Understanding Unintentional Plagiarism | Research in Digital Era
How do students research in the digital age? (Source: Turnitin)
The Pew report shows that the ease with which information “appears” online allows students to avoid any of the questions that may surface concerning the quality and intent of information they “research.” The Pew survey revealed that only one percent of those surveyed reported as “excellent” the ability of students “to recognize bias in online content.” As for their “ability to assess the quality and accuracy of information they find online,” only three percent reported that they found students to be “excellent.”
This data supports the following insights into student research behavior, specifically:
• Students appear to value immediacy over quality in online research
The ease with which “the answer” may be found online places sites such as Wikipedia, homework help sites, answer sites, and other social and content sharing sites to the top in terms of source matches.
• Students often use cheat sites and paper mills as sources
Less a research competency issue than a moral and ethical one, the significant number of sources that match to cheat sites and paper mills suggest that for students there is a bias towards immediate outcomes and results rather than towards concerted effort to meet assignment goals.
• There is an over reliance on the “wisdom of the crowd”
Students appear to demonstrate a strong appetite for crowd-sourced content in their research. Though it is not immediately evident why students seek these sources out, the strong reliance on these types of sites indicate difficulty assessing the authority and legitimacy of the content these sources present.
• Student “research” is synonymous with “search”
The frequent and uninhibited use of sites with limited educational value (as defined by the quality and authority of content) in student work underscores a preference for “searched,” rather than “researched” content.
• Existing student source choices warrant a need for better search skills
In addition to a preference for immediacy, the popularity of crowd-sourced content online indicates that a majority of students are engaging in cursory or shallow searches for content. At play may be an absence of awareness of how search engines work and how to effectively conduct searches to find appropriate content. What also appears to be absent is the use of criteria (whether internally—or externally—defined) to judge that content.
Evaluating Online Sources
The Source Educational Evaluation Rubric (SEER) represents the evolution of the critical approach that Turnitin has adopted and used to categorize websites in our analysis of student sources. The rubric was designed by academic experts and used by secondary and higher education educators who field-tested the rubric by using it to evaluate over 300 of the most popular student sources (which will be shared in a follow-up white paper.).
The rubric is built on five criteria:
• Authority: Is the site well regarded, cited, and written by experts in the field?
• Educational Value: Does the site content help advance educational goals?
• Intent: Is the site a well-respected source of content intended to inform users?
• Originality: Is the site a source of original content and viewpoints?
• Quality: Is the site highly vetted with good coverage of the topical area?
These criteria are evaluated along a numerical scale anchored by an explicit call out to “credibility,” a move to make the scores more informative for students.
Instructors and students who use SEER can quickly arrive at an easy-to-interpret score based on the commonly used 4.0 grade point scale. By adding up all criteria values and dividing by five, users will generate a readily-understandable grade for sources. If so desired, the weighting of the criteria can also be adjusted to reflect varying evaluation-directed objectives (see the accompanying SEER Worksheet in the appendix).
• 3.0 - 4.0: highly credible, quality sources
• 2.0 – 3.0: credible sources
• 1.0 – 2.0: questionable sources
• 0.0 – 1.0: unacceptable or inappropriate sources
The rubric, in its entirety, appears below. Following the rubric are a few examples of sites and how instructors have scored them.