Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Brno, Day 1

Day 2
The Third International Conference Plagiarism across Europe and Beyond is currently taking place in Brno in the Czech Republic. I am attending just for the fun of it and so enjoying speaking with all these people who, like me, are interested in promoting academic integrity and dealing with the plagiarism problem. Here is a short review of the talks I heard today:
  • The opening keynote was by Tracey Bretag, from the University of South Australia, on "Evidence-based responses to contract cheating." She noted that many teachers have had a feeling that there is a massive problem with contract cheating, but since it has finally hit the media in the form of scandals such as the MyMaster or the Airtasker ones, there is now attention being focused on cheating behaviors. She and her group have been collecting data on contract cheating, surveying both students (14 086) and staff (1 147) on how wrong they find various cheating activities and whether they have observed such behavior or done it themselves. They also asked for the outcomes (a much, much better term than "penalty" or "sanction") of being discovered. Surprisingly, they were able to isolate a group of about 600 cheaters and could compare their attitudes to the non-cheaters. Cheaters thought that more than 60 % of other students cheated, so they perhaps think that it's okay for them to cheat. Staff was much more realistic, assuming between 1 and 10% of students cheating. They are still evaluating the data, but it is clear that just "fixing" assignment design is not the answer! Forcing exams instead of writing papers is not the answer, as there are more opportunities to cheat in exams, for example by sending someone else to take the exam or using electronic devices. Problematic was that only 3% of the cases detected resulted in suspension, although that is communicated as the outcome for being caught cheating. 23 % of the staff noted that they were not informed of the results of their informing official bodies of a cheating incident.
  • Tomáš Foltýnek from the Mendel University in Brno then introduced the European Network for Academic Integrity that was founded yesterday in Brno with currently nine institutions. Institutions can be members, individuals can join as supporters. They want to focus on collecting and communicating best practice about academic integrity, and for organizing more conferences like the current one. In 2008 there will be a conference in Turkey, in 2009 in Lithuania. They will also be offering workshops to members. Annual fee for institutions is to be 300 €, for supporters 50 €. They are also supported by the Erasmus+ program and the Council of Europe.
  • Jeffrey Beall from the University of Colorado, Denver, gave a keynote on Detecting and reporting Plagiarism in Predatory Journals and Other Publications. He noted dryly that it sometimes seems that plagiarism is only important when the person accused is your enemy. If your hero is caught plagiarizing, it's not a problem. There are very few incentives for people to report plagiarism, and there can even be more punishment for the informer than for the plagiarist. He gave some examples of publishers that exploit the gold open-access model and promise peer review, but don't acutually do so. There was even one journal for which we could have still submitted an article today and had it published on May 31! Beall has charted some of the fake citation indices, and they appear to only ever increase, never to decrease. He published an article, Advice for Plagiarism Whistleblowers, together with a colleague, Marx Fox, who ended up in court over a case of whistleblowing, but was able to win his case (1 - 2). Beall also discussed the plagiarism in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s thesis.
  • The "Gold Sponsors" of the conference were each given a short slot to present material, with the express purpose of NOT giving a sales presentation. Goa Borrek (Turnitin) spoke about his Journey in Academic Integrity, and James Bennett (Urkund) about Why Percentages are not your Friend. Borrek presented a model "From Plagiarism to Academic Excellence" that looked a lot like the Academic Integrity Maturity Model, but I was in the third row and could not make out the text on the slide, so I am not sure. Bennett was preaching to the converted with a contrived example demonstrating that percentages can be extremely misleading. I questioned why, then, does Urkund use so many percentages in their reports and got a rather roundabout answer saying that people expect them. 
  • I chaired a session on "Internationalisation, student mobility and academic integrity" that had an interesting collection of talks about various countries and cultures. Eckhard Burkatzki (Germany) spoke on Cultural Differences regarding expected utilities and costs of plagiarism, investigating students from Germany, Denmark and Poland. They come from different trust cultures and turned out to have significantly different attitudes towards plagiarism. Amanda McKenzie and Jo Hinchliffe (Canada) had some interesting Integrity Insights from India they collected during visits to nine different Indian universities. For example, some universities use biometric scanners for fingerprints in the lecture halls and the students must check in and out of the lectures and the exams. They noted that many second and third tier universities do not prepare students well for Master's level work in Canada. Stephen Gow (UK) used critical theory to look at academic integrity issues for students from China. Bob Ives (USA) gave two talks, one on a meta-study he is doing on  predictors of academic dishonesty and some patterns and predictors of academic dishonests in Romania and Moldavia. The session closed with M. Shahid Soroya (Pakistan) giving an overview about the Status of Academic Integrity in Pakistan. They, too, have had some plagiarism scandals that made the news (3), which has driven the Higher Education Council to issue standard operating procedures for dealing with plagiarism cases. Pakistan offers the use of Turnitin at all the universities, and offers training programs for teachers. Mystifyingly, they define a threshold of 18 % or less reported by Turnitin to be "original." It was not possible to learn the reasoning behind the choice of this number.
  • In the session on "Best practices and strategies for awareness, prevention, detection of academic misconduct" Andrzej Kurkiewicz spoke about the new procedures for dealing with academic integrity cases in Poland. This seemed to involve far too many official offices and also only dealt with cases that were discovered internally. I asked about how they deal with cases that whistleblowers alert them to, but apparently they are not seen as being part of this process. Poland is also putting together a central repository of graduate theses. Andrei Rostovtsev is from the Dissernet group of academics in Russia that publicly documents plagiarism in Russian doctoral dissertations. They do a quick comparison of the long abstracts that are publicly available on Russian dissertations and have found thousands of highly similar dissertations. One rather amusing pair involves chocolate and beef. All the words dealing with chocolate were replaced by words about beef processing, the rest of the thesis is identical. There is a film about the group, showing for example the bullet hole that appeared in Rostovtsev's window in his apartment one morning. One does not make many friends documenting plagiarism in Russia, it seems. They are currently using the meta data published with the abstracts to illustrate the networks of researchers. The clusters and networks so identified are very close to the clusters of plagiarism previously identified. Ines Friss de Kereki spoke on using MOSS and JPlag to detect collusion in computer science homework programs.
We had a nice dinner at the science and technology museum in Brno, and enjoyed playing with the exhibits. I did not ride the bicycle over the tightrope, but some brave souls did.

More talks tomorrow!

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