Flipped Marking and Plagiarism Avoidance in a Digital Age

Flipped Marking and Plagiarism Avoidance in a Digital Age

Jaime Paris, University of British Columbia: jamie.paris@gmail.com

Peer-reviewed by: Christine McWebb, University of Waterloo.

Abstract / Résumé

While plagiarism in digital classrooms has been am important topic of discussion in the literature on post-secondary teaching and learning, too often this discussion has been framed in unhelpful polemic and moral terms. In contrast, this paper argues that using a peer-evaluation flipped marking system in a learning management system (LMS) as part of a plagiarism deterrence strategy can help to create a learning environment where students engage with the ideas of their peers and begin to feel like their ideas matter to others. In such a climate, students may feel less alienated from the university community and more connected to the class and their peers, and as such, they may be less likely to plagiarise their work. A way to deal with plagiarism is to help students become engaged with their peers as fellow academics and as members of micro academic communities.

Bien que le plagiat dans les salles de classe numérique soit un sujet important de discussions dans la documentation sur l'enseignement et l'apprentissage post secondaire, trop souvent, la discussion est encadrée de termes de morale et de polémique inutiles. En contraste, cet essai soutient qu'en utilisant un barème de notation renversé d'évaluation par des pairs dans le cadre d'un système de gestion d'apprentissage comme stratégie pour dissuader le plagiat, on peut aider à créer un environnement d'apprentissage dans lequel les étudiants participent aux idées de leurs pairs et sont amenés à penser que leurs idées peuvent être importantes pour les autres. Dans un tel climat, les étudiants se sentiront moins en marge de la communauté universitaire et plus rattachés à leur classe et à leurs pairs, et ainsi, ils pourraient avoir moins tendance à plagier leur travail. Un moyen de traiter le plagiat est d'aider les étudiants à devenir plus engagés envers leurs pairs comme académiciens associés et comme membres de micro communautés académiques.


Flipped classroom, flipped marking, plagiarism, peer editing

Plagiarism is frequently discussed in the post-secondary educational (PSE) literature in polemic terms as a crisis (Decoo 2002; Sutherland-Smith 2008), as an epidemic (Callahan 2004; Howard 2000), or as a symptom of the culture of cheating among millennials (Callahan 2004). As such, university instructors are increasingly turning to plagiarism detection software as a risk mitigation measure, even though university plagiarism may not be as pervasive in practice as is implied by the media (Scanlon 2003). Furthermore, it is not clear that plagiarism detection software in and of itself reduces instances of plagiarism in writing intensive classes (Walker 2010). As Savage argues, both students and instructors view plagiarism detection software as a deterrent to internet-assisted plagiarism while not necessarily seeing it as a solution to the so-called plagiarism crisis (2004). As MacDonald notes, the goal for educators should not be to merely catch those who cheat, but "to set assessment tasks which cannot be carried out satisfactorily simply by copying or paraphrasing any previously available material" (2004, 37). Further, as McDowell and Brown note (2001), there are four primary methods of deterring plagiarism and cheating: using strict controls, making the rules about plagiarism and cheating clear before the assignment is due, designing assessment instruments that make cheating difficult, and developing a climate that will reduce the likelihood of cheating. This paperwill argue that using a peer-evaluation flipped marking system in a learning management system (LMS) as part of a plagiarism deterrence strategy that can help to create a learning environment where students engage with the ideas of their peers and begin to feel like their ideas matter to others. In such a climate, students may feel less alienated from the university community, more connected to the class and their peers, and as such, they may be less likely to plagiarise their work. A way to deal with plagiarism is to help students become engaged with their peers as fellow academics and as members of micro academic communities.

tudents cheat and plagiarise on written assignments in English classes for a number of reasons, many of which have to do with stress and a sense of being disconnected from the class and the material, and some of which have to do with a general sense of alienation that students can feel at university. Plagiarism detection software may catch some cheaters, but using this kind of deterrent on its own does not teach academic honesty and the use of it can poison the classroom environment because it begins discussions of plagiarism from the assumption that students will cheat if they are not properly monitored (Williams 2008). The ethics of how turnitin identifies plagiarists are also suspect (Jenson and De Castell 2004). My concern with the ethics of turnitin is two-fold. Not unlike the NSA scandal, turnitin works by assuming that all students may cheat, and therefore, that all students ought to be monitored and tracked for cheating. In contrast, I would suggest that anti-plagiarism software ought to be used in cases wherethe instructor has cause to suspect that the student is cheating. Secondly, I am concerned that tools like turnitin teach students to avoid being influenced by others—be it their peers, things they read on the internet, or other academics—out of fear of being influenced and accidentally plagiarising. Thus, rather than teaching students how to be members of a flourishing, ethical, academic community, turnitin teaches students to understand their work as "good" only when it is wholly original and not influenced by others. Furthermore, I am not convinced that tools like turnitin do much more than police a pre-digital age ideal of originality. As Jenson and De Castell note, both the epistemology and the ethics of teaching and learning in university settings are being "destabilized by new technology," and the way that turnitin makes a fetish of originality as the marker of scholarly integrity is becoming more and more difficult to justify (2004, 312). Finally, I am suspicious of the ethics of using turnitin as a plagiarism deterrent tool, as Dahl argues, plagiarism has become an ambiguous, amorphous, idea and "[t]he finer details about what constituted plagiarism and what [does] not are contested, and in fact are often different from one subject area to another even within the same school or university" (2007, 174).

So, if I am not convinced by turnitin as a panacea for deterring plagiarism, what am I offering as a realistic and ethical alternative? To be clear, I think that fighting plagiarism is a worthwhile educational endeavor and those who intentionally break the rules ought to be punished; however, what is frequently not taken into account in these conversations is that a reason that plagiarism is so offensive within academic communities is that instances of plagiarism by established academics break down the trusting communities academics have established with each other. Thus, plagiarism, is not just a problem because it is a sign that students did not do the work assigned to them, rather, it is a problem because academic communities can only do the work they do if the members of those communities trust each other to be honest. The reason that students ought to be failed, suspended, or expelled if they are caught cheating is that such instances of academic dishonesty, if left unchecked, harm the entire academic community. Thus, to fight plagiarism I am arguing that students need to be told not to cheat and to be punished it they do, but I am also arguing that students need to be taught how to become invested members of an academic community. The plagiarism crisis, I am arguing, can be best addressed by using tools that encourage and privilege community building rather than by using tools that encourage academic isolation.

One of the ways of preventing plagiarism within smaller classrooms is to use scholarly engagement with ideas, peers, and the instructor as ways of making students feel like they are engaged and valued members of an academic community. In my own classes, I do this by encouraging students to peer-edit each other's work, to work in groups, and to remix and rewrite the work of other academics and content creators. This approach to academic community building is not new. In Hutchenson's discussion ofusing oral presentations to reduce the instances of plagiarism in business courses, she argues that one of the values of getting students to give oral presentations is that "they will have to face their teacher and classmates in person and thus have a more personal connection with the work they produce"(2009, 51). What Hutchenson does not say but implies, is that students who present their work before their peers and instructors develop and foster micro-academic communities with those around them. They submit their work before the community for feedback and evaluation, and in doing so they implicitly gesture to their community that their ideas matter to their classmates and, in turn, their classmates' ideas about their work matter to them.

Oral presentations, peer editing, and collaborative writing are all tools to help students create what Stanley Fish calls an "interpretative community," where the members of the community are all responsible for producing knowledge and helping others produce knowledge (1980). The difficulty of creating scholarly communities in university English classes is one of size. In small classes of ten to thirty students this can be done simply by assigning students to work together on writing and editing assignments in or outside of class time. At a larger research university like the University of British Columbia (UBC), for example, a first-year English class can have between fifty and 150 students and, in such a learning environment, it would be unrealistic for students to give oral presentations before a paper. This problem is exacerbated in digital learning environments where enrollmentscan be between 100 and 100, 000 students. In such a setting, students can feel disconnected from each other and from the instructor teaching the class; what is lost in larger classes is the kind of dialogic peer-learning that smaller, interpretative communities can provide.

The large and digital university classroom however, can allow students to act as members of a lively scholarly community by allowing students more freedom to mark and comment on each others' papers in digital spaces. While "orality" cannot be recreated in large classes, getting students to post their essays before submission in an LMS, on Google Docs, or on a classroom wiki can allow their peers the opportunity to read and comment on the work of their colleagues and peers. Such a "flipping" of the marking paradigm could have two advantages. Firstly, rather than getting feedback from one or two expert readers, students would produce work for their scholarly community and they could be, in turn, ensured that their work will be read by a wider audience of peers. Secondly, for a flipped marking model to work, students would have to be taught how to provide useful and constructive dialogic feedback on each other's work (Boud and Molloy 2013). There is, however, an implicit trade-off in such a model. In the current model, the students are marked by an instructor-expert who knows the field and can, if not overburdened by their marking load, provide the students with expert feedback. In a flipped marking model students will get more feedback, but from less expert sources. However, if the assignment is well designed, it is possible for students to first get feedback on their assignment from their peers on an LMS weeks before the final paper is due and can use that feedback to help craft the final paper that the instructor will read. In other words, it is possible, and ideal, to have a "both/and" marking model within this flipped marking paradigm. For this to work, the creation of an interpretative community would have to be a learning outcome of the class, and as such, students will learn more about writing and evaluation. Such meta-critical knowledge may make students more aware of university pedagogy and could encourage them to be more self-conscious in their own writing. Furthermore, marks need to be on the table for the peer-learning portion. Students should be marked by their peers and, if possible, the quality of student feedback should be evaluated by the instructor. This can be done by having the students hand in a portfolio of the entire assignment (the draft they posted on the LMS and the final draft) and their written comments on other people's drafts. Ideally, instructors would also ask the students to hand in a small reflective assignment where students could comment on what they learned from the experience.

Such a scholarly community cannot be produced merely through a technological utopianism. Students will have to have the importance of timely, respectful, and useful feedback explained to them since, as Moore and Teather argue, "[s]tudents are motivated to engage with and use feedback when the immediate utility of that feedback is clear" (2012, 1). Creating a peer-review system, then, is an expensive pedagogical investment, not in the least because it will force the instructor to give up acertain amount of power to the students. However, the rewards of this investment may be students who are more engaged with their class and their peers, and are more motivated to pursue research topics that they think will excite their scholarly community. Such a classroom may be less alienating than the current model, where students go to lectures, listen to the "sage on the stage," and then submit their work to a professor who may never even get to know their name. While increasing engagement by itself will not eliminate plagiarism, my argument is that creating a scholarly community for the students is a frequently overlooked element of the student-plagiarism discussion. If instructors take the time to create peer-review systems, increase engagement, and create assignments that are challenging and difficult to cheat on, then instances of plagiarism should decrease.

Flipping the marking paradigm

Since Alison King' groundbreaking argument for flipping the classroom paradigm in "From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side" (1993), the idea of the "flipped" or inverted classroom has been important in recent pedagogical thinking about post-secondary education. For King, the production of effective students is dependent on producing a generation of students who are expected "to think for themselves, pose and solve complex problems, and generally produce knowledge rather than reproduce it" (1993, 30). The shift is from students as passive receivers of knowledge to students as agents who are expected to take some control over their educational outcomes. To me, the key to King's insight is that a redistribution of time and power is needed within the university community. Robert Talbert argues that the way that post-secondary educators allocate time in a university classroom is inefficient because students are asked to come to class to hear the professor and take notes (2012). Students can do this work at home, according to Talbert and advocates of the flipped learning classroom model, by listening to pre-recorded videos of the lectures, and they can use their valuable time with the professors to ask questions, explore ideas, and try out new ideas with an expert in the room who can offer them advice, tips, and corrections. As Salman Kahn notes in his TED talk, one of the major advantages of providing educational content online is that it gives the students the power to pause, rewind, and slow down lectures without having to worry that they are misusing the teacher's time (2011). Peter Norvig says that the problem of flipping the classroom is urgent because the way we teach has not changed much since the fourteenth century (2012). Modern technology, Norvig argues, can lead to a better, more integrated smart classroom (2012). Such a classroom need not be bound by the brick and mortar walls of the modern university. Class time and expertise are valued in a flipped marking paradigm, and the idea that students should get their lectures outside of class time has to do with the idea that time in the classroom should be spent with students talking to an instructor and building both critical thinking skills and community. Where I disagree with King's work however, is her focus on individuality. Students do not just need to learn how to think for themselves; students and instructors must to learn how to think and work with each other, under the assumption that knowledge production can be a communal activity.

However, lectures are not where the humanities can "flip" the classroom because most humanities classes are already blending lecture and discussion in their delivery of materials. Rather, it is at the level of marking where the instructor still holds most, if not all of the power to assign grades. Typically in English classes, students write papers for their instructor or teaching assistant and they can be sure that at least one person will read and evaluate their ideas. These papers are then returned, with a grade, and this ends the paper's life cycle unless, in rare cases, the paper is considered to be so good that the instructor or teaching assistant encourages the student to publish their work in an academic journal or to submit the work to the department for a prize. Moving towards a flipped marking paradigm will not happen easily in the humanities, especially in a discipline like English, because there is a strong bias that students simply do not have the expertise to properly evaluate each other's work. As Boud and Molloy argue, there is a widespread resistance in academia to changing the way that we evaluate student writing (2012). For Boud and Molloy, a radical change in marking is needed if instructors want to have "a pervasive and sustained influence on learning" (2012, 699). The place to make this change is early in a scholar' career, so as to reinforce to them that their ideas arevaluable, worthy of attention by their peers, and that peer feedback can help them to feel like valued members of their community.

Plagiarism detection programs disempower students at a moment in their academic careers when they most need to be encouraged to work with others and take their ideas into account. The goal of a university education ought to be instruction, engagement, and empowerment. An issue in student evaluation is the redistribution of power. As Sarah Mann notes in Study, Power, and the University, the teaching done in higher education is neither neutral nor natural: it is implicated in the system of power that authorise its existence, and while it can lead to student empowerment, it can also disempower and demotivate students (2008, 5). Post-secondary education, for Mann, can offer students "an enlarged understanding of their world and a capacity to act in it in positive and reflective ways" but it can also "alienate, waste opportunity and limit potential" (2008, 5). Plagiarism detection programs teach students to fear being unoriginal or of accidentally making a mistake rather than encouraging them to take risks and freely express themselves.


In closing, then, this paper is suggesting that students have grown up writing in a world where their ideas circulate, and where getting an idea to circulate gives them social capital. A blog post can be read by hundreds of people, commented upon, and shared and by writing blog posts, students can learn and grow as writers and develop communities of people who sharethe same interests. In contrast, in the academy students will write a paper for a teaching assistant and the professor may also see the paper, and perhaps they will even have a hand in evaluating the paper, but that is it. Student papers do not circulate, they are not shared, and their peers may never see them and never comment on them. The student gains a mark, and perhaps valuable feedback on their writing from a recognised expert, but they do not gain any sense of being a valued member of a wider academic community where they can both teach, and be taught by, their peers as readers and writers of each other's work. There is little chance that their ideas, labour, and writing will circulate beyond the initial expert evaluation of their work. Therefore, the student is asked to put an enormous amount of work into a paper that only one or two people will seeand evaluate. A pleasure of academic writing comes from seeing one's ideas circulate within a larger academic community. By getting students to post their essays for each other, we can offer the same kind of pleasures to our students while at the same time, teach students to be participating members of the academic community.

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