The 5th International Plagiarism Conference: Day One

Newcastle ImageYesterday, July 17, was day one of the 5th International Plagiarism Conference being held in Newcastle, UK (technically Gateshead). The event, which is taking place at the Sage Gateshead (on the left in the picture) along the riverfront makes it for a larger venue and a larger crowd.

I was not able to attend any of the pre-conference events due to issues with flights. I was barely able to make it for a few minutes of the mixer at the end of the day. But, as sad as that was, it meant that I was rested and ready for the big event, starting yesterday.

There certainly was a lot to take in and there is going to be more than just a few posts on this topic. Not only will I have my wrap ups but Crystal also attended and we split up on workshops, meaning that I’ll have her notes and thoughts in a later post (though that may be after the conference).

Furthermore, there’s going to be a lot of information learned from this conference that will bubble up in regular posts over the next few weeks as I point back to talks and ideas picked up while here. With that in mind, here’s a wrap up on the happenings from day one of the 5th International Plagiarism Conference.

Welcome: Celebrating 10 Years of Authentic Assessment

Presenter: Will Murray
Position and Organization: VP International Sales at iParadigms

To kick off the event, Will Murray took to the stage and welcomed the crowd of about 250 people.

Murray pointed out that the conference represented ten years of the event and took the audience through a retrospective of what the event has been focusing on in the past and where it is going.

He called for the attendees to seek “holistic” solutions to plagiarism issues and noted that it was conferences like these and people like those in attendance that could bring about real change to this issue.

Opening Address

Presenter: Professor Craig Mahoney
Organization and Position: Chief Executive Higher Education Academy

Professor Mahoney spent much of his time focusing on encouraging good practices at a younger age. He also caught me quite off guard mentioning my name and quoting me from from the Times Higher Education article I was published in back in Janurary. Fortunately, he had the full quote that I posted for clarification and not the truncated one.

Needless to say, this was a huge honor and very surprising.

He went on to highlight that plagiarism is not just a challenge for students, but for institutions as well and that’s going to become a growing issue as these institutions are under greater and greater stress.

Keynote 1: Policy, practice and the Student Perspective: Where to Next for Academic Integrity?

Keynote 1 ImagePresenter: Dr. Tracey Bretag
Position and Organization: Director of Global Experience, University of South Australia

Dr. Bretag is someone who has done an incredible amount of research on plagiarism and it’s going to be difficult to summarize her keynote in any reasonable length of time and the fact she came from Australia to deliver the keynote makes it all the more impressive.

First, she performed a policy analysis of local schools and found that 56% of the schools lacked sufficient detail about what is a breach of academic integrity, what the outcomes would be of such a breach and how the student’s confidentiality would be protected. However, she did note that schools are changing their policy’s focus from misconduct to integrity and education, with 69% having either an integrity/education oriented policy or a mixed policy.

Second, she performed a student survey where she focused on what students knew and understood about academic integrity. Some 4.4% (8.8% if you look at international) said they had never heard of it. However, perhaps most interestingly, some 94.2% of students said that they were confident they could avoid AI breaches though only 64.5% said that they heard about academic integrity policies and thought they were a good idea.

Third, she interviewed senior managers at education institutions and found that there was a general reluctance to talk about academic integrity outside of when it is broken. However, she added that may be reasonable as, for example, it is difficult to talk about honesty without first discussing lying.

There’s much, much more to this talk and there will be future articles on PT referencing back to this this.

Workshop 1: Can We Rely on Text Originality Check Systems?

Presenter: N. Meuschke, B. Gipp, & C. Breitinger
Organization: Stockholm University

Unfortunately, the scheduled presenter of this talk was not able to do give it and it was instead presented by three professors from the University of Sweden whose names I was unable to get. I will update this post with links and full nameswhen I have an update.

The workshop was mostly a study of the speed, effectiveness and usability of three systems, Turnitin, Urkund and GenuineText.

The results were, in a word, lopsided. Turnitin won all three categories fairly handily. For example, when looking at the speed of the results, Turnitin consistently returned results in under 5 minutes as others took hours, up to 5 and a half for the same paper.

However, the researchers added, it should be noted that none of the systems caught more than 50% of their test passages, indicating that there is still a lot of work to be done in the Swedish language use case.

Workshop 2: Understanding Plagiarism from the Student Perspective: A Longitudinal Study and Plagiarism in University Settings: The Importance of a Preventative Approach

Presenter: L Cave and P Dooey/C Baird
Organization: Aston University and Curtin University

I have to be honest and admit that I did not get to hear most of these talks, which were put together to form one hour-long workshop.

The reason is because, right before going into the workshop, I learned that my site was corrupted. I spent much of these talks scrambling to fix it and I have to apologize to both the presenters and to you for not being able to cover them as well as I would have liked.

The first talk covered a survey of some 271 students and 7 in depth interviews on the topic of plagiarism and focused on how attitudes toward plagiarism are different across academic disciplines.

The findings were that there was indeed a lot of discrepancy in those views and also highlighted a general lack of feedback with students and the need to continually work to engage them.

The second talk focused largely on international students and the need to help them acclimate to the rules and obligations of researchers in their new country. This will involve, among other things, an education-oriented focus on dealing with plagiarism incidents.

I know I missed a great deal of these two talks in the panic and I apologize to everyone involved. I am getting with the person who chaired this workshop to get the notes and a more robust understanding.


Shortly after the conference, I got an email from Dr. Mike Reddy (Twitter), who was chaired this session and was kind enough to offer me his summaries of events. His synopsis is below:

Lucy Cave presented a paper entitled “Understanding plagiarism from the student perspective: a longitudinal study”, which is a result of her ongoing part-time PhD started while working in administrative support for the VC of Aston University, although she is now housed in their Marketing Department. The work has focussed on attempting to gauge the inherent and explicit support for students to grasp and learn the background justification for academic expectations, and how plagiarism affects the learning environment. Her work has highlighted the variability in discussion, support for, and even interpretation of what should be considered offence or best practice, and has raised the question of just how well are management and academics supporting students in guiding them towards good educational goals. One unique and important aspect of this work was identification of the quality of feedback being a significant factor in student success.

Patricia “Trish” Dooey presented a paper, co-authored by Chris Baird, entitled “Plagiarism in university settings: the importance of a preventative approach”, with both a discussion of the downsides of taking a reactionary, and often retributory approach, especially given the extra effort and work and stress for all involved. The middle portion of her presentation was an ambitious attempt to simulate two real case studies of students at Curtin University, Australia. While it involved a lot of running round with a mic by the chair of the session, the events and their effects on students, staff, admin and management were explored with volunteers from the audience, which highlighted the wasted time and effort in dealing with cases. Trish proposed that this simulation showed that a preventative approach was more effective in resource terms. Although the simulation aspect didn’t work as well as one would like ” unfamiliarity and weaknesses of the specific plagiarism protocols raised significant debate on practice from the audience ” it did serve as an interesting experiment in engaging the audience from several different points of view.

Than you very much Dr. Mike Reddy!

Workshop 3: Can We Rely on Text Originality Check Systems?

Presenter: Dr. Lisa Powell
Organization: Lecturer, University of Adelaide

This talk sought to understand the question of why students plagiarize and, through a very complex and winding flow chart, reached the conclusion that intentional plagiarism is largely the consequence of different attitudes between academic institutions and students.

Plagiarism, according to the talk, is a social construct that can be legitimized by any stakeholder in the academic process. Situational ethics in academia further complicates the issue.

According to Dr. Powell, there needs to be a separation of action and value reasons and a greater focus on utilitarianism when developing plagiarism policies. There also needs to be a focus on reducing unintentional plagiarism.

Keynote 2: Plagiarism: A View From an Editor’s Computer

Keynote 2 ImagePresenter: Dr. Virginia (Ginny) Barbour
Organization: Chair, Committee on Publication Ethics

Dr. Virginia Barbour is in something of a unique position at the conference. She is a journal editor and the chair of COPE, an organization that helps editors and publishers of journals deal with academic integrity issues.

According to dr. Barbour, there’s an inherent conflict between authors and institutions, which want to get a lot of papers published and journals, which only want to print the best papers, when it comes to academic integrity.

However, plagiarism is considered to be one of the worst “reasons to be cautious” with a submitted paper. It was 18 out of 21, above only falsification, fabrication and illegal human studies.

Unfortunately though, there appears to be a disconnect about how common academic integrity violations are. A study she performed found that 24% of all journals said that plagiarism was “not a problem” 19% said it never happens at their journal. However, evidence shows conclusively that there is a decent amount of plagiarism and related academic integrity issues (duplicate submissions, falsification, etc.).

This creates barriers in working with journals as they first have to accept that there is a problem and that addressing it requires resources, which are very limited with most journals. Though technology such as CrossCheck helps, there are issues with false positives and when to implement such screenings in the review process.

Dr. Barbour’s organization, COPE, has been making a major push internationally and now has 7,000 member journals across all disciplines. The most common cases they deal with are changes in authorship, redundant publication and plagiarism.

Workshop 4: To match or not to match?

Presenter: Dr. Michelle Picard
Organization: Director of Researcher Education & Development, University of Adelaide

This talk focused on the use of “voice” in academic writing and the mixed message that many schools send students, asking them to write originally but not too originally. There are a lot of restrictions on academic writing and this can result in false positives in text matching software.

Dr. Picard is extremely fond of the analogy of voice as clothing, something you wear and change depending on the situation, pointing out that you wouldn’t wear a ball gown to a conference (to use her analogy) nor would you use a casual voice in a dissertation. However, with academia students are pulling from the “second hand” rack meaning they have to use existing voice elements to create a new one for themselves.

Dr. Picard also uses concordancing software to determine how phrases are used in sentences and, most importantly for this, how common they are. This can help detect if a passage is plagiarized or if it is just common to the field and should always be said that way.

Workshop 5: Designing Out Plagiarism Through Assessment: Where Are We Now?

Presenter: Dr. Erica Morris
Organization: Senior Advisor, The Higher Education Academy

Dr. Morris’ talk focused on how schools are changing assessment practices to try and reduce plagiarism by making it more difficult, if not impossible. This includes things such as using electronic portfolios, having students post to blogs/wikis and generally crafting more plagiarism-resistant assignments.

There’s also a heavy trend of moving to electronic assessment, in an effort to help instructors grade more effectively, for students to get more feedback and improve communications in general.

About half of the hour-long workshop had the audience in small groups discussing that they are doing in this area and how they think they can improve. My group talked about how any major change in assessment style would have to come with system-wide fixes to improve the student/teacher ratio. Also, it was noted that as much of a problem as plagiarism/cheating is, it shouldn’t be a driving factor in any overhaul of assessment structure.

Wrap Up

All in all, it was an incredibly busy day. Not only were there a lot of great talks but the event was punctuated with opportunities to meet and mingle with many of the greatest minds on academic integrity in the world. It’s truly a wonderful event.

This included a wonderful dinner at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle, one with great food, great people and the chance to explore the museum itself and learn about the history of the city.

However, I can’t get too comfortable. I still have day two and some of the most interesting talks ahead of me. Needless to say, I’ll be writing that one up as well tomorrow.

So stay tuned for day two tomorrow and Crystal’s notes sometime shortly thereafter.

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