“Plagiarism takes different forms from one country to another, and it is also dealt with in different ways. There is great awareness of the problem in the English-speaking world since the number of English language sources has become so huge, for example via the internet,” says Ms Carroll.
Jude Carroll is attached to Oxford Brookes University, and she has conducted research into plagiarism in several countries. Among other countries, she knows a lot about the situation in Sweden, and she believes she can see a lot of similarities with Norway there.
“There is a tendency in Scandinavia for the law and the system of sanctions to be directed at stopping cheating,” says Ms Carroll, who believes that this approach may not be very expedient. She distinguishes between cheating in the sense of deliberately bending the rules, and plagiarism. In the case of the latter, it can just as often be lack of competence and understanding of the use of sources that is the cause.
“Doesn’t have to be cheating”
She believes that the increasing incidence of plagiarism is not necessarily connected to a failure of student morals - it is more a case of the threshold having been lowered:
“In many cases, it is down to students simply not having learned how to deal with sources and how to refer to other people’s work. At the same time, the threshold has become lower because the amount of information has become so huge. Students have always engaged in plagiarism, but opportunities for doing so present themselves much more often now. That is why we are seeing an increase,” says Ms Carroll.
On the other hand, she does not want to discharge students of their moral responsibility.
“Of course, there are still people who take shortcuts and who know that what they are doing is wrong. But students also have different views about what is right and wrong. They are concerned with getting good grades, with handing in good work, with helping their friends and with learning. Academics probably share many of these values, but perhaps they rank them differently,” she says.
“The quality reform may reinforce the problem”
Ms Carroll believes that plagiarism is an increasing problem, but that there are ways of limiting it. And even if one wishes to come down hard on plagiarism, a distinction should be drawn, also in the law, between infringements committed because of incompetence and those committed with malice intent, she believes. Professor Arild Raaheim of the Department of Education and Health Promotion supports her in this view:
“I believe that Jude Carroll is right that this is a complex problem that requires complex solutions. And one of the most important things is to provide proper training in the use of sources and how to refer to them,” he says. Professor Raaheim believes that the Quality Reform may lead to the problem increasing in Norway.
“Not just because the number of mandatory written assignments has increased, but also because we utilise so many new forms of assessment, such as portfolio assessment for example. In traditional exams we had relatively good control of what went on. But when students sit at home, we have no control over where they take their material from. Combined with access to enormous amounts of information, this leads to extraordinary problems,” emphasises Professor Raaheim.
Kari Lien Garnes, Director of the University Library believes that UiB can meet these new challenges by redoubling its efforts in the field of information competence at all stages of university education.
“This is something we have been working to achieve for a long time. We have technical solutions and programs that can uncover cheating, but the most important thing is that students and researchers learn the right ethical attitudes and are familiar with the ethical guidelines in all their writing and research,” she emphasises.