Friday, August 22, 2008

Plagiarism and ethics

There were acouple of talks today at the Creating Knowledge conference on plagiarism and ethical issues concerning information. Susanne Holmlund presented on the situation at the Tritonia Academic Library (serving 3 universities in Vaasa, Finland). They provide information literacy education in 3 languages. Obviously there is a challenge in that there are 3 universities, with their different organisational cultures, curricula and approaches to dealing with information literacy - and plagiarism. In the specific library field, there are different licenses for e-journals and databases too!
They have tried to take a more standard approach to IL education, but inevitably they need to tailor them to specific university needs to a greater or lesser extent. With the University of Vaasa they have 2 credit bearing information literacy courses, plus a credit-bearing course for doctoral students on research ethics. On the IL course 1 there is a strong emphasis on ethical issues such as plagiarism and research ethics, as well as information evaluation. There is a pre-test and if people pass this they can be exempted fron attending the rest of the course. The second course concentrates more on putting the students' skills into practice.
One current discussion is whether the current emphasis on online teaching, especially in course two, is most effective: some feel that ethical issues are best discussed face to face. They are also debating whether teaching of research ethics could be done by student teaching assistants (teaching these courses takes up a lot of staff time). Use of wikis for learning and teaching is also being considered.
An interesting exercise she mentioned was a role play in which students had to take the part of different stakeholders e.g. publisher, students, and discuss plagiarism from that person's perspective. The Tritonia library site is at: and there is a relevant paper here .
Eystein Gulbeck (University of Oslo) gave an interesting talk about Discourses on plagiarism and the pedagogic sanctions. He identified that students might see a contradiction in being told to write in their own words and being told to use and cite the literature: an issue here is being socialised into the academic culture. He felt you could link various statements on these issues into different discourses - the formal one of regulations and punishments, and the one about becoming a scholar in the academic discipline. They also get messages and discussions from different places in the university, fomal and informal, written and oral.
He referred to a course Critical and Ethical use of sources. The intentions - what they wanted students to understand and be able to perform - were made clear to the students; Gulbeck, like a speaker I blogged about yesterday, referred to John Biggs idea of constructive alignment (of learning, teaching and assessment). Since a focus on regulations and checking for cheating was not felt to encourage critical thinking, the focus was on group based activities assessd on evidence of critical reading and academic reasoning. Students discussed ways of rewriting examples, learning how to express views in different styles and summarise. In commenting on the course students mentioned both developments in writing and critical reading, and also improvements in ability to cite and avoid plagiarism.
Photo by Sheila Webber: view from art museum, Turku, Finland, August 2008

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