Saturday, June 21, 2014

6IIPC - Conference

I previously reported about the pre-conference of the Sixth International Integrity and Plagairism Conference in Newcastle upon Tyne, I will now discuss some of the talks that I was able to attend.
There were four keynotes at the conference:
  • Toni Sant from Wikimedia UK spoke about student online research, aka using the Wikipedia. I was astounded at how many educators in the room were not very familiar with various aspects of how the Wikipedia is researched and written. Toni suggested that teachers have their students write articles for the Wikipedia – I strongly objected to that in the discussion, as the subsequent deletion of articles that are not encyclopaedic will frustrate the students.
  • Tricia Bertram Gallant, the academic integrity officer at UCSD, gave a fanstastic talk about integrity for the "Real World." She pointed out that people cheat, period. We have to quit pretending that we are only interested in academic integrity, that is, integrity that is only valid in school. Instead, we need to reframe our thinking and focus on building integrity for the real world and not just for school. Our students cheat and plagiarize because they are human, we need to help them obtain skills in acting in an ethical manner in any situation, not just academic ones.
  • Samantha Grant presented parts of her documentary about Jason Blair, a New York Times Journalist fired for plagiarism, called A Fragile Trust.  She and Teddi Fishman from the International Center for Academic Integrity then discussed questions that arose from the film. Samantha is now producing a game for journalists called Decisions on Deadline that presents ethical dilemmas for students to solve. The Society of Professional Journalists even has a hotline that journalists can call when they need to speak to someone anonymously.
  • Dan Ariely gave us the honest truth about dishonesty via video conference: We lie. We don't steal if given the opportunity, but if we think we can get away with something, we lie through the teeth, according to the many studies he has conductd. He suggests that we as educators need to teach our students about temptation and how to deal with it. 
In between the keynotes there were nine paper sessions of five papers or workshops each. Unfortunately, the program had some glitches, such as both papers about finding plagiarism in Arabic being scheduled in parallel with each other or three workshops in the area of embedding institutional policy and practice offered at the same time.
One talk was especially amusing: Rui Silva-Sousa from Portugal spoke about whistleblowers on plagiarism and the moral grey area. That is, he was speaking about GuttenPlag Wiki or VroniPlag Wiki, among others. He notes that there is currently a moral panic with respect to plagiarism. The general population perceives an increase of plagiarism among politicians on the basis of media coverage. This legitimizes the culture of control and people will now more than ever report wrongdoing, especially for egoistic reasons, on the part of people who are now in the public eye. He tried to explain the motivation of the researchers documenting plagiarism, and decided they are somewhere between weird mobbers and serious scientists. They must be acting on ethical egoism and through their making the cases public, can cause excessively harsh results in the life of the person who plagiarized. He felt that knowing the names of the whistleblowers would make it easier to judge the morality of their work. 
I noted in the discussion that he was completely ignoring the person whose work was plagiarized, and that a thesis was plagiarized irregardless of who speaks up about this fact. During a discussion over lunch we cleared up some misconceptions, the usual ones such as VroniPlag Wiki not only documenting politicians, and such. He admitted to not having looked at the sites that closely. I do wish that people would observe carefully before coming up with wild theories.
Mike Reddy, who teaches Games Development at the University of South Wales, gave a session on putting the "play" into plagiarism. We were to develop a game concerning some aspect of academic integrity within the hour. Our group didn't do too bad, we came up with a game we called "Freeloader", similar to Spoof, for 5–6 players (the size of a typical student project group).  Each person has three coins and behind their backs chooses how many coins to hide in their fist and put out into the middle, representing their contribution to the project. Each person starts out with three peanuts/candies/whatever. Each person guesses how many coins in total are now in the middle, no two guesses can be the same. All fists are opened and the coins counted – if you guess right, you get a candy from everyone else in the group. If you run out of candies, you get a dog's chance (one last round). If there are only two people left, the amount of candies you have to surrender upon being wrong is increased by one each round, so that there a winner is found quickly who will get the top grade (i.e. a stash of candies).
Phil Newton from the university of Swansea gave a workshop about paper mills and custom-writing companies. He showed live demonstrations of things that are available for sale. In a nutshell: If we are asking for it (such as research diaries or multiple revisions), there is someone out there willing to sell it, and the less time there is left to complete it, the more expensive it is. We got into groups and tried to come up with ideas that focus more on the learning and less in producing items that can be easily ghosted. The ideas ranged from only giving examinations, using peers to police, flipped classrooms, thinking positively, using progression portfolios, decreasing the price of doing the right thing, and increasing the fear factor: if we catch you, it will hurt. In all, we didn't come up with THE solution, but it was good to commiserate with others about the problem.

It was great to meet old friends and meet new people interested in plagiarism, although it was sad to have to miss so many sessions. The conference was co-sponsered by Turnitin and ICAI, so of course many of the talks dealt with Turnitin. It was rather shocking to see how many newish users were so sure that the so-called "similarity index" that Turnitin reports is the true value of "plagiarism" in a paper. Some schools even define Turnitin similarity index levels for determining the sanction to be meted out. However, people with more experience using the system often temper their words, they understand that the number does not mean anything, really, and that the software is just a tool. Even Turnitin has started to speak of itself as a text-matching software in some instances. I suggested to one of the Turnitin top brass that they ditch the number and focus on what their system does best: find matching text strings (and not plagiarism!). Turnitin has just recently been acquired by a venture capital company, so they have some money to invest in making the product better. I hope that the focus will be on the usability and the reports and not on suggesting that they find more plagiarism. The decision as to whether something is to be considered plagiarism or not must rest firmly with the instructor and the institution, not with a software package.

Jonathan Bailey has blogged extensively on Day One - Day Two - Day Three of the conference. 

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