Here we are on Day 2 of the annual STLHE conference, looking forward to a packed day of discussion on issues in teaching and learning. My first session of the day, presented by Tyler Evans-Tokaryk and Cleo Boyd of the University of Toronto Mississauga, focused on issues of plagiarism in today’s universities, both from a faculty and student perspective.

After introducing the topic and covering some of the important literature, the facilitators presented an intriguing survey of faculty opinions on plagiarism. In general, faculty agree that plagiarism is a big problem; however, there are fundamental differences across disciplines about how faculty understand plagiarism, its causes, and its effects. Humanities and social sciences faculty were significantly more concerned about the causal relationship between globalization and technology than were faculty in science and engineering.

The facilitators also presented the results of their student focus groups, which indicated that students have great trouble understanding the multitude of different definitions or approaches to plagiarism in different disciplines. There’s also a strong sense among students that professors are not acting as role models in this area.

To illustrate some of the misunderstandings, a story was told about a student who believed that by buying the textbook they owned the ideas in it and should be allowed to use them.

With the move from academic dishonesty to academic integrity, more and more institutions are removing consideration of intent from academic codes of conduct. Under this model, whether a student committed plagiarism by accident or on purpose, they are considered equally guilty. Intent is considered only in the punishment stage.

Based on their research, the breakout facilitators argued that this is unfair to students who do not have the necessary understanding of plagiarism to be judged in this way.

Discussion also touched on the perceived double standard in the way plagiarism is dealt with at the student level and at the faculty level. While intent is not considered in cases of student plagiarism, most faculty collective agreements require clear and cogent proof of dishonest intent in order to find a professor (who arguably should have a better understanding of plagiarism than a student) guilty of the offense.

Alexi White
Executive Director