Supporting student learning and quality teaching through best practice use of text matching software: Implementing the new Academic Board policy
This is a joint TIPS grant with Christine Crowe (Arts), Simon Barrie (ITL), Eloise Howse (SRC), Janet Jones (Learning Centre) and Agi O’Hara (Education & Social Work).
Preventing plagiarism and promoting standards of academic integrity are issues of strategic concern and priority in Australian universities (East 2010). This importance is reflected in the recent approval by Academic Board of the University of Sydney’s revised policy on Academic Honesty and Plagiarism. The policy balances the institution’s need for detection and risk prevention with a student learning focused perspective which seeks to develop academic honesty and includes a new and significant addition through the inclusion of explicit statements regarding the use of text matching software (Academic Board Policy: Academic Honesty and Plagiarism Section 3.3)
In 2009 the discussions amongst students and staff in faculties and on central committees revealed widely divergent understandings and practices in relation to the use of plagiarism detection software (PDS). Practices ranged from the use by students to support their own learning about academic honesty; the use by individual academics at their own discretion; to the use of PDS to replace academic decision making entirely. This variation is not unique to Sydney with universities around the world using PDS in a variety of ways, ranging from a ‘police and punish’ (Rowell 2009) approaches to ‘teaching and learning’ approaches (Bertram Gallant 2008). While the policy discussions at Sydney are now over, the considerable diversity of opinion and practice on the ‘right way’ to use software persists. Such variation represents a considerable barrier to the consistent implementation of the intent of the new policy and hence a barrier to quality teaching at the University. More importantly it is a potential barrier to quality learning, as the different uses of the software appear likely to have significant implications for student learning – both in terms of the quality of the student experience and actual student leaning outcomes in relation to academic honesty.
The proposed project creates a team of academics from the faculties, staff from the Institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL) and the Learning Centre, and student leaders from the SR. All faculties of the university will be invited to work with the team to first accurately determine the current scope of current uses of PDS. The project will provide a mechanism by which faculties will be able to provide the report on compulsory use of PDS to Academic Standards committee of Academic Board, which is required by the new policy. Currently there is no support for faculties in meeting this obligation. In the second stage, the project team will collaboratively explore, with faculty partners, the implications of different uses for teachers’ teaching (especially how they set and mark assessments) and on the quality and outcomes of student learning. While such implications seem likely and are assumed in many published reports, a review of the literature indicates there is at present no substantial published research evidence that describes the impact of these different uses either on teaching or student learning. This project will contribute much needed research required to inform and promote evidence-based changes to current teaching practice relating to the use of PDS. The third phase of the project will use the research evidence and insights generated to develop guidelines and resources to support the effective pedagogic use of PDS. A forum presenting the guidelines and practice exemplars will provide an opportunity for informed debate and discussion on the appropriate uses of PDS at the University.
Bertram Gallant, T. (2008) “Moral Panic: The Contemporary Context of Academic,” Integrity Academic integrity in twenty-first century: a teaching and learning imperative. ASHE Higher Education Report, Vol. 33(5), 1-143.
East, J. (2010) “Judging plagiarism: a problem of morality and convention”, Journal of Higher Education, 59, 69-83.
Rowell, G. (2009) “Turnitin UK: plagiarism detection software?”Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Education, 8 (2), 157-166.