Advising students about what plagiarism is and designing suitable types of assessment in a variety of formats can help to reduce the potential for plagiarism.
Plagiarism may be intentional, caused by an individual deliberately presenting someone else’s words as their own, or unintentional, caused by misunderstanding of the assignment writing process and its purpose or poor strategies for dealing with large quantities of text. It’s therefore essential to make sure that students are taught explicitly about the writing process and academic culture, especially if they have not written assignments in a higher education context before. It’s important to advise students about the need to read a variety of appropriate texts critically, have appropriate note-taking strategies and use ideas from reading to support their solution to the assignment in hand.
Designing out intentional plagiarism draws on two main techniques. First, involving students in learning activities about plagiarism. This can be achieved by including activities where students mark sample work using a plagiarism-detection tool (e.g., Turnitin), or work created by an automated writing tool (e.g. ChatGPT), against understood assessment criteria. This can be combined with broader discussions about academic integrity and what constitutes high quality work in your discipline.
Plagiarism can be deterred by developing assessments which cannot be plagiarised easily. This can be achieved, in some cases, by changing the assessment formats from essay-based, to ‘real-world’ formats that also test a range of transferable skills. For example, poster / verbal presentation, regular blog posting, wiki building, and assessment which draw on a variety of formats. Many assessments can be redesigned so that the emphasis is on application rather than the repetition of knowledge. Students are required to apply the theories, models and ideas that they have learned to their own experiences or real-world case studies.
Assignments should change regularly, and ideally be designed in negotiation with the students themselves, tapping into particular areas of interest. This also avoids the problem of old assignments circulating around cohorts of students year-on-year.
A technique that goes along with many of the examples above is to include a number of formative or summative milestones where students have to demonstrate the process of creating a submission as well as the finished product. For example, students may be required to submit interim work at regular intervals (e.g. blog posts, a plan, an abstract, short data sets or a proposal).
Best Practice Tips
- Advise students on what plagiarism is and how best to avoid it, provide examples of good practice where referencing has been used appropriately.
- Explain how to cite sources and how to reference correctly – suggest using reference management software to help collect and manage their references.
- Advise students on how to critically evaluate the sources they use (whether references or writing tools) and take notes in their own words.
Assessment design and planning:
- Don’t use the same assignment titles every year.
- Use original case studies where unique ideas are required.
- Include an element of self-reflection so students relate ideas to their own personal experiences.
- Use current topical examples – where information may not have been published.
- Encourage students to submit draft versions at intervals so that you can see their workings and thought development, and so that they cannot leave everything to the last minute and are tempted to cheat.
- Build in the need for students to evaluate, analyse and synthesize information rather than relaying facts.
- Use different formats to assess, e.g. reflective writing, blog post, poster, report, group project, oral presentation or mini-viva.
- Use synoptic assessments, where students have to demonstrate connections that exist between the different topic areas.
Dawson P. Structuring and designing assessment for security in Defending Assessment Security in a Digital World: Preventing E-Cheating and Supporting Academic Integrity in Higher Education. Milton: Taylor and Francis; 2021.
Eaton S. 6 Tenets of Postplagiarism: Writing in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. Based on Eaton, S. Plagiarism in higher education: tackling tough topics in academic integrity. Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited. 2021.