Sunday, 14 December 2014

Plagiarism and student expectations

Instrumental values can be defined as the mindset we each consider appropriate to use in reaching our goals, or the journey; end values are our views about the goals that we want to reach, or the destination (Daft, 2008). An instrumental values oriented person might, for example, think that we need to be honourable in striving for learning, so the our goal is knowing we have done our best. An end values person might be expedient in how they reach their goal: it is the outcome that is the most important thing.

Why are end values and instrumental values important? Because they indicate how we are likely react when we have the opportunity to cheat.

Roberts (2008, p. 2) cites the University of Oxford (2007), in defining plagiarism as "is the copying or paraphrasing of other people’s work or ideas into your own work without full acknowledgement". In other words, we use someone else's hard work as if it were our own: we pass off another's creativity as ours by neglecting to mention their input. Oxford's definition makes it clear that this is not merely the copying another's words; plagiarism is also our reworded copying of another's ideas, without crediting the owner.

What I find interesting is that plagiarism is apparently more of a problem today than it has been in the past. Roberts (2008), Pecorari (2008), Haviland & Mullin (2009) think this is largely due to access to a broad range of source documents via the internet and to cheat-sites. Roberts further suggests that if students think they can get away with it, they will absolutely "optimiz[e] their time and resources by plagiarizing" (2008, p. 2). I think Roberts is being too broad-brush here: I still think the likelihood of cheating comes back to an individual's position on instrumental versus end values.

Roberts (2008) reports a Canadian plagiarism questionnaire where over 50% of undergraduates volunteered that they had plagiarised. However, Roberts notes that as the results are self-reported, it is likely that these numbers are the tip of the iceberg. Williams (2008) and Zimitat (2008, as cited by Roberts, 2008) respectively report 70% and 81% of surveyees admit plagiarism; with Williams also noting that 44% of faculty will turn a blind eye rather than tackle the issue.

These numbers are significant. To me this indicates that we are passing a vast number of graduates who habitually cheat in order to complete their coursework. Some of our institutions are producing graduates who display very expedient behaviours: who are focused on end values rather than on instrumental values.

I find it sad that these students have forgotten to enjoy the journey, and to learn. Additionally, end values oriented students are likely to cause more problems for employers.


  • Daft, Richard L. (2008). The Leadership Experience (Fourth Edition). USA: Thomson South-Western.
  • Fijn, Ellie (2014). I Stole This Title! Perceptions of Plagiarism. Nelson, New Zealand: NMIT Working Paper.
  • Haviland, Carol Peterson & Mullin, Joan A.(2009). Who Owns This Text? Plagiarism, Authorship, and Disciplinary Cultures. USA: Utah State University Press  
  • Howard, Rebecca Moore & Davies, Laura J.(2009). Image: "plagiarism.jpg". Retrieved 14 December 2014 from 
  • Pecorari, Diane (2008). Academic Writing and Plagiarism: A linguistic analysis. UK: Continuum International Publishing Group
  • Roberts, Tim S. (2008). Student Plagiarism in an Online World: Problems and Solutions. Australia: Information Science Reference
  • Williams, Heidi (2008). Plagiarism: Issues That Concern You. USA: Gale, Cengage Learning

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