Planning to Reduce Plagiarism in FHS

Summary and Highlights

Faculty Council hosted a discussion workshop on plagiarism on February 27, 2014. The event was facilitated by: B. Berry, M. Lechner, R. Tucker & N. van Houten. To start the discussion, M. Lechner provided an overview of the problem at SFU and FHS. He referred to recent reports from the CBC that revealed that SFU recorded nearly 500 cases of academic discipline compared to 36 reported by UBC (see links below).  Indeed, the Annual Report on Student Discipline from SFU indicates that 498 cases were filed in 2011-2012 and 436 cases in 2012-2013.  The FHS filed 5/498 incident reports in 2011-2012 and 31/436 incident reports in 2012-2013, indicating that the number of incidents are going up and this certainly includes cases of plagiarism.  This rise plagiarism cases reported is almost certainly paralleled by a rise in cases not reported.    This provided a topical starting point for the discussion.

Where do We Think Plagiarism is Happening? What Does It Look Like?

Participants were asked about the type of plagiarism they had observed at different levels of the undergraduate and graduate programs. R. Tucker recorded the comments on a flip chart, which is shown below in Figure 1. Examples ranged from first year undergraduate to the graduate level and included practices such as copying each other on exams, cutting and pasting from websites without use of correct citation methods, and buying essays from paper mills. Participants also expressed concerns about not having enough time to adequately deal with plagiarism issues and indicated a strong interest in acquiring more information about online plagiarism detection tools such as Turnitin.

What is Happening at SFU to Support Students?

To provide a sense of what is happening in other units at the university, Donna McGee-Thompson, the academic integrity advisor for the Student Learning Commons, was invited to describe resources that are available for students. The Student Learning Commons is a division of the library that provides support for students in the areas such as writing. She mentioned that the most frequent consultations at the center involved one-on-one consultations about writing, and that the center offers, on average,  700 consultations per year. Students from all learning levels, and all faculties use the center. The Learning Commons takes a preventative approach to plagiarism by providing worksheets on quoting, citing, paraphrasing and guiding students through them. They also recommend the on-line tutorial. D. McGee-Thompson notes that they catch plagiarism in students because they are hypervigilant in noticing changes in writing and investigating observations like a change of tone in the writing style.

While the Learning Commons is a great resource for students, it does not provide resources specifically for instructors. D. McGee-Thompson identified the T&L Center and the academic integrity website as centers that would provide assistance to instructors.

How Do We Change the Culture Surrounding Plagiarism?

Last, B. Berry and N. van Houten asked the participants to identify factors that enable plagiarism, promote good scholarship, and to brainstorm ways that FHS could move forward on this issue. Participants recorded their responses on aqua or pink-coloured sticky notes, which were then organized into conceptual categories.  The main points from this exercise are summarized below. The individual statements can be viewed in the appendix.

In answering the question “What is missing?”, we realized that we haven’t heard from students on the issues concerning plagiarism.

Discussion of Key Questions

What factors conditions promote good academic scholarship?

What factors contribute to plagiarism?

What do we do next?

Action Items

  1. Summarize the topics (see above)

  2. Come up with some guidelines  for writing in FHS (in process)

  3. Host a workshop on Turnitin to explore the software and solutions about how to use Turnitin to help improve practices related to academic writing (April 3rd 12:00 – 1:30)

Other ideas that we can propose

  1. Have a workshop on Copyright – by the SFU library copyright officer.

  2. Host a workshop on improving group project interpersonal dynamics and professionalism

  3. Continue to work as a Writing Team in Undergrad to unpack writing graduate attribute and map curriculum

  4. Identify writing assignments and activities that will satisfy the types/forms and requirements of writing faculty wish to see in FHS students.

  5. Organize workshops on designing writing assignments that will achieve intended writing goals established by the faculty.

  6. Clarify requirements in the syllabus and make sure this is also in CANVAS.

  7. Undertake a survey of undergraduate and possibly graduate students in FHS to explore and unpack their experiences learning to write in FHS courses.

  8. Write an FHS Teaching/Learning Blog story on the plagiarism discussion, workshops, resources to keep everyone in the loop

  9. Make a summary of this available for WSWG (writing skills working group).

Resources about Reducing Plagiarism in Higher Ed

SFU Websites

What is SFU doing about plagiarism?

What can we do to support students and to reduce plagiarism?

Videos on plagiarism prevention

Professional essay writing: CBC news, Feb 26, 2014

Cheating in the news

Figure 1: Identifying types of plagiarism at different instructional levels


Figure 2: Results from faculty brainstorm for factors that promote good scholarship vs. plagiarism