showed an increase in cases of alleged plagiarism from 1,370 2013/14 to 2,044 in 2015/16.

The BBC Freedom of Information request disclosed the following over the three academic years 2013/14 to 2015/16

  • University of South Wales (approximately 30,000 students): 1,144 students accused of cheating, two prohibited from sitting future exams
  • Cardiff Metropolitan University: 565 students accused of cheating, 12 prohibited from sitting future exams
  • University of Wales Trinity Saint David – UWTSD: 928 students accused of cheating, 47 prohibited from sitting future exams
  • Bangor University: 36 students accused of cheating, four prohibited from sitting future exams
  • Cardiff University: 713 students accused of cheating, three prohibited from sitting future exams
  • Swansea University: 1,157 students accused of cheating, 25 prohibited from sitting future exams
  • Wrexham Glyndwr University: 103 students accused of cheating, three prohibited from sitting future exams
  • Aberystwyth University: 551 students accused of cheating, 0 prohibited from sitting future exams
  • The increased detection of plagiarism suggests that universities are becoming more adept at identifying incidents of academic fraud.

Many Universities use software to detect plagiarism, for example Turn-it-in. The software uses a document comparison algorithm that checks papers against a massive database of stored academic papers to identify cheats.

We asked UWTSD to comment on the figures.

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Education

Into the Looking Glass

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Selfie culture: Becoming one with the screen

A FILM about the future of selfie culture produced by two Aberystwyth University’s media lecturers has been shortlisted for the British Universities Film & Video Council’s Learning on Screen Awards 2018.

Into the Looking Glass​ ​- how selfie culture is preparing us to meet our future selves​ -​ has been produced by Dr Greg Bevan and Dr Glen Creeber from the University’s Department of Theatre, Film & Television Studies.

The 24​ ​minute video essay takes a close look at the future development of selfie culture and its proliferation via smart technology.

The British Universities Film & Video Council’s Learning on Screen is a charity whose members are experts in the use of moving image in education, delivering online academic databases, on demand video resources, training, information and advice.

Dr Bevan said: “Video essays as academic outputs are still a fairly new idea. It’s a way of engaging with your audience more imaginatively, and also of introducing theories and concepts to new and non-academic audiences who might never ordinarily read a journal article.

“We also hope the video essay will be a useful teaching aid in the fields of digital media, digital culture, media and communications, and beyond​.”​

The film explores the idea that the screen is coming increasingly nearer to the viewer – from the village cinema to the living room. Now it is carried in the form of a tablet or phone; but what lies beyond the likes of VR sets and smart watches? Could eye and brain implants lead to the screen disappearing altogether? Will the viewer eventually become one with the screen?

Dr Creeber said: “The ideas explored in this film affect almost everybody in society today, and in future societies. Not only is the screen coming physically nearer, but we are increasingly seeing ourselves reflected in it.

“We are no longer passive spectators watching the screen from a distance; we are now active participants. Rather than taking a typically pessimistic view of this technological change, the film suggests some ways in which these developments could in fact be of benefit to humanity.”

The original score for the film was composed by Dr Alan Chamberlain, a Senior Research Fellow at the Mixed Reality Lab, Department of Computer Science at the University of Nottingham.

Dr Alan Chamberlain said: “It’s exciting to see the importance of this collaboration being recognised at a national level and nominated for an award. Working with Aberystwyth University has allowed us to show the impact that cross-disciplinary research across universities can have.

“This project brings together the Arts and Sciences in a way that it is both interesting and innovative. Aberystwyth University is one of the creative powerhouses in the academic landscape of Wales and it’s been a great experience to work with people there, we’re already working on our next project.”

The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony at the BFI Southbank, London on April 26.

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Education

Lampeter Masterclasses open for all

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Lifelong learning: Lampeter offers the opportunity

THE UNIVERSITY of Wales Trinity Saint David has officially launched a new ‘Lampeter Masterclasses’ programme and brochure.

The ‘Lampeter Masterclasses’ programme includes a range of residential weekend and evening courses for 2018. The courses on offer will appeal to a range of different audiences, covering new subject areas such as yoga, meditation and wellbeing, alongside the University’s more traditional humanities courses and disciplines which are for the first time being offered in new and different ways. UWTSD’s Lampeter campus is nestled in the heart of Lampeter and is the oldest University in Wales, and the third oldest in England and Wales after Oxford and Cambridge. It was established by Royal Charter in 1822 by Bishop Thomas Burgess of St David’s (1803-25) as St David’s College, Lampeter, with the gift of land from the local landowner, John Harford. The college took five years to build and the first students were admitted in 1827.

The new ‘Lampeter Masterclasses’ brochure provides details of the type of courses and workshops on offer, as well as the range of subject areas and topics you can study at the University’s Lampeter campus this year.

Dean for the Faculty of Humanities and Performing Arts. Dr Jeremy Smith said: “We’re very committed to lifelong learning and education for all. Regardless of age and background, whether you are retired or in fulltime employment, studying for reasons of career development or simply for the pleasure of learning, then studying the humanities in all their breadth and sweep should be available to all.

“Our structure of delivery has been adapted to offer a more personalised approach to learning. This approach to study is one that fits in with a student’s own needs and demands. So whether you want to study on certain days of the week, or study at a slower or faster pace, or simply study for its own sake and love of subject, rather than for a qualification, then we have a course appropriate to you. In other words Lampeter offers you a wide choice of courses. These range from weekly workshops, evening courses and study at a distance, occasional or ‘drop in’ lectures, weekend workshops, day courses, larger academic conferences and weekend field trips.

“We’re very proud of what we have to offer on the Lampeter campus and this brochure will show you the variation of provision we have here throughout the year. We look forward to welcoming you to the wonderful county of Ceredigion and to our beautiful Lampeter campus.”

Jacqui Weatherburn, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the University said; “The Lampeter Masterclasses’ is a new and exciting development for the University which has seen us re-imagine the Masterclass concept. This is a unique and exciting offer from our Lampeter campus which has something for every level and interest, from Expert Lectures, to Mindfulness Retreats, Interactive Workshops and a family Mediaeval day. The Programme on offer will continue to grow as the University moves to its 200th Anniversary in 2022 and as we extend the Masterclass concept across our campuses.”

To book any of the Weekend courses listed in the brochure, please visit: www.uwtsd.ac.uk/humanities-workshops

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Education

Foundation Phase Excellence Network launched

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'A new level of professional development': Kirsty Williams introduces scheme

A NEW network which aims to improve the teaching and learning of the Foundation Phase across all schools and education settings in Wales is to be launched by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams today during a visit to Llanrhidian Primary School in Swansea.

The Foundation Phase Excellence Network brings together leading figures from across the education spectrum to ensure a more structured approach to develop Foundation Phase practitioner support for those working with children age three to seven.

With the aim of inspiring young minds together, and supported by £1millon Welsh Government funding, the network will include representation from local authority education services, schools and child care settings that deliver the Foundation Phase, regional consortia, Higher Education and third sector organisations which will work together to share expertise, experience, knowledge and best practice.

A new online community learning zone has also been established to facilitate the sharing of information, resources and research between practitioners. The zone will also host 20 new case studies including three short films which showcase effective practice in Foundation Phase.

They have been produced by working collaboratively with schools and settings from across Wales in five key areas of practice: child development, environment experiences, leadership, pedagogy, and Welsh language. The case studies will be available on the new zone during March and April.

Welcoming the launch, Kirsty Williams said: “Building on similar models to our already successful National Network for Excellence in Mathematics and National Network for Excellence Science and Technology, this new Foundation Phase network will support workforce and leadership development, boost the research capacity of the education profession in Wales and ensure that implementation of the Foundation Phase happens in a consistent and effective manner.

“Practitioners in the Foundation Phase are doing an incredible job, one the toughest but most rewarding jobs around, and they deserve all our support. This network and its supporting online resources are just the start of a new level of professional development in Foundation Phase for school settings.

“This development goes to the heart of what our national mission and the new curriculum is about – raising standards, reducing the attainment gap and delivering an education system that is a source of national pride and confidence.”

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