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A model for exploring student understandings of plagiarism

Sutton, A and Taylor, D and Johnston, C (2012) A model for exploring student understandings of plagiarism. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 38. ISSN 0309-877X

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Abstract

A clear understanding of how students view plagiarism is needed if the extensive efforts devoted to helping them engage in high-quality scholarship are to be worthwhile. There are a variety of views on this topic, but theoretical models to integrate the literature, take account of international differences and guide practitioners are limited. Using a large, international student sample, this paper presents just such a model. More than 2500 university students in the UK and Australia completed a questionnaire rating the perceived ‘seriousness' of various plagiarism-related actions in an individual assignment. Factor analysis identified three underlying themes: dishonest acts, poor referencing, and group work. Group comparisons indicated statistically significant differences in student understanding dependent on previous region of study, current faculty/school and level of study, with the former two emerging as more influential than the latter. This three-factor model provides practitioners with a methodology for integrating the many different studies in the area and gaining a broader overview of student understanding of plagiarism. In particular, it highlights how students consider plagiarism related to group work to be far less serious than other types. Given the increasing emphasis on group work in higher education, the implications of this for policy and practice are discussed. Importantly, the study also notes that effect sizes were small, suggesting that findings in this study, as in other studies, may not represent substantive differences in student perceptions. A single, universal approach to educating students about plagiarism may be as effective as approaches tailored to the individual's background.

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