This section provides an analysis of the questionnaire data, describing the participants, their opinions about cheating and plagiarism, the existing academic regime, and teachers’ views on the management of cheating and plagiarism. It also presents an analysis of the teachers’ and students’ views about the prevention of cheating and plagiarism, as given in response to an open question in the questionnaires.
The demographic data for the teachers who took part in the study showed that most of the teachers were female (65%) and aged over 31 (roughly equally divided into those in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s). They came from a variety of faculties, all had considerable experience of face-to-face teaching, and most had taught a course where at least part of the assessment had been conducted on-line.
Most of the students were female (90%), under 21 (69%), and were full-time students taking their first degree (97%). The proportion of female students in the university overall is 65%, and so the proportion of female participants in this study is somewhat higher than for the university as a whole. The students who participated in the study were drawn from courses in education either in one of the two education faculties, or from teacher training departments in other faculties, and the majority of students in these courses are female. It is likely that students in the area of education would be more aware of issues around cheating and plagiarism than other students as it is something that impacts on them as future teachers.
Cheating and Plagiarism
In this section, the views of teachers and students about cheating and plagiarism are compared. Teachers (N = 100) were asked ‘How many students have cheated or plagiarized other work in at least one assessment in the courses you teach?’ and given the options many/some/few/none, but these options were not further defined. The responses were: 6% many, 26% some, 37% few, 0% said none, 2% did not know, and 29% did not respond. Students (N = 218) were asked ‘How often have you cheated or plagiarized other work in your university courses?’ and given the options often/sometimes/occasionally/rarely/never, but these options were not further defined. The responses were: 1% often, 5% sometimes, 5% occasionally, 31% rarely, 31% never, and 28% did not answer. It is clear that cheating and plagiarism is a significant issue for both teachers and students.
Most teachers and students disagreed with the statement that ‘cheating and plagiarism are fairly innocent ways to get help’ and agreed that ‘cheating and plagiarism are unethical’ (see Tables 1 and 2).
As for the students, 11% agreed that cheating and plagiarism are fairly innocent ways to get help, and 9% disagreed with the statement that cheating and plagiarism are unethical. So, whilst the majority were clearly aware of the seriousness of cheating and plagiarism a minority were not. It is likely that this is a result of an inconsistent level of teaching about this issue for these undergraduate students. As for the teachers, whilst no teachers agreed that that cheating and plagiarism are fairly innocent ways to get help, some 11% disagreed with the statement that cheating and plagiarism are unethical. This unwillingness on the part of a minority of teachers to class this behavior as unethical, even though they accepted that it was not ‘a fairly innocent way to get help’, is interesting. It is possible that these teachers were taking into consideration the inconsistent level of preparation of students about this issue, and in particular a lack of teaching about how to avoid plagiarism (some support for this speculation can be found in the comments of teachers in the focus group reported in the section Findings – Focus Group below).
Two follow-up questions probed their understanding of plagiarism, by asking whether they agreed with each of two statements. Table 3 shows that most students agreed with the first statement and comparison with results from other institutions in the TeSLA project indicated that most students in those institutions also agreed with this statement. However, the students in Sofia University tended to disagree with the second statement, as did students in five of the seven institutions in the TeSLA project. The teacher questionnaires did not incorporate the two questions shown in Table 3, however the six teachers involved in the TeSLA pilot did answer these questions as part of the TeSLA evaluation carried out by the TeSLA evaluation team, and the evaluation report indicates that three did not agree with the second statement, one was unsure and two agreed. The level of disagreement with this second statement demonstrates a somewhat weak understanding of plagiarism on the part of both students and teachers at Sofia University.
Existing Academic Integrity Regime
Teachers and students were asked about the implementation of academic integrity at Sofia University. The results are shown in Tables 4 and 5 - the number of responses to this latter part of the questionnaire was lower than that for the earlier part of the questionnaire, the number of teachers responding was 71, and for students it was 156. For all but question 3 the students are more likely than the teachers to be uncertain. Further, students were more likely than teachers to agree (or, less likely to disagree) that:
Support for academic integrity was well established;
The university had clear regulations in relationship to cheating;
They understood the consequences of cheating and plagiarism.
However, these three items had been found to have low test-retest reliability scores.
Students were less likely than teachers to agree that:
The regulations were applied consistently;
They were well informed about the concept of academic integrity;
They had been introduced to the regulations at the start of the course;
The methods used to identify cheating were adequate.
Chi-squared tests were calculated for the null hypotheses that academic status (teacher/student) and level of agreement (Agree & strongly agree/Neither agree nor disagree/Disagree & strongly disagree) with the proposition are independent for these four items, and the results are shown in Table 6. In all cases the null hypothesis can be rejected with a significance level of p < 0.05.
Questions 1–4 refer to the institution, on these four questions an average of 40% of teachers agreed with each proposition and an average of 38% disagreed, indicating a degree of difference in views about the institutional situation amongst the teachers. Questions 5–7 refer to individual teacher behavior and attitudes, and here the teachers are more consistent as a group in their responses.
Teachers’ Management of Cheating
The teachers were asked how often they had reported cheating and plagiarism: 10% said often, 15% sometimes, 14% occasionally, 24% rarely and 37% never. They were then asked whether they would be less likely to report cheating and plagiarism in each of four hypothetical situations, the results are shown in Table 7. Though there is reasonable agreement amongst teachers on the first proposition, it is interesting to see that, as with the questions about the institutional approach to academic integrity reported above, quite different approaches to handling cheating and plagiarism were being adopted by different teachers, with an average of 46% of teachers agreeing with propositions 2–4, and an average of 36% disagreeing with them.
Preventing Cheating and Plagiarism
The responses to the open question ‘Briefly describe how you think cheating and plagiarism might be prevented or reduced in your university courses’ provided a number of valuable insights into the thinking of both teachers and students about approaches to academic integrity. An analysis of these responses identified four categories which closely correspond to the categories of approaches identified in the literature:
Pedagogy and assessment design (corresponding to ‘assessment design’)
Regulations and sanctions (corresponding to ‘penalties’)
Use of technology (corresponding to ‘detection’)
Information and training (corresponding to ‘information, training and culture’).
For teachers, responses in the categories pedagogy and assessment design and use of technology were most common, with responses in the categories information and training and regulations and sanctions less common, though still widely found. For students, responses in the categories pedagogy and assessment design and regulations and sanctions were most common, with responses in the category use of technology also widely found, but with very few responses in the category information and training.
Pedagogy and Assessment Design
Teachers and students identified quite different aspects of pedagogy and assessment design as important. Teachers put emphasis on forms of assessment that would make cheating and plagiarism more difficult to carry out (e.g. oral exams, personalized assessment). Students put emphasis on aspects of pedagogy and assessment that would make it less likely that they would want to cheat (e.g. more engaging teaching and assessment, reduction in work and assessment load, dropping unnecessary assessments).
Teachers proposed approaches to the design of assessment which could be described as trying to ‘design out’ opportunities for cheating and plagiarism, for example:
Use tasks with a creative element, which do not simply ask for the reproduction of knowledge;
Employ continuous control over the assessment process so that the teacher can get a more holistic view of the student’s work;
Use a variety of assessment methods;
Combine written and oral tests;
Give unique assignments for each student;
Individualize and randomize the test materials.
Students’ comments related to two topics: quality of education, and design and organization of assessment tasks. Most comments were about how the quality of teaching, learning and assessment could be improved in order to make it less likely that students would want to cheat.
When a student feels confident enough in his/her knowledge of the subject matter, which is based on exercises and lectures in the course, and devotes less time to self-education and self-training, then cheating and plagiarism will be insignificant.
Giving more affordable materials and explaining to the students where they can get information. Just giving a list of books which are not even in the university library is just a mocking attitude, and so the students do the same.
Teachers should be ready to assist students if needed and to encourage them more.
Students also saw their workload as contributing to cheating and plagiarism, complaining about ‘three tests in a week’, ‘too much homework’, and ‘meaningless assessments of material that do not have to be known, but are only recommended’.
A number of students commented that they were more likely to cheat when they thought that the course was unnecessary for their specialty.
Some disciplines are taught in close relation to the specialty, but when this is not the case the students do not feel that it is worthwhile to strive, is important, or put an effort to it, so therefore, he/she resorts to plagiarism.
The students also commented on the format of assessment tasks, some of which echo the comments made by teachers, being suggestions for assessment design that can make cheating and plagiarism more difficult. They suggested that tasks should be ‘small in size and concise instead of being given as a few big tasks’, ‘individual to everyone’, stimulating/thought-provoking and directly ‘practice oriented’, and ‘different from previously assigned tasks’. They also suggested ‘more group assignments’ so that ‘students have an incentive to have fun and do their work’, ‘more written tasks, such as essays, etc., for which more time for preparation is given’, and ‘more oral exams’. Some students suggested that the assessment process should involve greater use of continuous and formative assessment.
Regulations and Sanctions
Both teachers and students commented on sanctions and regulations. Teachers mentioned:
Imposing more severe penalties and sanctions;
The need for clear procedures against plagiarism and for a common university policy;
Requiring students to sign an enrolment statement that explains the meaning of cheating and plagiarism and their consequences.
Some students suggested stricter examination procedures with all exams carried out on the university premises, strict control accompanied by strict sanctions.
Through increased security measures, including a greater number of exam invigilators in the face-to-face form of assessment or more security measures, and student authentication in online assessment.
By penalizing with a low mark or rejecting the student’s work for an assessment and expulsion.
Use of Technology
Both students and teachers mentioned the use of technology to identify cheating and plagiarism and also to act as a deterrent. Plagiarism detection was widely mentioned, and other suggestions included: video for surveillance in exams, discontinuation of internet access and use of cell phone jammers in exam rooms, and the use of authentication software.
Information and Training
Neither students nor teachers said that they themselves needed additional training, though teachers believed that students needed additional training about plagiarism:
Prevention through introducing students to what plagiarism is, how to avoid it, how to quote foreign language materials;
Explaining the consequences of cheating at the beginning of the course and repeating it before the exam;
Enhancement of teaching about academic writing.
In summary, teachers and students identified a range of possible approaches to addressing cheating and plagiarism which reflected those discussed in the literature, though a striking feature of this data was the differences between students and teachers in their proposals for redesign of pedagogy and assessment. Whilst neither students nor teachers pointed to a need for training for teachers, the data shown above about teachers’ judgments as to what constitutes plagiarism, the differences between the approaches taken by students and teachers to redesign of pedagogy and assessment to reduce cheating and plagiarism, and the differences in teachers’ views about existing institutional practice and their differing approaches to dealing with the plagiarism scenarios presented in the questionnaire all point to a weakness in their preparedness for dealing with this issue.