The 6th International Integrity & Plagiarism Conference: Day Three

Sage Gateshead ImageThe third and final day of the 6th International Integrity & Plagiarism Conference (6IIPC) is in the books and what a day it was. Not only was there a duo of star keynote speakers, but a slew of great workshops and parallel sessions all on the topic of plagiarism and academic integrity.

Though conference goers were visibly tired from the wonderful visit and dinner the night before at The Beamish, which was still the talk of attendees the next day, there was a lot of excitement in the air as the conference hall filled up.

So, without any further ado, here’s a look at what took place on the third, final and packed day of the conference.

Keynote 4 – Samantha Grant – A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power and Jayson Blair at the New York Times

Keynote 4The first keynote is one that I had been looking forward to for some time. Samantha Grant, the filmmaker behind the documentary “A Fragile Trust“, which tells the story of the Jayson Blair scandal.

That scandal, which took place in 2003, resulted in the resignation of two of the top editors at The New York Times, one of the most important newspapers in the world, and shook the entire journalism industry.

Grant said that she wanted to make the film because there was a deluge of coverage about the scandal as it unfolded but not a great deal after. Also, as a journalist, she wanted to show that Blair was an anomaly and that what happened at The Times was a “perfect storm” that could not be easily replicated.

She showed five short clips from the film, all of which were excellent and highlighted different themes in the film. One of the key themes was the impact Blair had on journalism, forcing papers and publications across the world to review their policies.

However, she described Blair as a “sociopath” and noted that, even today, no newspaper or publication can easily detect and stop a dedicated liar.

Parellel Session 1 – Mike Reddy and Victoria Jones – Towards a Social Model of Plagiarism

Dr. Mike ReddyIn the first parallel session, Dr. Mike Reddy took the stage to lay out his theory for moving toward a social model of plagiarism.

That model is based upon the social model of disability, which states that it isn’t the actual disability that incapacitates a person, but rather, society’s response to it, namely through the lack of ramps, proper doors, etc.

In the case of plagiarism, this means that we have to look at the way we assess and educate. Though we are in the digital age, most assessment is done using 19th century techniques and the focus on training students has taught many that they don’t need school.

He believes that improving our assessment techniques and shifting the focus to learning, not training, may better engage students and reduce the number who are tempted to plagiarize. He proposed several ideas, including having students draft their own rubric for evaluation.

However, he warns that teachers can’t ask for permission to make these changes as they will never get them. Instead, they may simply need to do them and experiment as needed.

Parallel Session 2 – John Sivell – Phrase-Matching Software Can Draw Instructional Attention to a Neglected Aspect of Unintended Plagiarism

John SivellJohn Sivell has a different take on paraphrasing. Rather than thinking of it as a form of writing, he looks at it as a form of translation, no different than translating a work from one language to another.

However, with a translation, if you do a bad job no one accuses you of being a cheater and tries to throw you out of school. Yet, if you mess up paraphrasing, that’s exactly what can happen.

He believes that phrase matching software, often called plagiarism detection software, is useful not just for catching cheaters, but spotting poor paraphrasing and poor writing skills.

However, he does note that this system has problems, most notably that it is virtually impossible to determine the intent of the student. For example, was a paraphrase just poor writing or an attempt to cheat? It can be very difficult to tell.

Still, he believes that moving to a causal approach, looking at what causes poor paraphrasing, rather than a results-oriented one, which looks at how many words have to be changed to be a paraphrase, could save time and headaches for instructors.

Workshops – Tracey Bretag – The Academic Integrity Policy Toolkit: Bringing Exemplary Academic Integrity Policy to Higher Education

Tracey BretagNote: Due to a meeting I missed the last parallel session.

It was a tremendous honor to be asked to chair this session as Tracey Bretag’s work in the field of academic integrity is beyond compare and her talk did not disappoint.

Bretag started off by saying that she took a philosophical approach to academic integrity and felt that it was an educational, not a compliance issue. However, drafting good policy meant cooperation from all stakeholders, something that’s difficult to obtain.

As part of the Academic Integrity Standards Project (AISP), Bretag analyzed policies from various universities in Australia, conducted a student survey and interviewed senior managers. From those interviews, she then exracted what she deems the five elements of a good academic integrity policy.

  • Access: Policy must be easy to find and easy to read.
  • Approach: Treats academic integrity as an educative process.
  • Responsibility: Clearly outlines who is responsible for what.
  • Detail: Has an appropriate level of detail, not too much or too little.
  • Support: Has long-term strategies to enact the policy.

It is crucial that all elements be treated equally, none above the other and to illustrate this, her organization, for their logo, places them on a knot to symbolize how when you pull on one, all come tighter.

Her survey found that a small majority of students felt they had a good grasp on academic integrity. However, far more felt comfortable that they could avoid problems, which indicated many students, despite admitting they don’t understand academic integrity, still felt they could avoid issues.

Using all of this information. Bretag and Exemplary Academic Integrity Project team set out to create a series of resources that universities can use to implement an academic integrity policy. Those resources include a large list of curated YouTube videos and a toolkit that generates a starting academic integrity policy based on the answers provided it.

These tools serve as a starting point for universities wanting to implement an academic integrity policy but may lack the resources or time to start from scratch. Everything is licensed under a Creative Commons License and is free for reuse.

Also, Bretag encouraged universities to keep good records on academic integrity actions they take so that they can continuously evaluate their policy for both effectiveness and fairness.

Keynote 5 – Dan Ariely – The Honest Truth About Dishonesty

Keynote 5Dan Ariely is a professor psychology and has written three books about human behavior including Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality and The honest Truth about Dishonesty. It was the last one he spoke most about during his keynote.

Ariely walked the audience through a series of experiments, including ones he’d conducted and those conducted by others, that showed people that almost all people were dishonest to a certain degree, even people who considered themselves to be honest.

For example, when asked to self-grade and self-report the number of questions they got correct on a short test, one where each correct answer was worth money, subjects would over-report their correct answers by 2 out of 10. However, when they were asked to pay themselves out of an envelope, individuals typically did not steal money, just lie about the questions they got right.

Ariely, who was severely burned years ago, also relayed the story of a physician who tried to push him into tattooing his his face to give it the appearance of semetrical facial hair. He learned that the push was due to the doctor needing a third subject to write an academic paper.

But while that might seem dishonest, Ariely also noted that this same doctor made incredible sacrifices to help him in the past, including waiting over 8 hours to perform a lengthy surgery to repair his eyebrow.

The crux of the talk was the people do not fear outside punishments when making decisions about how to act. Instead, their decisions are based on what they can justify internally and, to that end, everyone has a certain degree of flexibility.

This poses very serious challenges for academic integrity, because it indicates that, no matter how much we enforce the rules, students will cheat. Instead, we have to ensure that students can not internally justify the unethical act.

Close: Summary – Jonathan Bailey

It was a second tremendous honor to be asked to provide the closing notes for the conference and try to summarize what I had seen and read over the past three days.

Without sharing too much, because a full overview post is coming, I said that the themes of the conference centered around the interplay between academic integrity and integrity in the world outside of academia. This means both finding ways to apply “real world” ethics into academic situations, but also teaching students to be better academics to so they will be more honest adults.

If one starts from the assumption that at least some elements of ethics and integrity can be taught, then academic integrity is crucial not just to produce good students and good research, but to create an honest society.