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The war against dishonesty

By: Sabrina Bedford

Algonquin professor Ian Allen has seen plagiarism for as long as he’s been a teacher. He says that one of the biggest challenges is educating students about what plagiarism actually entails.

Often, while Ian Allen marks assignments, he remembers the day he found one of his students crying in the stairwell after class. She was an overseas student from Japan, desperate for high marks because her visa depended on it.

“There are these people who I know are just copying each other and getting As and I work hard for my A,” she told Allen. “I do it all myself and I am so annoyed that everybody just cheats.”’

“I do it for people like her,” said Allen, referring to screening his students’ work for plagiarism and cheating.
Both are still a problem among college students, as a recent story by the New York Times suggests. Large-scale cheating has been uncovered over the last year at some of America’s most prestigious schools. Even the highest achievers are just as likely to cheat, according to the report.

Algonquin defines plagiarism, whether done deliberately or accidentally, as presenting someone else’s work, in whole or in part, as one’s own. The policy states that students who commit plagiarism will be subject to disciplinary action, which depends on the severity of the offence and ranges from failing an assignment to suspension from the college.

As a professor in the information and communications technology department at Algonquin College, Allen has seen plagiarism for as long as he has been teaching.

“I’m very, very good at finding plagiarism,” he said.

For the last 10 years he has been using a program he wrote to detect plagiarism in his students’ assignments. The program reduces assignments into short pieces (ie. 40 characters) and compares all of the chunks against each other. It tells him which pieces are common among students, and he then reviews the assignments himself.

Deborah Buck, student success specialist with the School of Media and Design, says if a student is found guilty of plagiarism, they are required to take two online courses as a consequence to educate them on what plagiarism is. She suggested, however, that the courses should be mandatory for all students.

“Not only do they fail the course, they have to take the online courses to explain what plagiarism really is, but I really think they should just make that open to everyone.”

One of the biggest challenges with plagiarism, Allen said, is educating students about what it actually entails. The biggest form of cheating he sees is when students do their work together, and hand in identical assignments.
Algonquin’s plagiarism directive states that sharing one’s work with other students is also considered an act of plagiarism.

“[Plagiarism] is a difficult problem in the 21st century,” Allen said. “People are really unclear about the whole concept of academic and original thought. They’re information processors, not really information originators, so everything they do comes from somebody else.”

The study attributes this rise in cheating to the fact it has become easier and more widely tolerated. The article says that “both schools and parents have failed to give students strong, repetitive messages about what is allowed and what is prohibited.”

Allen agrees that the onus should be on the educational institution to prevent and educate on plagiarism.
“It’s up to the college to teach students what academic integrity means, because they don’t know,” he said.

“This is an educational institution. There are a lot of things people should know, but don’t. Does it work to just assume people know this stuff? No. Given the fact that they don’t, we have to start from that base.”

Claude Brulé, Vice-President Academic, said in an email that being crystal clear on the instructions given by the course professor can avoid confusion or unintentional plagiarism.

“Cheating, or the broader term of academic dishonesty, is an infraction of stated academic rules or breach of academic integrity,” he said. “If unclear on the instructions provided, seek clarification.”

Common examples of plagiarism he provided include cutting and pasting material from a website into one’s own essay and using a cheat sheet or electronic device in an exam where the use was not sanctioned by the course professor.
His main advice to students was to produce original work, properly cite all sources, and if you’re working in a group, that all members adhere to these rules.

Buck adds that the best thing students can do to prevent plagiarism is to practice proper time management.

“If a student was under academic stress, I would refer them to counselling for a one-on-one time management session,” she said.

“To prevent plagiarism you have to be well organized and manage your time so you have enough time to work on assignments.

“Don’t wait until the last minute to start your assignment because if you have questions, you aren’t able to contact your teacher.”

The plagiarism policy can be found at www2.algonquincollege.com/directives/policy/plagiarism/ and on Blackboard.
Not only do students run the risk of failing their course, they can potentially be removed from their program. That, said Buck, just isn’t worth it.

“Allotting enough time to work on your individual assignments is the best thing you can do.”

The Algonquin Times is a newspaper produced by journalism students for the Algonquin College community.

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