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Book Reviews

Connie Strittmatter and Virginia K. Bratton. Teaching Plagiarism Prevention to College Students: An Ethics-Based Approach. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016. 158p. Hardbound, $75.00 (ISBN 1-4422-6440-3). LC 2016-012049.

Book cover for Teaching Plagiarism Prevention to College Students: An Ethics-Based Approach

“The goal of this book is to introduce a new approach for delivering plagiarism prevention instruction.” Stated in the preface, the authors start with their goal for the book and work backward. Plagiarism is an unethical behavior, so changing student attitudes toward this behavior is the key to decreasing plagiarism rates. Written by Connie Strittmatter, the head librarian for access services at Boston College, and Virginia K. Bratton, an associate professor of management in the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship at Montana State University, this book is for librarians and primary course instructors who provide plagiarism prevention instruction. Plagiarism prevention instruction should exist at the institutional level, or at the very least, the departmental level to constitute change.

Teaching Plagiarism Prevention to College Students is broken into three parts. Part I focuses on plagiarism and academic integrity as an ethical issue. The public turns to institutions of higher education to help students consider their ethical choices, because academic dishonesty is a widespread and growing problem today. Unfortunately, unethical behavior in college usually leads to the same in work contexts, because the social and cultural systems that make up our society influence our ethical beliefs and decision making. There is little doubt that the ethical climate of a university is shaped by that university’s academic code of conduct and its enforcement of it. Stated multiple times in the first two chapters, responsibility needs to shift from faculty to student.

In Part II, the book introduces Plagiarism and Ethics Awareness Training, or PEAT, and focuses on instructional techniques for incorporating it into the curriculum. PEAT should be combined with traditional plagiarism prevention instruction, and it is important to establish realistic expectations and outcomes when designing PEAT. The primary outcome is to increase ethical sensitivity to academic integrity violations by helping students consider all those affected. Chapter 3 then focuses on transformative pedagogical strategies that can be used during a PEAT session, such as ethics instruction, problem-based discussion, and role-playing, while chapter 4 builds off the previous chapter and provides exercises to include in a PEAT session. The main outcome for each session is to “increase ethical awareness and sensitivity to plagiarism-related issues.” The authors state that one or more instruction sessions will most likely not change student ethical behaviors. However, the sessions do have a chance to increase a student’s ethical sensitivity. Chapter 5 discusses techniques for successful implementation of the PEAT curriculum, most notably on how to lead effective discussions, role-playing activities, and the online teaching environment. This chapter also discusses potential problems, such as a lack of participation or problem students.

Part III moves from PEAT instruction to assessing the effectiveness of PEAT for its continued survival. As the topic of this book is to present plagiarism as an ethical issue, it is vital to assess both the changing attitudes toward plagiarism and the practical knowledge and skills obtained from the instruction. In chapter 6, the authors examine participant reactions of the training program’s relevance, content and activities, setting, and the instructor’s behavior. These are important factors to examine if one is looking to improve training while also providing meaningful data to create performance standards for similar future programs. Sample questionnaires and assessment questions are included, which instructors may find particularly useful.

Chapter 7 analyzes the impact by looking at student behavior and other outcomes. It is possible that the learned knowledge and skills might not transfer into changed behaviors, but patterned interviews and surveys can produce meaningful data nonetheless. Included are plagiarism relapse prevention strategies and a brief discussion about calculating ROI, or Return on Investment. Chapter 8 illustrates strategies, guidelines, and suggestions for presenting a clear case to key stakeholder groups on the training program’s impact on student behavior and attitudes toward plagiarism. While attitudes are difficult to observe, communicating training results is just as important as collecting those results. Communications should be tailored to specific stakeholder groups, communicated by the appropriate channels, regular, reliable, impartial, and planned. Potential stakeholder groups range from university leadership, to the instructors and participants, to society.

The final chapter presents a holistic plagiarism prevention plan that builds on concepts each year and is reinforced throughout a curriculum. Plagiarism is an unethical and unacceptable behavior. Integrating plagiarism prevention instruction has the potential to create ethical students who will then become ethical professionals.

PEAT is necessary in the college setting; however, it does come with many potential challenges. While PEAT is better with small to medium class sizes, it can be implemented in larger classes with additional work or in an online environment. It may be especially difficult to embed PEAT into school curriculum if class sizes are large. In addition, it has been shown that spaced practice is more effective than massed practice; unfortunately, most instructors might not have the time to dedicate to prolonged PEAT training.

Academic and workplace behavior intersect. Teaching Plagiarism Prevention to College Students: An Ethics-Based Approach, written by a university librarian and an associate professor, is a practical guide that has the potential to help librarians, instructors, and students understand the effects of plagiarism. With detailed strategies and assessment tools throughout the book, teaching plagiarism prevention can be done on a massive scale to ensure that plagiarism is understood as an unethical behavior with severe consequences. Use this book as a guide to foster a culture of academic integrity by addressing plagiarism as an ethical issue.—Marisa Soltz, California State University, Long Beach

Copyright Marisa Soltz


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