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Towards Consistency and Transparency in Academic Integrity

Edited By Salim Razı, Irene Glendinning and Tomáš Foltýnek

This book is an outcome of the 4th International Conference «Plagiarism across Europe and Beyond» organized by Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Mendel University in Brno, and the European Network for Academic Integrity. The conference is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships Programme of the European Union. It aims to be a forum for sharing best practices and experiences by addressing issues of academic integrity from a wide-scope global perspective. With regards to the crucial role of ethics and honesty in academic work, universities are in need of more effective policies against infringements of academic standards. The papers in this book therefore aim to contribute to the standardization of consistent and transparent approaches to issues of academic integrity from several perspectives.

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Academic Integrity Skill Development amongst the Faculty at a Swedish University (Sonja Bjelobaba)

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Sonja Bjelobaba1

University of Gothenburg and Uppsala University, Sweden

Academic Integrity Skill Development amongst the Faculty at a Swedish University

Abstract: When we talk about the need for education in academic integrity, the implied recipient of such education is commonly students. This paper argues that to strengthen academic integrity, it is crucial to work with the faculty as well. Since 2014 a unit for pedagogical development at a Swedish university has conducted a project with the aim of enhancing knowledge of academic integrity. In 2014, a survey on academic integrity was sent out and the results were used to develop a new systematic, holistic approach with several new measures to promote academic integrity. The aim of these measures regarding faculty was to strengthen faculty members’ knowledge on academic integrity, to remind them of their duty to report cases of suspected misconduct, as well as to provide different tools and ideas to improve the academic integrity of their students. The undertaken measures have led to a noticeable increase in reported cases of plagiarism. In 2018, a follow-up survey was sent out. The present paper discusses this systematic approach to promote academic integrity, the measures taken, and the results of the surveys.

Keywords: academic integrity, good practice, plagiarism, skills development, train the trainers

Introduction

Academic integrity – a term that encompasses values like honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility (International Center for Academic Integrity, 2014) – is usually seen as the student’s responsibility, not the teacher’s; if a student plagiarises or cheats, he or she is ignorant or dishonest (Nilsson, Eklöf, & Ottosson, 2009).

However, if we want our students to know what academic integrity is, we have to work with our faculty as well (Bretag & Mahmud, 2016; Morris & Carroll, 2016). Previous research in Sweden emphasises the role of the faculty: “The teacher is the key actor in preventing and responding to plagiarism […] and must ← 131 | 132 → perform a wide range of functions: informing students about rules and policies, providing instruction in source-use skills, detecting textual plagiarism, deciding what response to it is most appropriate, etc.” (Pecorari, 2013, p. 100). The question is whether teachers have sufficient prerequisites for taking this role. A survey that was done at a university in Sweden indicates that many faculty members (23%) are not sure what can be considered plagiarism (Henriksson, 2008).

The purpose of this paper is to discuss different ways to develop the faculty’s skills regarding academic integrity and share the results from an ongoing project (2014–) on academic integrity at a Swedish university, hereinafter with a capital U. The aim of the Academic Integrity Project (AIP), carried out by the unit for pedagogical development, is to enhance the knowledge on academic integrity amongst students and faculty at the University.

The University is one of the largest public universities in Sweden with about 38,000 students and 6,000 employees, and with a focus on both research and education. Several strategies regarding academic integrity were used at the University prior to the AIP: the University library and several departments provided information on academic integrity on their websites, there were efforts to detect plagiarism using text-matching software (Urkund), and policies, an action plan, and procedures for reporting misconduct existed. However, there was no systematic and consistent approach to work proactively with students on the question of academic integrity.

Academic integrity research has noted a shift from methods that concentrate on the detection and punishment of misconduct toward approaches that focus on the preventive and pedagogical promotion of academic integrity (Bertram Gallant, 2008; Carroll & Zetterling, 2009; Ferguson et al., 2007). The research has shown that it is essential for higher education to develop a holistic and systematic approach where the whole institution is included in the process (Collins & Amodeo, 2005; East, 2009; East & Donnelly, 2012; Macdonald & Carroll, 2006; Morris & Carroll, 2016). Such an approach contains a variety of methods and measures.

The initial aim of the AIP was to create a resource on academic integrity for the students at this university, but the project soon evolved into a larger and more ambitious project of developing a holistic approach that would improve academic integrity amongst both students and faculty at the University.

A report that the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) prepared on disciplinary cases regarding students during 2013 was published in 2014, i.e. just prior to the starting of the AIP. The report showed that officially-reported disciplinary cases regarding students in Sweden were consistently on the rise and ← 132 | 133 → that the most common reports to the disciplinary boards were about plagiarism and data fabrication, with a dramatic increase of cases in the 2010s. It should be noted that it is still only a very small number of students (0.26% in 2014) that are involved in disciplinary processes (UKÄ, 2014, p. 5). The report, together with the information that was obtained from the Disciplinary Board at the University for 2013, showed that this particular Swedish university had remarkably few cases of reported misconduct. Rather than to simply conclude that students at this university did not plagiarise, the given hypothesis was that the reason for such a low number was under-reporting. One aim of the AIP was therefore to investigate this hypothesis.

Studies of plagiarism in Sweden show that certain types of academic dishonesty, such as lying in order to get preferential treatment and plagiarism, are common (Trost, 2009). The country’s view on plagiarism was examined 2010–2013 in the pan-European project Impact of Policies for Plagiarism in Higher Education across Europe (IPPHEAE) (Glendinning, 2013, 2014). Although based on limited data, Glendinning identifies several strengths and weakness in the Swedish system ranking the country 3rd out of 27 countries according to the academic maturity model (AIMM). As strengths, Glendinning identifies a nationally-prescribed policy for handling accusations of academic misconduct, an institutional panel system chaired by the university Vice-Chancellor, and the use of software tools. She also notes the weaknesses: inconsistencies between and within institutions about the extent to which academic misconduct and plagiarism cases are identified and recorded; a limited range of penalties available; and a system that might be viewed as overly bureaucratic further complicated by the requirement for academics to prove “intent” of dishonesty before a student can be penalised (Glendinning, 2014, p. 35).

Faculty generally find the process of confronting a student who has plagiarised demanding and stressful (Coren, 2012; Fontana, 2009; Sutherland-Smith, 2005; Vehviläinen, Löfström, & Nevgi, 2017). In a longitudinal study conducted in 2002–2005 amongst 12,316 faculty members, McCabe showed that 41% of the faculty acknowledge ignoring cases of suspected misconduct in their courses: “the primary reason they offer is the burden of proof required to prove a student has cheated” (McCabe, 2005, Table 1). The obligation to prove “intent” in cases of misconduct in the Swedish system “appears to compound the problem of under-reporting” (Glendinning, 2013, p. 12). ← 133 | 134 →

Method

The Academic Integrity Project consists of several phases. The first phase consisted of information gathering. As a starting point of the AIP in 2014, an examination of the perceptions of students and faculty regarding academic integrity was made by sending two parallel online surveys, one to each group. The aim of the survey sent to the faculty was to find out the faculty members’ views on academic integrity, whether there were some unreported cases of misconduct, and the reactions of faculty when seeing possible cases of plagiarism in a student’s work, etc. The results were used in the second phase of AIP to identify, develop, and implement a series of measures in order to enhance academic integrity at the University. The measures will be discussed in the results and discussion section. These measures were evaluated in 2018 in the third phase of AIP through a follow-up survey, as well as comparing statistics of reported cases of misconduct to the Disciplinary Board before and after these actions.

The Data

The first data set consists of the information that was obtained from the Disciplinary Board at the beginning of the AIP and is composed of the number of cases regarding plagiarism as well as the measures that were taken in 2013.

The second data set consists of qualitative data that was obtained through an anonymous survey that was sent out in 2014 in both Swedish and English to 3,118 faculty members – teachers, researchers, and doctoral candidates – in all disciplines at the University through an online survey tool (Webropol) using an e-mail list of most of the active faculty members at the University. It should be noted that the list has severe limits due to the fact that (a) it is not frequently updated, (b) many faculty members and doctoral candidates on the list are no longer active or do not teach at all (an unknown number of list members are researchers or doctoral candidates without teaching duties, retired, etc.), and (c) written exams and essays are not included in all courses, making the survey not relevant for all faculty members on the list.

A total of 392 faculty members responded to the survey (12.5% of the total e-mails sent). The answers were obtained from all eight faculties at the University and with an almost equal gender distribution (51.3% women, 48.2% men, 0.5% other), making it a very representative sample for the whole University. Faculty members who had answered the survey were very experienced: 81% of them had been teaching for more than 9 semesters, 15% for 3–8 semesters and only 5% for 2 semesters or less, once again making the sample representative of the University ← 134 | 135 → as a whole. Although the survey was answered by faculty members from all the faculties at the University, a limited number of faculty members that answered might not be representative for the faculty as a whole.

In order to enable a comparison with the situation at another university, some of the questions were taken, with the author’s permission, and in a partially-modified form, from a survey that was made at another Swedish university (Henriksson, 2008). Several questions were free text questions to enable the participants to write freely about their views on academic integrity.

The first data set was followed by a third data set that consisted of information from the Disciplinary Board about the number of cases regarding plagiarism as well as the measures that were taken in 2017, at the end of this phase of the AIP.

The fourth data set consisted of a follow up anonymous survey that was sent in 2018 in both Swedish and English to 3,084 faculty members at the University through the same online survey tool as in 2014 and using the same e-mail list with the same limitations as mentioned above. The survey was a modified version of the survey from 2014 and was extended with several new questions in order to evaluate different measures that were made during the AIP as well as to identify the problems and needs that could be of interest for the next phase of the AIP. Several questions were open-text questions. The survey was answered by 419 faculty members (14% of the total e-mails sent) from all faculties at the University, with an almost equal gender distribution of 51.3% women, 47.5% men, and 1.2% other. The teaching experience of the staff was once again considerable: 83% had been teaching for 9 semesters or more, and only 6% for 2 semesters or less. Once again, the sample gained was representative of the University as a whole.

The relevant quantitative data from the surveys will be presented descriptively and graphically. The responses to the open questions in the surveys were analysed thematically and have been translated into English when given in Swedish.

Results and Discussion

First Phase of AIP

This particular Swedish university had remarkably few cases of reported misconduct in 2013: the Disciplinary Board treated 24 cases of possible misconduct. Half of these cases – concerned plagiarism (data set 1, see also Figure 4).

In the survey of 2014 (data set 2), the hypothesis that there were many unreported cases was tested through several questions, the first being whether faculty had seen signs of plagiarism in students’ work. The obtained answers showed that 81% of the faculty members (320 out of 393) indeed had seen such signs – 48% ← 135 | 136 → had seen them at least three times. Only 90% of those that had seen the signs did something about it: 10% took no further action, ignoring the signs of plagiarism altogether. Plagiarism was established in 69% of the cases, 19% answered no, and 12% of the faculty did not know whether an act of plagiarism was confirmed.

Although the procedure for reports relating to suspicion of disciplinary offences at the University stated that all cases where an attempt to mislead cannot be ruled out must be reported to the Disciplinary Board (University of Gothenburg, 2011, 2015b), only 25% followed this procedure. The majority of faculty that had seen cases of plagiarism and did react, did it in some other way, thereby violating the ordinance procedure. In several cases, the work submitted by the student was failed (21%) or had to be completed (16%). 20% of the faculty selected the free text option “other”, where several of them stated the stress factor, the disadvantages of the Disciplinary Board system, the laborious and time-consuming process, as well as the problem of proving intent, as reasons to follow a different route from the prescribed procedure. In 18% of cases there was a discussion between the student and the faculty, the Director of Studies or the Head of the department, and further action was not taken. Disciplinary measures in Sweden can only be implemented if the misconduct occurred during an examination (“Higher Education Ordinance”, Chapter 10). Several faculty members noted that the plagiarism they had seen occurred in some other context (supervision, art, plagiarism of ideas, etc.) that are not punishable by the law, and that a discussion of the problem with a student therefore was a more appropriate measure.

A clear majority of the faculty members that answered the survey (78%), informed students about plagiarism (Fig. 1). Although the majority of faculty (58%) believed they had a good knowledge of plagiarism, 20% admitted to not having enough knowledge, while 22% did not know if their knowledge was sufficient (Fig. 2). The majority (60%) responded yes to the question whether they knew there is a common plagiarism policy at the University, 24% answered no, and 16% were not sure (Fig. 3).

Numerous ideas on how to enhance the academic integrity at the University were presented in a free text format:

There might be a battery with some such small courses with self-correcting tests about what it means to write and study at the University. Now there is a lot of quiet knowledge among us teachers, and children of academicians can get knowledge from home, but that is harder to perceive for others. (Anonymous teacher)

The process when someone is suspected of having plagiarised is extremely labour-intensive for teachers and there should be more support from the University so that the rules are maintained. (Anonymous teacher) ← 136 | 137 →

Free text answers indicated that the teachers perceived a grey area regarding plagiarism; several teachers stated that the boundary between plagiarism and lack of independence often is unclear:

Plagiarism is not black or white. There are different types of plagiarism, e.g. patchwork plagiarism. (Anonymous teacher)

Second Phase of AIP

The original two sets of data (number 1 and 2) were used to implement several measures at the University.

During the early work with the AIP, it became clear that the policy for prevention of plagiarism at the University was outdated. As a part of the AIP, the policy was revised with a larger emphasis on preventive work against plagiarism. Student misconduct was divided into two levels. Level 1 plagiarism entails cases of discrepancies in a student’s academic writing due to lack of knowledge, something that should be dealt with at departmental level, and includes an implementation of pedagogical measures. Plagiarism on Level 2 entails cases where a possibility that a student may be guilty of plagiarism with intent to deceive cannot be excluded, in which case, the case must be reported to the Vice-Chancellor (University of Gothenburg, 2015b).

The policy was supplemented with a new action plan for prevention of plagiarism following a holistic approach and a clear division of responsibilities between the department level and the university level and its different units: the University library, the Unit for academic integrity, the Unit for pedagogical development of faculty, and the Disciplinary Board (University of Gothenburg, 2015a). Regular meetings of the representatives from different university units in order to discuss different aspects of the work on academic integrity were also initiated.

The revised University’s Policy for the prevention of plagiarism emphasises the importance of “students and teachers having easy access to web-published, self-instructing programmes and guides that include practice components and possibilities of self-evaluation of one’s knowledge” (University of Gothenburg, 2015b). Therefore, as a collaboration of different units at the University, a net-based interactive self-instructing resource on academic integrity was developed. The surveys from 2014 were used as a basis for the content of the course. Since the faculty survey had shown uncertainties regarding their knowledge on academic integrity and the University’s procedures, one module of the resource was specially designed for the faculty. The objective of the resource is to illustrate what plagiarism is, how it can be avoided and what happens if one plagiarises, as well as to gather information on academic integrity and prevention of plagiarism in ← 137 | 138 → one place. The target group for the resource is students and faculty who can use the course as support in their instruction and as a resource for skills development in the scope of e.g. university teacher training. In order to encourage and enable the use of the course as a module in other courses, students who have completed all components and passed all tests can get a personal certificate. The resource is placed in the Learning Management System with a link on the front page.

Information about the results of the surveys, the revised policy and the action plan, as well as the new resource, was presented in workshops and seminars on academic integrity, and at various faculty meetings in the departments. Details were also included about some particular types of plagiarism, such as contract cheating (Lancaster & Clarke, 2016; Newton & Lang, 2015; Walker & Townley, 2012), and patchwriting (Howard, 1995; Jamieson, 2016). The preventive pedagogical work including the design of assessments (Carroll & Zetterling, 2009), learning activities, and creating teaching moments (Gallant, 2017) was presented, as well as a reminder that faculty is obliged to report cases of misconduct. Departments and faculty have in turn informed their students about the resource, and in many cases included the resource as mandatory in their courses and programs.

Research has shown that one of the forums for the discussion of academic integrity could be university pedagogical training (Vehviläinen et al., 2017), something that has been done at the University where modules on academic integrity were included in several courses for the pedagogical development of the staff (i.e. courses in teaching and learning in higher education, courses for supervisors).

Third Phase of AIP

The survey that was sent in 2018 (data set 3) contained a similar set of questions as in 2014, but was partly modified and extended.

A total of 414 faculty members responded to the question whether they had seen signs of plagiarism: 52% had seen it more than 3 times, while 26% had seen it 1–2 times. 22% answered no. Of those that had seen signs of plagiarism, 4% chose not to report the plagiarism/cheating to anyone (compared to 10% in 2014), 32% reported the case only to the student, while 64% followed the University’s procedure of reporting the case to the person responsible at departmental level or directly to the Disciplinary Board. The question was adapted to the revised policy and procedure. While several faculty members in free-text answers still complained about the same factors as four years before (the stress, disadvantages of Disciplinary Board system, laborious and time-consuming process, problem of proving intent), there were nevertheless several positive comments: ← 138 | 139 →

It can be noted that a lot of work has been done over the past 18 months in central administration. Still, the process is unacceptably long from a student perspective. The information for both students and the department is now much better. It is easy to get answers from the administrators when you have questions. (Anonymous teacher)

It was several years ago and then I felt there was an uncertainty in the department about how the case should be handled. But it has evolved since then. (Anonymous teacher)

It was established that plagiarism/cheating did occur in 65% of the reported cases, in 19% the teacher did not know, and in 16% it was not established. In 48% of these cases, the case went through the Disciplinary Board. There were still cases of failing the work (13%) and completing it (9%) – a clear decrease from 21% and 16% in 2014. 11% chose “Other”.

A slight decrease can be noticed regarding the number of faculty members that answered yes to the question whether they informed their students about plagiarism in the context of their teaching compared to 2014, down from 78% to 72% (Fig. 1):

Figure 1: Informing the students about plagiarism

illustration

One explanation might be usage of the resource on academic integrity that was developed and to provide the information about plagiarism to the students. On the question of whether they used the resource, 25% answered yes, 67% no, and 8% that that it was not relevant to their work. Of those who did use the resource, 51% used the part of the resource aimed at faculty, 18% integrated it in their own courses, 35% mentioned it to their students, and 24% used it in some other way. ← 139 | 140 →

Compared with the 2014 survey, slightly more faculty members that answered the 2018 survey felt that they have sufficient knowledge on plagiarism, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: The faculty self-reported knowledge on plagiarism

illustration

Awareness of the existence of the common policy on plagiarism appears to be higher amongst the faculty members that answered the 2018 survey, compared with those that answered the same question in 2014 (Fig. 3):

Figure 3: The university policy on plagiarism

illustration

← 140 | 141 →

The information that was obtained from the Disciplinary Board at the University in 2018 (data set 4) shows that the overall number of disciplinary cases that were reported went up from 24 in 2013 to 79 in 2017. The majority of these cases, as well as those with the highest increase, were plagiarism cases, that went up from 12 (50% of overall cases in 2013) to 52 (66% of overall cases in 2017). The higher numbers in 2017 might be seen as a result of increased knowledge about misconduct amongst the faculty, including understanding of the reporting procedures, and awareness that the reporting of cases of misconduct is mandatory.

Figure 4: Amount of cases at the Disciplinary Board

illustration

The reported cases led to different outcomes (Fig. 5):

Figure 5: The outcomes of cases at the Disciplinary Board

illustration

← 141 | 142 →

The term “suspension” refers to a procedure in which a student’s actions are considered so serious that the student is prohibited for a certain amount of time (up to 6 months) from participating in activities within the framework of the university’s education.

The term “warning” refers to a disciplinary procedure where a suspension is considered disproportionate in relation to the offense. A warning does not imply any restriction on the student’s access to the university or the opportunity to acquire knowledge and complete courses.

The presence of warnings in 2017, but not in 2013, may point to the fact that a more nuanced view on plagiarism developed in agreement with the levelling of plagiarism in the revised University’s policy.

These outcomes might have been affected by a change in the composition of the Disciplinary Board, as well as the frequent discussions with other university units that work on questions of academic integrity.

Fourth phase

The Academic Integrity Project will continue at the University in the fourth phase by further improving the steps that were already taken, as well as implementing several new measures, e.g. a revision of the resource and the development of simpler and more standardised ways to report misconduct, etc. The ongoing discussion with faculty has led to several initiatives at the departmental level and within the framework of different courses and programs at the University; and these initiatives have to be evaluated and perhaps implemented on a larger scale. A follow-up student survey has also been sent to all students at the University to be compared with results from the student survey conducted in 2014.

Conclusion

Although universities in Sweden have done a lot to enhance academic integrity – by having policies for dealing with plagiarism, using text-matching systems, having different initiatives to educate students, and action plans to deal with cases of suspected misconduct – there is room for improvement when it comes to educating faculty regarding questions of academic integrity.

The Academic Integrity Project has shown that educating the faculty is a central part of creating a culture of integrity at the university. This approach to academic integrity shows the importance of integrating the discussion of strategies regarding academic integrity in courses for teaching and learning in higher education, in courses for supervisors, as well as in other trainers’ formats. The results of ← 142 | 143 → this analysis show that the education of the faculty has a clear impact on their willingness to report cases of misconduct. The present study also gives additional information on the faculty’s views on plagiarism.

In the holistic model of work on academic integrity, we need to supply faculty with knowledge about academic integrity, develop their skills of teaching about it, teach them what to do when students do not meet the standards of academic integrity, and educate them how to deal with cases of misconduct. We have to train the trainers.

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1 PhD, Senior Lecturer at Department of Modern Languages, Uppsala University; Associated Researcher at Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics, Uppsala University; Pedagogical Developer, Unit for Pedagogical Development and Interactive Learning, University of Gothenburg, sonja.bjelobaba@gu.se