A Student has been assigned to the task of her first scientific paper for the school. In addition to a title page, table of contents, bibliography and an affidavit, this contains an abstract with approximately 150 words, an introduction with approximately 6000 characters and a brief summary. Students should also cite and refer to scientific sources. The complete work should comprise 15-20 pages.
A lot of work, she thinks and remembers her sister, who discontentedly wrote a pre-scientific paper two years ago. And that’s where she suddenly gets the idea. She could simply choose the same topic and hand in her sister’s work. After all, two years laid between both papers and the teachers were different. So why not?
Every year, students in Austria’s secondary schools write a vorwissenschaftliche Arbeit (VwA) – a pre-scientific paper to prepare students for scientific work at universities.
The temptation to plagiarize
The requirements for scientific papers are considerable. The strict guidelines and intensity of research and writing cause some students to despair. The temptation to find easier ways in the midst of the stressful situation is high. The easiest way: plagiarizing. This often leads to copying content from a source or handing in previously written work. Most Students know how difficult it is for teachers to expose plagiarism manually. Some students are willing to take the risk and try to get away with the stolen intellectual property.
How the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF) promotes and protects scientific work
Since 2015, the BMBWF has been using PlagScan as plagiarism software, which is integrated into the cooperating administration interface of EduGroup. Thus, all uploaded works are immediately checked for plagiarism. Internet sources, as well as internal archives, are scanned. The VwA database – a database particularly created for the VwA papers – contains all uploaded works from previous years, which identifies previously uploaded contents if students chose to plagiarize from old papers.
The final plagiarism reports show the results of the plagiarism detection. Teachers can focus on evaluating the content of the work – rather than checking it for originality – which guarantees a more relaxed evaluation process.
Most importantly, however, is to raise awareness about plagiarism, proper scientific work and citations, which can reduce plagiarism in the first place. Gentle pedagogical pressure encourages students to take a scientific approach to their work.
“Since our students know that all VwAs are being examined for plagiarism, the students’ awareness of proper citation has grown significantly,” said Anna Lasselsberger from the BMBWF.
What standardization means for education
In most parts of the world, educational regulations are defined and summarized in small, local solutions. The varying standards create inequality and sometimes even unfair evaluations of students. What may seem important in some educational institutions may be irrelevant in cities and vice versa.
An educational standard for all means not only creating a final and fair guideline but also evaluating all students on the basis of the same evaluation standard. For example, some teachers who conduct plagiarism checking manually, only check the papers of “the usual suspects,” while students who may be more skilled in cheating can get away with a poor academic performance. Using automatic plagiarism detection for standard security guarantees that all learners are checked in the same way and, if necessary, educated about errors.
Austria expands standardization
More than 300 Austrian secondary schools participate in the standardized evaluation process of the VwAs. In 2017, the BMBWF announced to expand the software to vocational schools. The central organization of education in Austria has already produced positive results: Nationwide standards simplify the instruction of various academic papers, teachers follow standardized procedures in the assessment process and students achieve a universal level of education by adhering to defined guidelines.
If you want to read more about the BMBWF and their decision to use PlagScan, you can find an interview here.