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Title: Plagiarism in Higher Education : consensus and consistency when punishing student cases
Author: Price, Julie
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2009
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This research focuses on the punishment and sanctions awarded to student cases of plagiarism within a Higher Education (HE) setting. More specifically, this research investigated two key aspects: the extent and nature of consensus amongst those who work and study within HE; and whether penalties could be applied consistently. Consensus and consistency should be evident in any punishment system if it is going to be viewed as fair by the community who use it, and by those who receive a penalty as a consequence of it. Hence, this research is important if the HE community is to develop a shared understanding of this very complex and sensitive topic area, and develop fair and just practices when punishing student cases. The research used a mixed methods approach and consisted of an initial exploratory study of interviews followed by two main studies: the first using a survey and interviews in order to explore the nature and extent of consensus, and the difficulties in achieving consistency; the second developed a new tool in order to measure and quantify inconsistent decision making, and to explore whether some penalty systems achieved a greater or lesser level of consistency when punishing student cases of plagiarism. Educational theories (Engestrom's (1987) Activity Theory and Wenger's (1998) Communities of Practice), along with literature from assessment marking (where fairness, consensus and consistency are also important principles), were used to help provide context and understanding for the findings of this research. It was found that consensus does not exist within or between communities which work and study within HE: there was evidence of diverse opinions regarding appropriate sanctions for cases of student plagiarism. It is probable, therefore, that some individuals would view a penalty outcome unfair even if the penalty regulations have been strictly adhered to. This thesis also found that consistency of penalty award can be difficult to achieve if the system is highly flexible and non-prescriptive, even when those applying it are compliant. However, non-compliance, due to a disagreement with the penalty system, is also of concern and this thesis has shown that this would result in inconsistent penalties being awarded. It would appear that the HE community must negotiate meaning (as described by Wenger (1998)) more clearly and/or develop an agreement and better understanding of the tool and object (as described by Engestrom (1987)) before it will be possible to develop a penalty system for the punishment of student plagiarism which would be viewed as fair by all those working and studying in HE. Hence, it is suggested that developments should focus more strongly on the learning and teaching aspects of academic integrity, such as appropriate research skills, acknowledgement and citation, and also assessment design in order to reduce the need for punishment resulting from plagiarism.
Supervisor: Conole, Grainne ; Seale, Jane ; Lumby, Jacky Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: BJ Ethics ; LB2300 Higher Education