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Study finds plagiarism can be reduced through education

It’s not new knowledge that plagiarism is a growing problem in academia, but a study released last week may prove that plagiarism can be reduced through education, rather than through fear of repercussions

The study examined students who viewed a mandatory web tutorial on plagiarism. It found that these students were less likely to plagiarize than their peers who did not view the tutorial. The effects of the tutorial were especially significant among college students with lower SAT scores.

Published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the study was conducted by Thomas S. Dee, associate professor of economics and director of the public policy program at Swarthmore College, and Brian A. Jacob, the Walter H. Annenberg professor of education policy at the University of Michigan.

Dee and Jacob collected over 1,200 papers from undergraduate students attending a “selective post-secondary institution,” said the study. Half of the students enrolled in the courses participating in the study were required to complete the plagiarism tutorial before they submitted their papers. Those who did not complete the tutorial were in the control group. Dee and Jacob found that, according to the study, being required to complete the tutorial “substantially reduced the likelihood of plagiarism, particularly among students with lower SAT scores who had the highest rates of plagiarism,”

The students then completed a follow-up survey. Survey answers implied that the tutorial led to fewer instances of plagiarism because the students learned more about plagiarism, not because they feared punishment.

This study supports the beliefs that some academic professionals have long held.

“My contention has always lined up with what this study suggests,” said UMass Professor Nicholas McBride, who teaches a course on journalism ethics. “For me, fear is rarely a good task master. A better society in the broad sense is a society governed by aesthetics rather than edicts.”

The tutorial used in the study shows students examples of correct and incorrect uses of source materials. It also provides students with strategies for avoiding plagiarism. One topic covered by the tutorial is paraphrasing.

Using sources word-for-word, intentionally or not, is a mistake that many UMass students admit to making.

“Before I got to college I thought that paraphrasing wasn’t plagiarism,” said junior Erin Desrochers.

This tutorial helps to prevent unintentional plagiarism, but junior Tori Zopf, pointed out that unintentional plagiarism is not the only kind.

“There are some people that accidently [plagarize],”he said,  “but there are some people that know [what they’re doing].”

 Tyler Rocco-Chafee, a senior, agreed.

 “I think that people know what plagiarism is,” he said. “The idea of copying someone else’s work, people know what that is.”

 “It’s beaten into your head in every class,” added Zopf.

 While a tutorial may be effective for those who unintentionally plagiarize, there are still some those are inclined to plagiarize even knowingly.

 “The process of education is more than ‘this is plagiarism, bad,’” said McBride. “Education has to also examine why … why stealing ideas eats at the infrastructure of a just society, violates the humanity of others, and ultimately ourselves.”

 Elizabeth Murphy can be reached at emmurphy@student.umass.edu.

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