||Miércoles 25 de Abril de 2007, Ip nº 188
Por Jessica Shepherd
A British university has become the first to draft an "honour code" for its students to crack down on plagiarism. Honour codes, dubbed cheaters' charters by critics, are used in more than 100 US universities and colleges, but Northumbria University is the first to copy the idea here.
Senior management has approved the proposal for a code to be given to freshers from September in the shape of a credit card. The code is likely to include 10 statements from the university describing its commitment to students and 10 from students acknowledging that they will get the best out of their time at Northumbria if they avoid plagiarising, among other pledges.
This is common practice in the US. In many institutions there, such as the University of Virginia, honour codes are run entirely by students on an honour committee or honour council. Students investigate, adjudicate and sanction their peers. At others, students, academics and administrators form hearing panels to decide on sanctions.
Yet it has been argued that honour codes may encourage cheats. Some US colleges do not put coursework through plagiarism-detection computer programmes if the institution has an honour code. To do this, they believe, would imply students could not be trusted to keep to the code.
Deborah Trayhurn, an academic adviser at Northumbria and chair of the university's academic misconduct group, says students there will not have to sign the code and that it will not be legally binding.
"It might include a statement pledging to maintain academic integrity by avoiding plagiarism and other types of academic misconduct, written by the students' union on behalf of students, and other statements, written by the university, that state the institution's intention to provide student support, feedback on assessment and information on timetables in a timely manner," she says.
"We felt that it was an appropriate time to enshrine the university's values in something like this. We are trying to avoid calling it an honour code because that has a pretty American feel to it. It is an academic value agreement, a kind of student charter."
Trayhurn says there are currently no sanctions planned if students break the code, but that this will be discussed at greater length in the future.
Spike Reid, president of Northumbria University's student union, hopes the code will help students to understand what plagiarism is. "People don't know what it means," he says. "They might not realise that if you don't put things in quotation marks and reference them, you are committing some form of plagiarism. I think this will help students to get more out of their studies."
News of Northumbria University's move comes as a plagiarism conference opens in London today. The aim of the conference, Maintaining the Integrity of Qualifications and Awards in a Digital Age, is for university staff to pass on their tips on tackling cheats to those who work for GCSE, A-level and professional examination bodies.
Plagiarism obviously affects all because there are some surprising delegates to today's conference, such as the Swimming Teachers' Association, the National Association of Goldsmiths and the Institute of Masters of Wine.
Dr Fiona Duggan, head of advice and guidance at the Plagiarism Advisory Service and one of the speakers at the conference, says honour codes will be among the topics discussed. "There is already the sense that the universities which engaged earliest in an open debate about plagiarism are now taking the issue further," she says. "They are considering what it means to be a student at university. What values do we attribute to students? Should we have honour codes? Does that seem too American for us?"
Claims that students are confused by what constitutes plagiarism have some credence. Duggan is in the middle of research, involving 140 colleges and universities, which shows that the same act of plagiarism could be treated by expulsion at one university, but nothing more than a sharp telling-off at another.
"We are looking into how appropriate the range of penalties for cheating is," she says. "If universities keep threatening an ultimate sanction of expulsion but never carry it out, the students will not believe that anyone will actually be expelled.
"Higher education took the lead on tackling plagiarism in this country," she adds. "At this conference we will be telling the qualification bodies that they don't need to reinvent the wheel - they can learn from us."
Isabel Nisbet, director of regulations and standards for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), is also speaking at the conference. She believes an honours code could work in schools, not just universities. "I have an open mind about honour codes," she says. "I certainly don't think we should pooh-pooh American ideas, saying 'we would never do anything like that over here'."
Last week, the QCA released figures showing that 4,757 students were punished for cheating in GCSE and A-level exams last summer, an 8% rise on the previous year. Most - around two-thirds of cases - involved students taking mobiles or other banned devices into exam halls, but a third were docked marks or disqualified for "plagiarism, failure to acknowledge sources, copying from other candidates or collusion", according to the QCA.
"Very young children are encouraged to work together and then, when they sit exams or do coursework, they are told it must be their own work. This can be confusing," says Nisbet. "I would like to see some clarity about what is expected of students and what is not. Is it OK for a parent to do a Google search for their son or daughter's coursework topic?"
Plagiarism-detection software will also be on the agenda at today's conference. Will Murray, chief executive of Northumbria Learning, says 90% of British universities now have Turnitin, a computer plagiarism-detection program, which Northumbria Learning provides to educational institutions.
Murray believes Turnitin has helped to reduce plagiarism in higher education. "We have reached a point where students are aware their work is going to be scrutinised by a computer programme," he says. "It puts them off plagiarising." He predicts that in a few years' time, universities will have a more "structured approach" to plagiarism, with clear rules in place for students and staff. "It will become harder and harder to defraud the system," he says.
Turnitin's chief executive, Dr John Barrie, told Education Guardian that Oxford University had signed up for the software this month. He hopes school exam bodies will follow higher education's example.
Oxford University itself will host a plagiarism conference on Friday, which will see one of the world's leading researchers on the issue, Dr Don McCabe from the Centre for Academic Integrity (CAI) at Duke University in North Carolina, discuss the use of honour codes.
McCabe's study of 4,000 US colleges in 1995 found that serious cheating in exams was a third to a half less common in US colleges with honour codes, and serious cheating on written work was a quarter to a third less common at these colleges.
But honour codes alone cannot prevent widespread cheating. In May 2001, more than 120 students at the University of Virginia were accused of cheating on their physics coursework. They were caught by a computer program.
Timothy Dodd, executive director of the CAI, believes an honour code works only if it is accompanied by discussions on academic integrity between students and academics.
"The impact doesn't derive magically from the term honour code," he writes on his institution's website. "Whether you adopt an honour code, modified honour code, community standard, campus covenant, or academic integrity policy, its strength and influence are borne of the myriad ways to promote discussion from admission to graduation, inside and outside the classroom, of the fundamental values of academic integrity."
But Dr Mike Reddy, who is on the Jisc Plagiarism Advisory Service steering committee and is also a senior lecturer in computing at the University of Wales Newport, thinks honour codes are unsuitable here.
"In the UK, it would be almost impossible to bring in an honour-code system," he says. "We are much more concerned with the individual and lifelong learning, rather than the greater goal of being part of a university. In the UK, we are much more pragmatic about our learning, particularly in the newer universities.
"Some universities in the US do not use plagiarism-detection software because they say an honour code implies trust. I find it hard to believe that there would be less plagiarism with an honour code."
Duggan predicts that it will be four or five years before many British universities choose to adopt honour codes. And none are expected to copy the honour code of Brigham Young University, which has campuses in Idaho, Hawaii and Jerusalem. The university's code incorporates aspects of Mormon living. Drinking, smoking, short shorts and premarital sex are banned. And men, it states, are to be clean shaven.
Honour in the US
Honour codes are common in US universities. The one below was written by Stanford students in 1921 and is still used today.
The honour code is an undertaking of the students, individually and collectively:
· that they will not give or receive aid in examinations; that they will not give or receive unpermitted aid in classwork, in the preparation of reports, or in any other work that is to be used by the instructor as the basis of grading;
· that they will do their share and take an active part in seeing to it that others as well as themselves uphold the spirit and letter of the honour code.
The faculty on its part manifests its confidence in the honour of its students by refraining from proctoring examinations and from taking unusual and unreasonable precautions to prevent the forms of dishonesty mentioned above. The faculty will also avoid, as far as practicable, academic procedures that create temptations to violate the honour code.
While the faculty alone has the right and obligation to set academic requirements, the students and faculty will work together to establish optimal conditions for honourable academic work.
|| 20/03/2007. The Guardian.