The first wave of the Convid-19 pandemic began sweeping through India in early 2020, forcing schools and higher education institutions to shut as learning swiftly moved into the online sphere. As a result, the education landscape in the country changed dramatically with remote learning, centred on digital platforms, becoming the new normal.
While digital transformation is always encouraging, it brings with it a new set of challenges that require adapted thinking and a more innovative approach. In the case of online learning, maintaining academic integrity becomes a critical issue, to safeguard the reputation of educational institutions and the legitimacy of online assessments and examinations.
In an online learning environment, educators are not able to supervise students as closely as it is commonly done in a physical classroom setting. It has triggered a rise in academic misconduct, with plagiarism at the forefront of this broader problem which is hindering academic integrity. Today, plagiarism is more than just about copying and pasting chunks of text from other sources.
As education evolves, plagiarism methods too, have taken various forms, which illustrates the need for educators to become more vigilant and take necessary steps to minimise acts of dishonesty.
Factors that trigger deliberate plagiarism
There are numerous factors that drive students towards resorting to questionable means to tackle assessments or examinations. It includes the quest to gain acceptance in top ranked universities and colleges. Places at these higher learning institutions are often limited to high achievers, which creates stiff competition among students. Immense pressure to achieve the required scores can potentially lead to undesirable means of making the grade.
Peer and family pressure too, contributes to academic dishonesty. Some students come under intense scrutiny from family members to live up to certain academic expectations, while others might feel pressured to emulate their peers who are either performing exceptionally well or taking shortcuts to good grades. And then there are students that lack confidence or guidance to complete assignments or relevant tasks and turn to other means of obtaining the desired scores.
It’s important to recognise that not all cases of plagiarism are deliberate. It can be argued that a significant amount of plagiarism or other forms of misconduct occur due to students’ lack of knowledge or awareness of academic guidelines when completing assignments or exams. In terms of assignment writing, bad habits can arise such as copying and pasting text when attempting to paraphrase original information, and misquoting or inappropriately citing sources.
Educating students from the outset on the importance of integrity and the repercussions that plagiarism will have on their academic journey and professional careers can significantly benefit them and lead them in the right direction. It’s equally crucial to help students realise the importance of cultivating the right values and ethics within them to ensure they produce original work, be it in academia or professional setting, to become competent and capable global citizens.
Plagiarism challenges confronting educators
While there are multiple types of plagiarism that occur either intentionally or otherwise, among the most sophisticated ones that educators may encounter include:
- Contract cheating – students engaging an external party (with or without an exchange of money) to complete their coursework, which is then submitted as his or her own.
- Text manipulation – swapping characters/alphabets, replacing spaces with invisible white text, inserting images of text and more, designed to deceive plagiarism detection tools.
- Source code plagiarism – copying another person’s source code without attributing it to the owner and claiming it as one’s own. Also known as programming plagiarism.
- Self-plagiarism – submission of a student’s previously published work in its entirety or reusing parts of it in a new written assignment.
- Student collusion - students collaborating with each other to complete assignments which were meant for individual assessment and submission.
Addressing the Challenge with technology
Today the stakes are high for higher learning institutions in India to develop students who genuinely achieve learning outcomes to meet graduation requirements. Thus, it has become extremely important for educators to adopt the right measures to uphold academic integrity at their institutions, for students to perform on their own merit and to safeguard institutional reputation.
Thanks to technology profoundly changing the face of education, there are numerous highly secure and user-friendly tools available for educators to promote responsible behaviour. To deal with plagiarism, be it for assessments, exams or coursework submissions, educators can take advantage of state-of-the art plagiarism detection software to help identify content similarities, code plagiarism in programming, text manipulation and originality of students’ work.
Implementation of these similarity detection software helps spot some of the most sophisticated instances of potential misconduct and provide educators with an avenue to effectively grade online assignments, exams and a multitude of programming projects with the help of artificial intelligence. Conducting assessments too will be greatly improved as the whole process can now be managed electronically to provide efficient and unbiased evaluation of assignments.
Beyond just curbing academic malpractice, similarity checking tools help educators guide students towards the right path and gain confidence in their ability to produce original work. It can be a crucial stepping stone to develop young minds to appreciate the importance of practising honesty throughout their academic journey and lay the foundations for successful professional careers.
(Chaitali Moitra, Regional Director of South Asia at Turnitin. Turnitin is an Internet-based plagiarism detection service run by the US company Turnitin, LLC, a subsidiary of Advance Publications. )