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Help for first time cheats keep re-offending rate down

24 June 2013

Lucy Campbell

Discipline Committee: Lucy Campbell chairs the University of Waikato's Discipline Committee.

More than 200 students were caught cheating at the University of Waikato last year and it‘s a fair bet none of them will be caught again.

Processes to help people who find themselves in front of the University’s Discipline Committee go a long way to ensuring people found guilty of academic misconduct don’t commit the same offence twice, Committee chair Lucy Campbell says.

Plagiarism

She says the vast majority of cases of academic misconduct are for plagiarism and most of those are because students don’t know how to reference properly.

“A lot of it is referencing and that’s at the lower end of the scale,” she says.

“They can be helped and many go on to be great people. Those straight from school are the biggest problem, especially in subjects with a lot of group work.”

At secondary school, group work often consists of students working together and presenting one outcome, whereas at university, students are expecting to produce their own conclusions from group work situations.

Learning about referencing

Mrs Campbell – a senior tutor in Applied Linguistics in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences – says students should take advantage of opportunities to learn referencing, which are provided during course inductions, and those who miss out – such as international students arriving in the country late – need to be encouraged to find out.

 “They need to make some time to learn how they have to do it otherwise we get a discipline issue.”

For those who are found to have incorrectly referenced material, Mrs Campbell says Student Learning, the Waikato Management School’s Language and Learning Centre and Library staff are all well placed to help students learn how to correctly reference others’ work.

Re-education process

At best, for many students in these situations, and for a first time offence, they can be asked to rewrite an assignment in conjunction with Student Learning or the Language and Learning Centre. “This re-education process is the most important thing. It is what helps with keeping the reoffending rate down.”

Other penalties for those in the minority that do re-offend include disallowing assignments, disallowing a paper or ultimately, and very rarely, being kicked out of university.

Plagiarism checking software

Students swapping assignments are also represented in the statistics, but plagiarism checking software such as Turnitin is effective in allowing this to be picked up, as both the student whose assignment is copied and the student doing the copying can be detected and both will be reported. This feature of Turnitin has allowed insight into exactly how assignments are circulated – whether by the old fashioned means of passing paper copies or by the now more usual way of electronically sending assignments via email and even via Facebook. Knowledge of these newer ways has allowed this information to be communicated to University staff so that they can warn against this process and students can also be warned of the ramifications. Exchanging assignments or breaching Discipline Regulations in any way can have serious consequences, particularly in subjects such as Law and teaching which require good character references and where students are obligated to admit to misconduct findings.

Mrs Campbell says the dedication of staff throughout the university in reporting possible examples of academic misconduct also helps keep the issue under control.

“The whole university is on this, we couldn’t do this without them. We have very transparent systems and people have got confidence in the system.”

Discipline Committee

 “A good thing we do at this University is tell lecturers, if there’s an issue send it to the Discipline Committee as this way we take the onus from the lecturers to have to make a decision. Some of the other universities do allow for individual lecturers to make this decision in their processes, and it is perhaps because of this that students elsewhere who are considered as having committed a low level misdemeanour and are dealt with by lecturers, are not recoded centrally and so are not represented in statistics. This may be one reason to explain why it looks like we have more cases of cheating.”

And while she is keen to help those who need it, she has far less sympathy for those caught cheating in exams.

“Cheating in exams shows a level of premeditation,” she says.

“It’s deliberate offending so there is some moral problem there. It is seen as very serious, you can lose your paper in an instant if caught and that’s expensive both in terms of money and academic reputation for a student, as it is recorded on their academic record.”

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