“Student as Responsible Learner”: Developing a university-wide strategy to tackle Academic Misconduct

Kirsty Miller

Academic Misconduct includes plagiarism, cheating, copying work, and reuse of own work, and is a significant issue of concern for Higher Education. Our pilot study of undergraduates at the University of Lincoln showed that over 25% had plagiarised text from a source without crediting it. Increased resources, staff time, and effort are being dedicated to the management of academic offences. This is not only costly and tedious for academic institutions but so far has failed to provide an effective deterrent towards academic offences.
Therefore, we need to a better understanding of its causes. Students’ learning behaviour has moved towards a ‘Consumerist Culture’, which proffers a link between extrinsic motivation and increased likelihood to cheat. The current project is aimed to develop a university-wide strategy to prevent, and effectively respond to, academic misconduct, based on (1) an anonymous student survey and (2) a Delphi-expert survey with academic staff and student representatives.

Academic misconduct presents a significant concern for Higher Education Institutions. For the individual, engagement in academic misconduct can have severe consequences, including exclusion from the institution.
For universities, academic misconduct requires substantial resources dedicated to its investigation. It also challenges our goal to develop students into responsible professionals.
Despite these issues, there are significant inter- and intra-university variations in the management of academic misconduct. In addition, current strategies are focused on investigating and penalising academic offences that have already occurred, while failing to proffer adequate deterrents for it.
We need to move away from a reactive towards a proactive strategy, based on a clear understanding of the causes of academic misconduct. The current project provides an empirical investigation of these issues, and translates these findings into a consistent, evidence-based prevention strategy.

Academic misconduct includes plagiarism, cheating, collusion, copying work, acquiring work, and reuse of own work. Academic misconduct continues to be an issue within Higher Education with much of the focus upon plagiarism (literary theft or the presentation as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source). Studies asking students to anonymously self-report plagiarism find rates between 7 and 55% (Carroll, 2005; Hale, 1987; McCabe, Treviño, & Butterfield, 2002; Roig, 1997; Scanlon & Newman, 2002; Selwyn, 2008). Academic offences in the USA increased over the last 30 years, with a growing majority of students believing cheating is acceptable (Cizek, 1999).

What, When and Why of Academic Misconduct
The What, When, and Why approach to academic misconduct is highly prevalent in the literature. In 2014, our pilot research investigated academic offences amongst undergraduate students at the University of Lincoln. This pilot study showed
 A limited understanding of academic misconduct: Students recognised many academic offences as plagiarism, but show a lack of distinction between plagiarism and other academic offences.
 High self-reported rates of academic misconduct: Over 20% of participants have fabricated data, and over 25% have paraphrased from another source without referencing the author.
 Limited awareness of the seriousness of academic misconduct: Less than half of participants rated the severity of academic offences as moderate/serious.
 Low-threshold engagement in the individual’s cost-benefit analysis: The top three self-reported reasons (decreasing frequency) for academic misconduct were “Laziness”, “Need for a better grade”, and “Source phrasing was better”.
Results from this preliminary study suggest academic offences remain an issue at the University of Lincoln, but there are still questions to be answered to understand When and Why.
Potential Causes of Academic Misconduct
There is a link between an increased likelihood to cheat and extrinsic motivation. This provides a particular challenge in the UK Higher Education environment, where education is funded through tuition fees. Tuition fees began in the UK at £1,000 in 1998, and have since jumped to £9,000 in 2012. Increase in fees have led to concerns of a ‘Consumerist Culture’ amongst students (Marshall, Fayombo & Marshall, 2015). A consumerist view of Higher Education is goal oriented, resulting in decreased enjoyment in education, and a view of university as “service for payment”. However, a key concern is that this can lead to an extrinsic motivation for education behavior. Students with extrinsic motivation have been found to show more concern with external approval, grades, etc. (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2012) and an increased likelihood to cheat (McCabe & Trevino, 1995; Jordan, 2001).

What Theoretical Reasoning Can Explain These Links?
A key concept in the engagement in academic misconduct appears to be one’s motivational stance towards higher educations. Self-determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985) sets competence and autonomy as the key to achieve intrinsic motivation. Autonomy requires independence and the acceptance of personal responsibility. Thus, an extrinsic motivational stance decreases autonomy and creates a lack of personal responsibility for one’s action.
Along with motivation, other key factors for academic offences have been hypothesized to be perceived self-efficacy of the student (linking back to competence) and the cost-benefit-analysis of the act (Murdoch & Anderman, 2006), with the latter being influenced by a lack of awareness of the definition and consequences of academic misconduct.

The current project is aimed to develop a university-wide strategy to prevent, and effectively respond to, academic misconduct, based on an anonymous student survey, and a Delphi-expert survey of academic staff and student representatives. This study is guided by two research questions (1) What cause can be identified for academic misconduct?, and (2) How can we translate these findings into an effective and systematic response to academic misconduct?
What cause can be identified for academic misconduct?
The planned research study will systematically explore the causes for academic misconduct, by examining self-reported academic offences in the context of the relationship between motivation, self-efficacy, cost-benefit-analysis, and attitudes towards academic offences. This will be tested in the theoretical framework outlined above, via an anonymous student survey.

Minimum 500 undergraduate students from the University of Lincoln
Anonymous Survey on Qualtrics; Questionnaire and Vignettes to explore student views on academic offences covering plagiarism, collusion, and cheating.
• Motivation (e.g., Academic Motivation Scale; Vallerand et al, 1992)
• Self-Efficacy (details to be confirmed)
• Consumerist Attitude (e.g., The Consumerist Attitude toward Higher Education Subscale; Fairchild & Crage, 2014)

How can we translate these findings into an effective and systematic response to academic misconduct?
Empirical findings from the student survey will be presented to a focus group of academic staff and student representatives, in order to translate the research findings into an effective intervention response. This interim strategy will be offered back to the group for comments, until a consensus version is reached.

Approximately 15 academic staff from the University of Lincoln, drawn from the Programme Leaders Forum, and 15 student representatives.

Interactive workshop-style focus group, followed by a Qualtrics survey to ensure an anonymous feedback loop.