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Plagiarism: Guidance for staff


The problem

In many University departments, the most common form of plagiarism is lifting material from the WWW without acknowledgement. While staff in the School of Mathematics should be aware of the possibility of this occurring, particularly in project work, most cases reported so far in this School have involved students copying coursework solutions from each other. Staff or research students marking coursework therefore need to be alert to scripts containing identical solutions, or to single scripts containing results with little or no working.

Detecting plagiarism

Typically, your attention may be drawn by an unusual way of setting out a solution, a peculiar turn of phrase, or an unusual mistake appearing in more than one script. Two or more students gaining identical marks for several or all of the questions in a coursework assignment may also raise suspicions. In such cases, the scripts need to be examined in more detail to see if the solutions to some or all the questions are identical, or so close to identical as to suggest that solutions have been copied but some differences inserted to try to disguise the copying. Note that in short calculations, it is quite possible that two students may produce identical solutions without copying (e.g. by following an example in lecture notes); plagiarism will become apparent in more extended pieces of work.

A result written down with no working to show how it is derived may indicate copying, or possibly the use of a computer algebra system (now available on some pocket calculators) which was not envisaged when the work was set. If it is felt appropriate to discourage the latter, you may wish to specify in the rubric that all working must be shown.

There do exist on the WWW some services offering to solve Mathematics problems (at least up to second-year university level) for students – but they are very expensive, and students are more likely to turn to fellow students and friends for help.

In the case of project work, suspicions of plagiarism may be aroused by blocks of text written in a style very different from the rest of the dissertation, or with content at a level well above what the student might be considered capable of. To prove plagiarism it is obviously desirable to locate the original source, although questioning a student about the content in a project viva may reveal that text has been lifted verbatim without being understood.

Further advice on detecting plagiarism and guidance on other related matters is available from the Plagiarism Advisory Service and from Tony Kay.

Procedure when plagiarism is detected

Initially, obtain a second opinion. Lecturers in charge of a module should seek this from the module moderator, while research students or others marking coursework should consult the lecturer in charge. If the suspicion of plagiarism is confirmed, notify the Director of Undergraduate Studies giving details of the suspected offence.

For a first offence involving coursework constituting no more than 10% of the total assessment for the module (but excluding class tests), normally the students will be given an informal warning. This may be done verbally by the module lecturer or personal tutor, but an email will also be sent by the Director of Undergraduate Studies so that the warning is on record in case of further offences. In all other cases, the Director of Undergraduate Studies will issue a formal notification to the students concerned, giving them the opportunity to defend themselves. In the event that guilt is established, the Director of Undergraduate Studies will decide on the penalty to be applied, in consultation with the lecturer in charge of the module. Typical penalties will be a zero mark for the coursework or part thereof which has been copied, or sharing the mark obtained among the students who have copied from each other (e.g. if 3 students all obtain 60% with copying, each student will be awarded 20%). Students have a right of appeal against any penalty imposed.

In case of repeated offences, the Head of Department will refer the matter to the Academic Misconduct Committee of the University.

The Director of Undergraduate Studies keeps records of all incidences of plagiarism.

Further information

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