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Promoting original work to protect institutional reputations and the value of qualifications

Technology can help save time for educators and improve student outcomes, but it also has an important role to play in preserving the credibility of institutions and the qualifications they award

Arlen Pettitt
Arlen Pettitt
Marketing Communications Specialist

You don’t have to look far to find high profile cases of academic misconduct, including amongst those who govern us!

In the past few years, allegations of plagiarism have dogged senior politicians in Luxembourg, Austria, Hungary and Germany.

In Romania too, investigative journalist Emilia Șercan examined the doctoral theses of dozens of senior ministers, as well as individuals leading universities and working in the legal system.

Șercan’s work started in the national library, but also included the use of a Turnitin solution to assess whether these prominent individuals had submitted original work.

As she notes, qualifications - especially those at higher levels like PhDs - are hard work, and time-consuming.

And rightly so, as those qualifications tell us a person has dedicated themselves to a field, become an expert and brought their own original thinking to bear on the issues.

They also tend to unlock the higher pay and greater influence which comes with more senior positions - whether that’s in business, or in academia or in government.

So, when the validity of qualifications is called into question, it can be damaging not just for those individuals caught up in the allegations but also for the credibility of the system and reputations of those institutions which awarded them.

At Turnitin, we often talk about how academic integrity isn’t just an educational problem, it’s a societal one too.

It’s also more prevalent than you think.

In a recent white paper, we explored the attitudes of 1,500 students across Europe and the Middle East towards academic integrity, as well as their awareness of essay mills and the use of third parties to complete academic work.

We found 62% thought non-original work was a problem in their country, and 43% had either submitted non-original work themselves or knew someone who has - often feeling overwhelmed or feeling the pressure to succeed was cited as the reasoning behind misconduct.

Beyond that, 43% had heard of essay mills, and of those 44% had seen adverts for them - predominantly on social media.

Most crucially though, 69% of students wanted their institution to do more to encourage original work.

What we can read from that is that the integrity of their qualifications, and the value of the hard work they put in is important to students - they want to see the payback on their investment!

There are two clear steps students want and expect institutions to take when upholding academic integrity, the first is to offer accessible documentation (33%) and the second is to implement appropriate technology (29%).

Focusing on technology, there are two ways it can be used.

The first is as part of a process of submitting work, enabling it to flag potential cases of academic misconduct which warrant further investigation.

A second, and far more effective, way of harnessing technology is as an integral part of the student’s learning experience.

Solutions like Turnitin Feedback Studio connect together upholding academic integrity and the process of improving academic writing.

By giving timely, effective feedback educators can make sure students understand what is expected of them and have the skills required to succeed.

As well as checking for text similarity against a comprehensive database of web pages, academic articles and student work, Feedback Studio makes the process of marking and giving feedback more efficient with standardised rubrics, drag and drop comments and the option to leave voice notes for more nuanced feedback.

Our research tells us that this kind of technology and approach to feedback can effectively improve student learning outcomes, especially when combined with the opportunity to re-submit drafts after feedback.

Overall, upholding academic integrity requires a multi-pronged approach including accessible documentation and policies, appropriate technology, and support for students developing the right skills.

It also needs all of us to work together as part of a global community aiming to face down the challenges posed by academic misconduct, essay mills and non-original work.

That starts as a coalition of institutions, experts, academics, students and parents at university and college level, but it also has to go beyond that too, reaching back into earlier stages of education to embed the right skills and understanding there too.

If we can achieve that, then students will arrive at higher education level better prepared, less vulnerable and less likely to submit non-original work.