Taking Notes: Eye on Education – Plagiarism at AU

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org

Plagiarism at AU

Athabasca University has announced that they are “beefing up” plagiarism rules. Stephen Murgatroyd, the University Executive Director of External Relations, has stated that this is not related to the recent controversy with Alberta Premier Ralph Klein’s problems with improper referencing. Rather, he says that the university was already conducting a policy review, with the goal of improving the way students cite references.

As part of the review, the university is considering subscribing to the use of turnitin.com, an Internet service that many universities use to detect plagiarism. Plagiarism is a persistent issue at all universities, and many have resorted to this Internet service, vetting all student papers through its database. There have been legal challenges mounted against the obligatory use of turnitin.com, with students arguing that such practices operate on the presumption of guilt. Perhaps more importantly, turnitin.com is profiting from student work when students are forced to submit papers to be added to their database, and this unauthorized use of original academic material raises other plagiarism issues, including copyright ownership of student works.

Athabasca University would face a hefty sum of money if it decides to subscribe, since the company charges universities a $500 licensing fee, plus $0.60 per student, which would amount to some $26,000 a year.

Given that the majority of plagiarism issues (including that of Mr. Klein) are the product of ignorance, not knowing how to properly reference work – it seems like a lot of money to weed out those few who are deliberately stealing the academic work of others. Better education and awareness among students is clearly needed if the university truly wants to reduce incidents of plagiarism.

Johnsrude, Larry. Athabasca University beefs up plagiarism rules. The Edmonton Journal, July 8, 2004.

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