Student Plagiarism Within the Framework of Rational Choice Theory

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Introduction

The issue of student plagiarism remains topical in the academic environment. Indeed, students often opt for appropriating others’ ideas in the course of their work, thus impeding their own learning process. The 21st century has introduced significant technological advancements, including those aiming at detecting and preventing plagiarism. Nevertheless, the issue persists, as students choose to plagiarize despite existing instruments. It happens for a variety of reasons, but there are theories that may provide a comprehensive understanding of the problem’s origin. The purpose of this essay is to research the issue of student plagiarism and its relation to the rational choice theory.

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The Concept of Plagiarism

Plagiarism, as a term, is universally known, whereas its understanding varies depending on the context. In general, this notion implies incorrect use or appropriation of others’ intellectual property. According to the general understanding, intellectual property rights comprise works of art, music, literature, patents, and inventions. As far as academic plagiarism is concerned, it primarily implies the wrongful appropriation of other researchers’ ideas and findings without proper referencing to the original studies. In fact, Shukla and Maurya (2017) state that the term has its origins in the Latin language, from which the verb “plagiare” is translated as “to kidnap”. Therefore, the initial understanding of plagiarism evokes associations with a serious crime. Overall, the definition of plagiarism in today’s academic environment can be summarized as presenting ideas and other scholars’ works as one’s own original research.

While this concept has been receiving increasing attention in the academic field, it has been an area of intense interest for a long time. Ba et al. (2017) say that the issue of plagiarism in higher education has been known since the 18th century. However, the problem of plagiarism in academic writing and education has become especially topical nowadays. Evidently, such a tendency has appeared due to modern technological advancements in terms of Internet use and accessibility. Indeed, students and researchers of the 21st century have gained access to immense knowledge databases, which lower the necessity of thorough, autonomous research. Copying others’ words and pasting them in one’s own paper is the easiest approach to follow, but currently, there are advanced plagiarism detection tools. Such tools aim at making plagiarism more difficult for students to the point when original research seems easier than stealing other researchers’ ideas. In addition, Michalak et al. (2017) suggest that librarians should take an active part in plagiarism prevention work with students. Nevertheless, the problem persists and serves as a significant barrier on the path to quality education.

Student Plagiarism Statistics

Overall, plagiarism remains a significant factor in today’s educational environment. The attempts to regulate its level include more advanced and sophisticated plagiarism detection tools, as well as strict rules in terms of students’ work originality. However, the tendency of plagiarism in higher education persists, as stated by Jereb et al. (2018). Nowadays, researchers attempt to understand the primary driving factors of student plagiarism and statistical tendencies through a series of studies conducted internationally. First of all, the researchers face the problem of determining the frequency of plagiarism in higher education. Pierce and Zilles (2017) studied the issue and reported that most cases of plagiarism were isolated. Additionally, plagiarism positively correlated with current assignment marks, while demonstrating an opposite tendency in respect to final examination (Pierce & Zilles, 2017). Bruton and Childers (2016) state that a large portion of plagiarism instances turn out to be unintentional on behalf of the students. Furthermore, Bokosmaty et al. (2019) tested the hypothesis of men’s higher predisposition to plagiarize and concluded that sex was not a substantial factor. Accordingly, most cases of plagiarism are unintentional, and no correlation with gender was found.

The geography of plagiarism statistics research comprised several regions, including Asia, North America, Australia, and Europe. Ehrich et al. (2016) compared the plagiarism attitudes of Australian and Chinese students, concluding that most of the individuals in both countries demonstrated a lack of understanding regarding the issue. Chen and Chou (2017) state that students demonstrated different opinions on plagiarism depending on their major and those who studied Arts or Communication were more likely to object to plagiarism in any form. Ba et al. (2017) studied 681 cases of plagiarism and calculated a median similarity index of 29%. Simultaneously, de Maio et al. (2020) refer to academics who deem the system’s response to student plagiarism inconsistent. Pecorari and Shaw (2018) note that significant resources are allocated to augment the response, which confirms the complex nature of this issue. Overall, statistics demonstrate an alarmingly high level of student plagiarism in the academic environment, which is not determined by sex, nationality, or location. Therefore, the issue in question exists on a global scale and requires additional attention, as well as accurate preventive measures.

Rational Choice Theory

In fact, students choose to plagiarise when completing their assignments for a range of reasons. While the scope is broad, and numerous classifications exist, it is possible to examine the students’ motivation within the framework of particular decision-making theories. The rational choice theory is one of the models that aim at identifying the individuals’ action reasons. Loughran et al. (2016) state that this theory has become especially significant in an array of fields, such as economics, political and social sciences, and psychology. According to the general understanding of the rational choice theory, every individual follows the principle of maximum utilization when having to make a decision (Dowding, 2019). In other words, prior to deciding how to act, the person attempts to determine the most beneficial course of action. At the same time, they compare potential advantages to possible costs entailed by their decision. If the former outweighs the latter, the person may decide to follow the corresponding scenario. Therefore, the theory in question suggests that every individual follows the most beneficial way, according to his or her understanding.

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On the other hand, one may assume that the theory implies frequent conflicts of interest. As mentioned above, individuals are expected to opt for rational choice in all situations. However, this decision-making paradigm is affected by mental disorders. According to Ray et al. (2020), elevated psychopathy is connected to the way the perpetrator perceives the possibility of arrest. Generally, each person has their own mindset, meaning that there is no universally acceptable course of action for everyone. Therefore, when an individual acts following their own cost and benefit analysis, it may be considered the opposite of rational or appropriate by other parties involved. At the same time, there are people who put more value on the interests of others when making decisions. Paternoster et al. (2017) conducted relevant research and concluded that individuals with other-regarding preferences are less likely to commit a dangerous activity, such as driving under the influence of alcohol. In the case of criminology and law enforcement, certain sanctions are expected to deter potential perpetrators, even if the latter are self-oriented. In other words, the idea consists of inevitable punishment’s capability of outweighing the crime benefits.

Rational Choice Theory and Plagiarism

The rational choice theory is effectively applied in a variety of settings, making it a suitable instrument for plagiarism examination. While the research shows that the majority of students either choose not to plagiarize or plagiarize unintentionally, the percentage of those who steal ideas on purpose is still significant. Therefore, it is important to identify the factors motivating students to plagiarize, and the rational choice theory may help to do so. Generally, the theory suggests that such students see plagiarism as the most beneficial way of completing their assignments. On the one hand, it allows them to finish the work quickly and save time, which falls into the category of benefits. On the other hand, the rational choice theory suggests the presence of counter-factors or losses.

In this scenario, potential losses would become real if the fact of plagiarism were to be discovered, which is highly likely using modern technological advancements. The consequences of plagiarism for students might include unsatisfactory marks for the assignment, reproach by the teachers, or other disciplinary punishments. Nevertheless, such measures do not seem to be significant enough to have the possibility to prevent students from plagiarizing. Accordingly, as the rational choice theory suggests, the benefit and cost analysis demonstrates that the former prevails. As a result, students decide to risk having their plagiarism exposed, as the punishment does not seem sufficiently severe from their points of view. It is possible to assume that the described scenario is present during regular assignments, whereas the risks may be significant during the final examination. As a result, students who get away with plagiarism throughout the year learn less than their peers who actually conduct research. Therefore, the former face a higher risk of failure at the final examination.

However, the theory may be used in reverse, as well. As mentioned above, the majority of students choose not to plagiarize, which may be explained by differences in their worldviews in comparison to those who steal others’ ideas. The rational choice theory implies that such students conduct the same cost and benefit analysis but come to the opposite conclusion. Therefore, the effort required for the completion of an original study is outweighed by the potential risks of plagiarism exposure. It may be possible to assume that this scenario exists in the cases of successful students who are interested in their education, while their less motivated counterparts resort to plagiarism.

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Summary and Conclusion

In conclusion, student plagiarism persists in the academic setting, proving to be detrimental to the education system. The issue has been known for several centuries, but it has become especially topical in recent years due to technological progress. In fact, information has become accessible, making it easier to steal others’ ideas without conducting proper research. The problem can be examined through the prism of the rational choice theory, which suggests that a person makes their choice as a cost and benefit analysis result. In this case, students find that the benefits of plagiarizing others’ ideas are superior to potential consequences. As a result, such students do not develop proper academic skills and fail in the final stages of studying or during practical work. While the percentage of students who plagiarize intentionally is not critical, the issue remains topical and requires additional attention.

References

Ba, K. D., Ba, K. D., Lam, Q. D., Binh An Le, D. T., Nguyen, P. L., Nguyen, P. Q., & Pham, Q. L. (2017). Student plagiarism in higher education in Vietnam: An empirical study. Higher Education Research & Development, 36(5), 934–946.

Bokosmaty, S., Ehrich, J., Eady, M. J., & Bell, K. (2017). Canadian university students’ gendered attitudes toward plagiarism. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43(2), 276–290.

Bruton, S., & Childers, D. (2016). The ethics and politics of policing plagiarism: A qualitative study of faculty views on student plagiarism and Turnitin®. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(2), 316–330.

Chen, Y., & Chou, C. (2016). Are we on the same page? College students’ and faculty’s perception of student plagiarism in Taiwan. Ethics & Behavior, 27(1), 53–74.

De Maio, C., Dixon, K., & Yeo, S. (2020). Responding to student plagiarism in Western Australian universities: The disconnect between policy and academic staff. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 42(1), 102–116.

Dowding, K. (2019). Rational choice and political power. Bristol University Press.

Ehrich, J., Howard, S. J., Mu, C., & Bokosmaty, S. (2016). A comparison of Chinese and Australian university students’ attitudes towards plagiarism. Studies in Higher Education, 41(2), 231–246.

Jereb, E., Urh, M., Jerebic, J., & Šprajc, P. (2018). Gender differences and the awareness of plagiarism in higher education. Social Psychology of Education, 21, 409–426.

Loughran, T. A., Paternoster, R., Chaflin, A., & Wilson, T. (2016). Can the rational choice be considered a general theory of crime? Evidence from individual‐level panel data. Criminology, 54(1), 86-112.

Michalak, R., Rysavy, M., Hunt, K., Smith, B., & Worden, J. (2017). Faculty perceptions of plagiarism: Insight for librarians’ information literacy programs. College & Research Libraries, 79(6), 747.

Paternoster, R., Jaynes, C. M., & Wilson, T. (2017). Rational choice theory and interest in the “fortune of others.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 54(6), 847–868.

Pecorari, D., & Shaw, P. (Eds.). (2018). Student plagiarism in higher education: Reflections on teaching practice. Routledge.

Pierce, J., & Zilles, C. (2017). Investigating student plagiarism patterns and correlations to grades. SIGCSE ’17: Proceedings of the 2017 ACM SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, 471–476.

Ray, J. V., Baker, T., & Caudi, M. S. (2020). Revisiting the generality of rational choice theory: Evidence for general patterns but differential effects across varying levels of psychopathy. Journal of Criminal Justice, 66.

Shukla, A., & Maurya, S. K. (2017). Plagiarism detection and avoidance consequences in the academic world. International Journal of Library and Information Science, 4(4), 6–13.

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