This article is based on the author’s BS Development Communication thesis.
Mones, Rodeza D. (2013). Visayas State University college students’ information exposure, knowledge and attitude toward plagiarism, and practices in using print and online resources. Unpublished BS Development Communication thesis. Visayas State University, Baybay, Leyte, Philippines.
Rodeza D. Mones
BS Development Communication 2013
Visayas State University
Visca, Baybay, Leyte, Philippines
Plagiarism is a form of student misconduct that has been plaguing academic institutions in recent years. With the proliferation of ready-made papers over the Internet, it has escalated into a crime that is easier to commit. This form of academic dishonesty is an issue that university and colleges need to address.
Plagiarism, or literary theft, is defined as “using someone else’s work without giving proper credit—a failure to cite adequately” (Hom, PlagiarismChecker.com, 2005-2006). According to Gibelman, Gelman and Fast (1999), it includes:
- directly copying another’s work without citation
- failure to use quotation marks where they belong
- omitting citations that provide credit for material found in someone else’s work,
- combining the work of different authors without reference to these authors, carelessness in preparing the list of references (including omissions)
- representing the ideas or work of another as your own
- failure to secure permission for the use of figures, tables, or illustrations from another document, whether or not it is published
In 2005, a study by Jones, Reid and Bartlett showed that 36.8% of the 171 students who participated in the survey had self-reported “failing to cite references [they] have consulted,” while 34.5% admitted to “copying some sentences out of a text book into an assignment without crediting the source”.
But from the simple misappropriation of texts from reference materials such as books, journals, lecture notes, and other academic sources, students have turned to the Internet in committing plagiarism, where a plethora of ready-made papers, publications and information are only a few keyboard strokes and mouse clicks away. Because of this, the Internet is credited for creating a new form of plagiarism—Internet plagiarism, also known as cut-and-paste plagiarism or cyber plagiarism (Howard, 2007).
The same study by Jones, Reid and Bartlett (2005) also revealed that a substantial number of the students surveyed (19.9%) have confessed to being guilty of “cutting and pasting material from a website into an assignment without crediting the source”. One study by Scanlon and Neumann (2002) revealed that out of the 698 students, 24.5% admitted to “cutting and pasting some text without citation”. Another study by Sewlyn (2008) indicated that out of the 1,222 undergraduate students who participated in the survey, 59% self-reported that they have “copied a few sentences from a website into an essay/assignment without citing them”; 30% admitted having “copied a few paragraphs”; 4% “copied a whole essay/assignment from a website/online source” while 3% “paid for an essay/assignment from the Internet”. Indeed, the easy access of intellectual property over the Internet has exacerbated the incidence of plagiarism among students.
But students are not the only the ones who commit literary theft. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was accused of using passages from other books without proper attribution in her book “The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys” (King, 2002). In an article Goodwin wrote in TIME U.S. entitled “How I Caused That Story,” she explains how she failed to adequately credit author Lynne McTaggart’s work: “Though my footnotes repeatedly cited Ms. McTaggart’s work, I failed to provide quotation marks for phrases that I had taken verbatim, having assumed that these phrases, drawn from my notes, were my words, not hers” (Goodwin, 2002). In 2012, two plagiarism cases in the Philippines involving high-ranking government officials made headlines. Just recently, Senator Tito Sotto made it in the national and worldwide news for being accused of plagiarizing a part of his speech on Aug. 13, 2012. The speech, which the senator delivered to support his anti-Reproductive Health Bill stand, was said to have been lifted from several blogs, including Sarah Pope’s blog, “the Healthy Home Economist” (Tan, 2012). In an interview, the controversial senator denied the allegations, saying that he and the blogger had the same source, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, and was quoted as saying “Ba’t ko naman iko-quote ‘yung blogger? Blogger lang ‘yun?” [“Why would I quote a blogger? She’s just a blogger.”] (Sanchez, 2012). Weeks after, the senator was again accused of plagiarizing, this time translating the 1996 Day of Affirmation speech of the late US senator Robert Kennedy (Bordadora, 2012) into Filipino. The plagiarism accusations against Sotto continues to escalate, as Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late US senator and president of the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights, has sent a letter of complaint to Sen. Sotto (Panela, 2012). Both incidents sparked negative reactions from Filipino netizens and Sen. Sotto claims he is a victim of cyber-bullying.
Results of this study can be used to prevent and detect the plagiarism practices of students in VSU. By identifying the sources of information about plagiarism and its influence on students’ knowledge, attitude and practices of it, the university—specifically the teaching faculty—can pinpoint the root of literary theft, and address the problem accordingly. Knowing whether or not student plagiarism in the university is a deliberate or an inadvertent case, and whether the problem is stemming from unethical practices or if it is simply due to knowledge gaps determine the methods the university should take in preventing, and putting a stop to plagiarism in the academe.
Generally, this study explored college students’ knowledge and attitude toward plagiarism and their practices in using reference materials. Specifically, it aimed to:
- Determine students’ information exposure on plagiarism;
- Find out students’ knowledge and attitude toward plagiarism, their motivations for committing or not committing plagiarism and their practices in the use of printed references and online resources; and
- Determine the relationship between information exposure and knowledge and attitude towards plagiarism and motivations for committing or not committing plagiarism.
Theoretical and Conceptual Framework
The theoretical support for this study is drawn from Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), also known as the Social Learning Theory (SLT).
The Social Cognitive Theory states that there are three components that shape and control a person’s subsequent behavior: (1) the person (P) or the individual, with his cognition and other personal factors, (2) the environment (E) along with external factors, and (3) behavior itself (B)—the Triadic Reciprocal Determinism (Bandura, 1989). He explains that these three determinants interact and influence each other simultaneously, forming the later behavior of an individual.
The theory also explains that a person learns not only from first-hand, direct experience but also from vicarious experiences, termed as “vicarious learning”. A person does not rely on his trial-and-error experiences alone but also from other people’s experiences as well in a social environment (Bandura, 1989).
Furthermore, SCT also involves “observational learning,” which explains that knowledge and skills are acquired from observing other people’s behavior and learning from the consequences of other people’s behavior as well. By interacting with other people, an individual develops his own behavior patterns, judgment standards, and cognition (Bandura, 1989). Therefore, interpersonal connections are highly influential in shaping a person’s moral judgment, his perception of the world, and his behavior.
But observational learning is not just simple mimicry. By observing others, an individual develops subskills and adapts what he had learned in varying situations, therefore learning to improvise and generate new behavior that go beyond what they have observed and learned from watching others (Bandura, 1989).
Therefore, an individual learns from his own experiences and from observing others as well in his environment. By his learning, he develops his own knowledge adapted from varying circumstances, and with that knowledge, his attitude is formed. The constant interaction of the environment factors and his intrinsic factors as well as his own behavior then forms his subsequent behavior (Bandura, 1989).
Study site. This study was conducted in the Visayas State University (VSU), Visca, Baybay City, Leyte. It included college students from different year levels and courses.
Research design and sampling procedure. This study followed the one-shot survey research design. Respondents were chosen using cluster random sampling—classes were randomly picked from the list of ongoing classes during the second semester of school year 2012-2013. Professors of the classes picked were approached and their students were each administered a questionnaire. The respondents were given the option to not disclose their names on the survey questionnaire to encourage respondents to answer the survey questions freely.
Research instrument. This study used a survey questionnaire and focus group discussion guide. The survey questionnaire (patterned after the studies of Marshall and Garry (2005), “How well do students really understand plagiarism”, and Scanlon and Neumann (2002), “Internet Plagiarism Among College Students”) was prepared in English and had the following parts: (I) socio-demographic profile of the respondents; (II) respondents’ sources of information on plagiarism; (III) respondents’ understanding of plagiarism and source of information; (IV) respondents’ attitude towards plagiarism and respect for intellectual property; (V) respondents’ practices in using printed sources and online content and their behavior towards plagiarism; and (VI) motivation/s for (not) committing plagiarism. Respondents were asked a series of questions to determine their knowledge and attitude towards plagiarism and practices in using reference materials, as well as their motivations for plagiarizing.
To further explore the motivations of students for plagiarizing and validate the results of the survey, a focus group discussion (FGD) was conducted as well, wherein 8 respondents were asked to participate. The objective of the FGD was to ask respondents who committed plagiarism about their motivations for doing so, which they may be unwilling to reveal when answering the questionnaire—full discretion was given to the respondents, while for those who claimed to not have committed plagiarism were asked the reason why they did not. For effective facilitation of the FGD, an FGD guide was prepared
Questionnaire pretesting. The survey questionnaire was pretested among eight college students of the Visayas State University prior to the survey to determine if the questions were comprehensible and logically sequenced. The pretest results concluded whether the survey questionnaire is fit or if it needs modification or revision.
Respondents of the pretest were asked to answer the survey questionnaire, and were subsequently asked to give comments and suggestions about the questionnaire. Some respondents were hesitant to answer because they were afraid of getting caught; therefore, the line “Information provided will be kept confidential” was added to the heading of the questionnaire to assure respondents that their personal information (such as their names and contact numbers) will not be revealed. Feedback from respondents indicated that the questionnaire was easy enough to understand, although one respondent revealed early on that she did not know what plagiarism is. Another respondent asked if she could answer for both the “I plagiarized because..” and “I did not plagiarize because of..” statements in the motivation part of the questionnaire, reasoning that both statements apply in the instances that she chose to plagiarize and when she chose not to. Thus, changes were made to indicate that respondents can answer both statements.
Data analysis. To determine the relationship between nominal background variables (sex) and information exposure, knowledge, attitude and practice of plagiarism, the chi-square test was used. For ordinal data, the non-parametric Spearman rank correlation was used to test the relationship between the respondents’ background variables (age and year level) and information exposure and their knowledge, attitude, and practice of plagiarism. Lastly, Cronbach’s alpha was used to determine the internal consistency of the attitude and practice statements to measure each item’s reliability score.
Respondents’ information exposure. The study listed 12 information sources on plagiarism categorized into three groups: (1) media (TV, radio, print, Internet), (2) university (professors, seminars/orientations, university code, library), and (3) interpersonal contacts (classmates, friends and relatives). The top three information sources on plagiarism were TV (77.3%), professors (71.8%), and Internet (68.2%). The levels of information exposure were measured by the sum of their sources and were categorized as having low (0-4 sources), moderate (5-8) and high (9-12). More than half (54.5%) were categorized as having low, 36.4% moderate and 9.1% high information exposure.
Respondents’ knowledge of plagiarism. The study used 15 knowledge statements adapted from Marshall and Garry (2005). Results revealed that majority of the respondents were able to identify common forms of plagiarism, such as “copying a few sentences from another document” (89.0%) and “copying an illustration or a graph from another document” (76.9%); although a relatively high percentage of them seem to have difficulty in identifying severe forms of plagiarism, such as “paying for someone to write an original work and submitting it as your own” (40.7%) and “paraphrasing or suing other words, changing the sentence structure, and/or making a shorter version of a work from another source” (48.1%). Moreover, statements that refer to proper citation practices were incorrectly identified as plagiarism by a relatively high number of the respondents, such as “using quotation marks with words or sentences copied word-for-word” (52.3%) and “copying texts and referencing the source” (31.5%). In general, more than half of the respondents (60.9%) had moderate knowledge of plagiarism; 35.5% had high while only 3.6% had low knowledge of plagiarism.
Respondents’ attitude towards plagiarism. The study used 12 attitude statements measured using a 5-point Likert scale (1=strongly agree, 2=agree, 3=neutral, 4=disagree, 5=strongly disagree). The reliability of the statements were tested and resulted in a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.702, making the statements acceptable. In general, results showed that more than half (52.7%) of the respondents had a neutral attitude towards plagiarism; 28.2% had negative attitude while 19.1% had positive attitudes.
Respondents’ practices in using print and online resources. The study used 15 statements that refer to plagiarism acts in using print and online references, adapted from Marshall and Garry (2005) and Scanlon and Neumann (2002), and were measured using a frequency scale (1=very frequently, 2=often, 3=sometimes, 4=rarely, 5=never). The reliability of the statements were also tested and resulted in a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.830. All of the respondents admitted to committing plagiarism, and, in general, 62.7% were categorized as having plagiarized in a moderate level, 36.4% low, 0.9% high while not one was categorized as not plagiarizing.
Respondents’ motivations for (not) committing plagiarism. To identify the reasons that prompts respondents to plagiarize and their reasons for not plagiarizing, respondents were given a list of reasons for two statements (1) “I plagiarized because of…”, and (2) “I did not plagiarize because of…”, and were asked to choose the statements that best describes their answer, and to cite other reasons that are not on the list. Their responses were then categorized: for negative motivations (“I plagiarized because of…”), were (a) social pressure, 26.8%; (b) indolence, 61.0%; (c) knowledge gap, 11.4% and (4) difficulty of task, 0.8%. On the other hand, positive motivations (“I did not plagiarize because of…” were categorized as (a) fear of punishment, 22.2%; (b) ethical reasons, 31.3%; and (c) willingness to learn, 46.5%. In general, more than half of the respondents (62.7%) were categorized as having negative motivations, while 37.3% had positive motivations.
Relationship between variables. Results of the Spearman’s rank correlation showed a positive, significant relationship between respondents’ year level and knowledge (r=202; p=.034).In general, no relationship exists between socio-demographic characteristics (age, year level, sex) and information exposure. Likewise, no relationship exists between socio-demographic characteristics (age, year level, sex) and KAP & motivations, except for year level and knowledge. Moreover, no relationship exists between information exposure and KAP & motivations. On the other hand, no relationship exists among knowledge, attitude, practice and motivations.
Results of the focus group discussion. Results revealed that participants have a general idea of what plagiarism is, and have learned about it from different sources, but lacks knowledge on what exactly constitutes it and how to not commit it. Most of it defined it simply as “copy-paste”, “copying” and “copying texts”. Almost all agreed that it is a serious offense, while one respondent concluded that it depends on the severity. However, all agreed that it is wrong to plagiarize. As for practice, all respondents admitted to being guilty of plagiarism, and majority considered their plagiarism act as a minor form of plagiarism only. As for the participants’ motivations for committing plagiarism, the top answers were “laziness” and “lack of ideas.” Lastly, all participants agreed that there is a need for them to learn the different forms of plagiarism and how not to commit it by knowing how to cite sources.
Results of this study showed that respondents’ exposure to information sources on plagiarism ranged from low to moderate, as shown in Figure 6. Moreover, results of the knowledge, attitude, practice, and motivation tests suggest that the information respondents were exposed to were insufficient.
Common plagiarism acts, or simple copying without citation, were correctly identified by more than half of the respondents, although a substantial percentage of them failed to do so. For instance, “copying few sentences from another document” had 11.0% incorrect response; “copying an assignment from a fellow classmate”, “copying an illustration or a graph from another document” and “copying text word-for-word without using quotation marks but referencing it in the footnotes” had 30.3%, 23.1% and 47.2% incorrect responses, respectively.
Moreover, statements that refer to proper citation practices were incorrectly identified as plagiarism by a relatively high number of respondents. “Using quotation marks with words copied word-for word” had 52.3% incorrect response, as well as “copying texts and referencing the source”, “citing references used” and “using the APA (American Psychology Association) or MLA (Modern Language Association) format in citing sources” (31.5%, 22.2% and 25.0% incorrect responses, respectively), as shown in Table 5. Results of the knowledge test show that respondents have moderate (60.9%) to high (35.5) knowledge of plagiarism.
These results imply that the majority of the respondents were familiar with “simple” plagiarism acts, while a substantial number of them were unfamiliar with more “severe” forms of plagiarism as well as common citation protocols. This also supports the positive, significant relationship between year level and knowledge, which indicates that the higher the year level of the respondent is, the more knowledgeable he or she is on plagiarism. This suggests that most respondents categorized as having moderate and high knowledge commit what Park (2003) defines as “intentional plagiarism”, while some could be “accidental plagiarists” as a result of a misunderstanding of the concept of plagiarism and how to use reference materials correctly. These results prove that there is a need to educate students on what exactly constitutes plagiarism, especially on severe forms of it, and ways of preventing it by observing proper citation practice.
Results of the analyses also show that more than half (53%) of the respondents fell in the neutral attitude bracket despite the fact that nearly two-thirds (62.7%) of them had a moderate level of practice of plagiarism. It seems that respondents preferred to be seen as not favoring plagiarism when despite practicing it. This apparent gap between attitude and practice could be explained by Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957). According to Festinger, cognitive dissonance refers to the psychologically uncomfortable existence of conflicting attitudes and behavior which pushes a person to try to reduce it to achieve balance. Individuals, according to Festinger, will seek to resolve the internal inconsistency brought by the conflict between their attitude and their behavior. Since results show that most respondents have self-reported that they had committed plagiarism and at the same time being aware that it is wrong, it has resulted in opposing attitude towards it, thus the “neutral” response was chosen by the majority of the respondents in an attempt to justify their actions and resolve their internal conflict. These results call for the need to reinforce academic honesty among the students and improve their awareness on ethics in terms of respecting intellectual property, as well as how committing plagiarism hinders them from learning.
The respondents’ motivation to plagiarize (negative) or not plagiarize (positive) gives insight into the reasons that prompt them to plagiarize or not plagiarize. Less than two-thirds (62.7%) were categorized as having negative motivations, while the remaining 37.3% had positive motivations. Of all the respondents who had negative motivations, 61% of them indicated “laziness” as their reason for plagiarizing, while 46.5% of those categorized as having positive motivations cited “willingness to learn” as their reason for not committing plagiarism. This suggests that plagiarism is considered “an easy way out” of a task by some respondents, as supported by the responses in the focus-group discussion. This also suggests that students tend to plagiarize because of their unwillingness to work; thus, instructing students to be responsible in accomplishing tasks and work assigned to them and developing their time-management skills in order to spend considerable amount of time for both leisure and working may help in preventing students from succumbing to plagiarism.
In general, the results of the study indicate that it is essential for students to learn more about plagiarism and proper citation practices in using print and online references. At the same time, there is a need to encourage students to observe ethical standards and commit to academic honesty, as well as respect other people’s intellectual property. In addition, helping students develop a positive attitude towards accomplishing tasks will also help the university minimize the incidence of plagiarism, which can be done during orientations at the start of each school year. It is also suggested that the academe should devise concise rules on using references for research papers, assignments, projects and other school works, as well as policies that aim to discourage plagiarism and the courses of action the university will take when a student is found guilty of plagiarism, depending on the severity of the case.