The impact of text-generating technologies on academic integrity: AI & AI

July 13, 2021

I’ve been a bit behind with my blogging recently, so I’m going to try and catch up by sharing some recent conference presentations. This one I presented in June with Mike Mindzak and Ryan Morrison at the annual conference of the Canadian Association for the Study of Educational Administration (CASEA) [online].

Eaton, Mindzak & Morrison - GPT-3 and academic integrity

First, let me tell you the story of how I got connect with these two. In the early fall of 2020, Mike Mindzak at Brock University in St. Catharine’s, Ontario (Canada) reached out to me via e-mail to introduce himself. A colleague we have in common had pointed him in the direction of my work on academic integrity. He connected the dots, that I was the person who’d left him a comment on a piece he’d written for University Affairs, entitled, “What happens when a machine can write as well as an academic? 

Mike let me know about some work he was doing with Ryan Morrison at George Brown College in Toronto related to artificial intelligence and algorithmic writing. He asked if I might be interested in collaborating with them. Naturally, I was interested, but also recognized that the field of artificial intelligence is outside of my area of expertise and the demands on time were preventing me from doing a deep dive into any new projects. I suggested that we continue to chat throughout the fall and winter, and look at a possible collaboration for 2021.

In the meantime, I invited the two of them to present at the Academic Integrity Urgent and Emerging Webinar Series I was putting together for the Taylor Institute of Teaching and Learning. They accepted the invitation.

I submitted the manuscript for my book, Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough topics in Academic Integrity in the final days of May, 2020. In the final chapter of the book I take a future-focused perspective, offering ideas about what the emerging challenges to plagiarism and academic integrity would look like in the not-too-distant future. I cite Mike’s article and contend that the role that artificial intelligence and machine learning will play with regards to ethics in teaching and learning will become a topic that we, educators and educational leaders, will have to contend with.

In late September of 2020, the three of us started working on a proposal to present at the 2021 Canadian Association for the Study of Educational Administration (CASEA). Proposals are normally due in the fall, around October, and undergo a rigorous double-blind peer review process before presenters are notified about whether their presentations have been accepted to the conference.

The three of us stayed in touch during the fall and winter months, as we all observed that the open artificial intelligence technologies (OpenAI) were developing fast. OpenAI’s latest version of its Generative Pre-Training Transformer (GPT),  GPT-3 had been released in summer 2020. The technology uses machine learning to simulate human writing through text-generation. We kept an eye on news and developments about the GPT-3 technology, exchanging e-mails with links to new stories we’d seen. 

By the time Mike and Ryan presented their webinar, “Exploring the Impacts of Text Generating Technologies on Academic Integrity” at the Taylor Institute of Teaching and Learning  on April 9, 2021, our proposal to present at the CASEA conference had been accepted. I was excited to host them for this webinar to kick off this work. I knew the topic of artificial intelligence and machine learning truly fit the theme of the webinar series – urgent and emerging topics in academic integrity. They presented to a small but engaged crowd and as the webinar series convener and host, I watched carefully as questions poured in. As with other topics we had covered in the series, connecting the dots between the new topic and academic integrity was the key.

On June 1, 2021 we had our presentation for CASEA, a scholarly society dedicated to the study of educational administration. I’d been a member of the society since I was a PhD student, as my own supervisor had introduced me to the society and the work years before. My work has focused mainly on higher education, and many of the CASEA members focus on K-12 educational administration, so it hasn’t been a perfect fit for me, but close enough that I have stayed connected over the years. Here’s the abstract for our session:

Abstract

Paper presented at the Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE) 2021 – Canadian Association for the Study of Educational Administration (CASEA) (June 1, 2021) The purpose of this paper is to provide a theoretical and conceptual discussion of the rapidly emerging field of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithmic writing (AW). The continued development of new tools—most notably at this time, GPT-3—continues to push forward and against the boundaries between the writing of human and machine. As issues surrounding AI continue to be actively discussed by scientists, futurists and ethicists, educational leaders also find themselves front and centre of debates concerning, academic writing, academic integrity and educational ethics more broadly. Three points of focus provide the basis for this analysis. Firstly, we examine the impact of AW on student writing and academic integrity in schools. Secondly, we discuss similar issues in relation to publication and academic scholarship. Finally, taken together, we discuss the broader ethical dimensions and implications that AI and AW will, and are, quickly bringing into education and the field educational administration and leadership.

We had lots of questions and reactions in the Zoom chat, as the conference was held online this year. We have archived our slides publicly online, so anyone can access them. Here is the reference with the link:

Eaton, S. E., Mindzak, M., & Morrison, R. (2021, June 1). The impact of text-generating technologies on academic integrity: AI & AI. Paper presented at the Canadian Association for the Study of Educational Administration (CASEA), University of Alberta [online]. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/113569

We are excited to see where this work will take us next. I have a feeling that the ethics of technology is going to become inextricably intertwined with academic integrity. How that develops is yet to be determined.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.


Academic Integrity: Transforming Invisible work into Visible and Valued Work

July 7, 2021

In a previous post I talked about how the work of academic integrity is often invisible and unrecognized. Today I wanted to share some exciting news. Over the past couple of years, colleagues at the University of Calgary have been working hard to update an old and outdated manual to address hiring, merit assessment, tenure and promotion for academic staff.

In the fall of 2020, I had an opportunity to connect with the two project leads, Dr. Florentine Strzelczyk and Dr. Francine Smith, to speak specifically about matters relating to ethics and integrity. We talked about the invisible nature of academic integrity work and how I’d heard anecdotally from colleagues that for those without a formal leadership appointment, such as an Associate Dean who investigates and adjudicates academic misconduct allegations and cases, had no formal mechanism to have work relating to academic integrity recognized when it came to our bi-annual review as faculty members. Similarly, there was no formal way to showcase this work in an application for hiring, tenure or promotion.

Dr. Strzelczyk and Dr. Smith listened closely and asked insightful questions about how academic integrity work could be better recognized as legitimate academic work at our university. Generally, our work as professors is broadly classified into three main categories: Research, Teaching, and Service. The amount of time we spend working in each area depends on the type of appointment you have, but in most cases, academic staff are expected to contribute to all three areas.

We had an open and collegial exchange about which categories academic integrity work would fall into. There are a limited number of us at our university who conduct research into academic integrity, so instead we focused on teaching and service. It became obvious that academic integrity work certainly counts towards service when it involves reporting and preparing evidence when a breach of integrity (i.e., academic misconduct) is suspected. We also talked about how it should also be recognized as a teaching and learning contribution. We talked about the need to recognize effort that goes into conceptualizing, designing, and implementing ethical assessments, for example. We explored the idea that when a professor takes time to prepare materials to teach their students how to learn ethically (e.g., developing tip sheets for their students on how to cite and reference properly) that these activities are related to teaching and learning, rather than service. We talked about how faculty work relating to academic integrity isn’t about teaching or service, but rather teaching and service.

I was really impressed with how my colleagues listened and responded. They incorporated changes into the handbook that I’m really quite ecstatic about and I wanted to share with you the specific language around these updates, so that if you are thinking about updating your own faculty handbooks on your campus, this might serve as a model.

The new University of Calgary GFC Academic Staff Criteria & Process Handbook was officially approved last month by our General Faculties Council (GFC) one of the highest governance bodies of the university. In the handbook, academic integrity is now officially recognized as part of our Teaching (Section 1.3) and Service (Section 1.4) responsibilities. The specific passages where academic integrity is highlighted are as follows: 

“Teaching may take different forms such as direct or classroom instruction at undergraduate and/or graduate levels, as well as competency-based education, and/or field and practicum supervision. Teaching activities may include lectures, seminars, tutorials, laboratories, clinical sets, advising/counselling, creating lesson plans, assessments, grading, and examinations, and upholding academic integrity. Delivery of instruction and support of student learning may be face-to-face, on-line and blended and may occur inside and outside of the classroom, on and off campus (including land-based education), in collaboration with other instructors, other faculties, associated institutions, community organizations or with Indigenous knowledge-keepers and communities.” (Bolding added).

GFC Academic Staff Criteria & Process Handbook (Section 1.3.3, p. 10)

and

“Service to the University may include participation in Program or Unit-level, Department or Division, Faculty, and University committees, councils, task forces, ad hoc teams, and governing bodies, or other parts of the University including the Faculty Association. Activities that contribute to upholding academic and research integrity across various parts of the academy shall also be considered as important service contributions to the University.” (Bolding added).

GFC Academic Staff Criteria & Process Handbook (Section 1.4.3, p. 11)

This is the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that academic has been explicitly named in our institutional faculty handbook in this way. To say I am excited about this is an understatement!

The details of exactly how this work can be recognized has yet to be determined, and the devil is always in the details, as they say. Nevertheless, we now have a mechanism by which it can be recognized and that in itself is a huge step forward.

I am hopeful that this will provide colleagues on campus with a means to move academic integrity work from being invisible to being not only visible, but also valued. I also hope that other institutions, both universities and colleges alike, will take similar action to ensure that the work that goes into upholding and enacting academic and research integrity is clearly acknowledged as being legitimate and important contributions to the role of an academic staff member.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.


Blogs as Public Scholarship: An Academic Integrity Example

June 30, 2021

It’s that time of year again… performance reporting for academic staff at our university happens every two years, with reports due on June 30. There was an official communication that came out a few months back saying we would not have to submit our reports in the usual way, using the online portal system. (Thank God for that… Even with the new system we got a couple of years ago, it still takes hours and hours to fill to enter one’s activities. It’s maddening). But we still had to do a report.

In my case, I had to do two, because over the past two years I have spent half of my time in my home faculty, the Werklund School of Education, and the other half of my time as the inaugural Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning.

Earlier this year, the University of Calgary signed the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which I was pretty excited about. It is part of an overall commitment to assess and value research and scholarly activity in a variety of ways, beyond the traditional peer-reviewed journal articles. Indeed, much of my work I share through public scholarship, including blog posts. Now, as long as I can show some impact from that work, it can be considered as part of my scholarship. That was not always the case.

I am not going to rattle off a whole bunch of numbers about how much I did of this or that (though let me tell you, I was exhausted after reading my own report). Instead, I’m going to focus on one blog post that a senior leader and mentor said in a personal communication “arguably may have been your most important public impact that you have made”. It was the blog post I did on April 3, 2021: Analysis of plagiarism in the draft Alberta K-6 curriculum.

Let’s look at the impact of this one blog post:

Total views: 36,000+

This single blog post resulted in more than 36,000 views (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Viewer statistics (n = 36,147) for “Analysis of Plagiarism in the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum. (Screenshot date: June 30, 2021)

That’s pretty good for a blog post — at least for me. I mean, I’m a professor who researches ethics and integrity. It’s not like my blog shows off the latest fashion or offers delicious recipes. This post was was — let’s be honest – as close to viral as I’m probably ever going to get.

Media attention

This analysis of plagiarism in the draft AB curriculum caught the attention of the media worldwide, with more than 60 news outlets globally reporting on it. (See details here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GuyeKP26wnpFT3i0FD2ztoQOoitKbwHv6OdRVUkGLZE/edit?usp=sharing)

You can see my CTV news interview about it here: https://calgary.ctvnews.ca/examples-of-plagiarism-found-throughout-draft-curriculum-1.5378232

Political action

In addition, this work caught the attention of elected officials in Alberta, who shared news of the plagiarism in the draft curriculum on their social media platforms, such as this Tweet from the Hon. Rachel Notley, Leader of the Opposition. (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Tweet from Rachel Notley, April 6, 2021.

In case you missed it, I was the “academic” quoted in the media article that the leader of opposition Tweeted out.

On April 6, 2021, the Hon. Rachel Notley, leader of the opposition, questioned the Minister of Education, the Hon. Adriana LaGrange, about the plagiarism in the draft curriculum during the official question period in the Alberta provincial legislature, as documented in the official legislative Hansard.

Although dozens and dozens of teachers and other members of the public commented on social media about the plagiarized passages in the draft curriculum, it is fair to say that my analysis of the plagiarism had an impact on all of that. It is not an impact that is easily quantified, but it is reasonable to conclude that the analysis helped to inform a broader public dialogue about the (deeply flawed) draft curriculum, plagiarism, and the need to pay attention to ethics and integrity in K-12 education.

Collaboration Resulting from the Work

This work led to a collaboration with Carla Peck, Angela Grace and others, supported by our respective Deans of Education, called the Alberta Curriculum Analysis project. Through this project, we are documenting numerous analyses of the draft curriculum, from a variety of contributors with different academic and disciplinary backgrounds. This project has become an important public artefact and act of scholarly advocacy to help hold our government accountable, as well as to inform the public.

Completely non-academic (and a little cheeky) impact

There’s a small business in Edmonton, Canada, called Fehr Play Creative that creates all kinds of custom and novelty products. Not long after I did my analysis of plagiarism in the draft curriculum, they came out with their “Curwikilum” novelty mug. A senior leader at the university bought me one as a gift and it quickly became my favourite, as you can see in this photo:

Figure 2.

Curwikilum mug produced by Fehr Play Creative in Edmonton, AB.

I didn’t ask the good folks at Fehr Play Creative to make this mug. It was entirely their idea. They did a play on words with “curriculum” and “Wikipedia”, coming up with “Curiwikilum” and defined it as: “(noun) A program of study drafted in part by plagiarism from Wikipedia and then changed on the fly by anyone with editing rights”.

It’s the perfect social commentary about what was happening with the draft curriculum… Passages lifted straight from Wikipedia and then slightly altered on the official government website in real time. This “on the fly editing” not only happened with plagiarized passages, but also other passages that members of the public and experts flagged as incorrect or objectionable.

One mug literally said it all. And in terms of impact, what can I say? I mean, man alive – Merch! How many academics can say their work has resulted (directly or indirectly) in novelty merchandise?! I honestly don’t think I’ve seen any kind of mug prior to this that talked about plagiarism. I mean — come on!! This is the area I research — and someone made a frikkin’ novelty mug about it! How utterly cool is that?! It’ll probably never happen again for the rest of my career, so I enjoyed the moment while it lasted.

Was any of this published in a peer-reviewed journal? Nope.

Was any of it reviewed by a peer in any way before I published it? Nope.

Did peers review it afterwards (voluntarily) and offer their comments on it in public forums such as Facebook and Twitter? You bet they did. (And they were very nice about it, I might add.)

Can I prove “cause and effect” with any of this?

Nope – and nor do I want to. Public scholarship isn’t about taking individual credit for work as a sole author and saying, “Hey funders (or whoever), see this causal link between my work and this great discovery?!” I don’t know of anyone who engages in public scholarship who would do that because the very idea is ludicrous.

It is imperative to push back on the notion that “impact” must equate to “cause and effect”. It doesn’t. In some cases the very idea is so reductionist it is nonsensical.

It’s not about “if A (i.e., my research) then B (i.e., some great result)”. Public scholarship is about contributing to a broad public discourse in an informed way through scientific and scholarly inquiry. It is one contribution to a great big important conversation over which few individuals (if any) have direct control, but together, we can collectively make a difference. If I can make a difference with my work that puts the focus of education squarely on ethics and integrity, then it’s all worth it.

This is the kind of scholarship I am interested in now: the kind that makes a difference. Of course, I know I still have to do the peer-reviewed journal articles. That’s part of the job. But more and more I am realizing that peer-reviewed journal articles are, ironically, the kind of work that has the least impact.

So my advice to my fellow academic integrity and ethics scholars — and academics in general — is this: Do what you need to do because your job requires it, but keep doing your public advocacy work, your blog posts, and your public scholarship because it can – and does – make a difference.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.

Follow me on Twitter.


Virtual book launch! Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Higher Education

April 13, 2021

Come and join us for the virtual book launch of Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Academic Integrity was recently published by ABC Clio (March, 2021).

The launch is co-hosted by the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning and Libraries and Cultural Resources at the University of Calgary. Best of all, two students are going to be moderating the discussion. Of course, I’ll be there to do a reading, answer questions and engage with participants.

This is a live event and it won’t be recorded, so come and join us in real time for an interactive discussion:

Friday, May 7, 2021

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. Mountain time (i.e., Calgary time – Please convert to your local time zone).

The virtual launch will take place via Zoom. A link will be sent to registered participants on the day of the event.

Register here.

Hope you can join us. This event is free of charge and open to the public, so feel free to share.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.

Follow me on Twitter.


Analysis of Plagiarism in the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum

April 3, 2021

Since the draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum was released by Adrianna LaGrange last week it has been under scrutiny. One of the concerns is plagiarism. Teachers have been posting examples of alleged plagiarism on social media and sending them to me directly for analysis. To be honest, my inbox exploded last week and I can hardly keep up. I lost track of all the messages I received via e-mail and social media, but I estimate that at least 100 examples have been sent to me, some of which are duplicates. In this post, I offer my analysis of a few of these examples.

In the interest of full transparency, I am not, nor have I ever been, a teacher in the K-12 system. My teaching career has been in higher education. I earned a PhD in educational leadership and my research expertise is on academic misconduct including plagiarism and contract cheating. My peer-reviewed scholarly papers include this one in which I analyze definitions of plagiarism. I serve as the Editor-in-Chief of one of the most respected journals in the field, the International Journal for Educational Integrity, published by BMC Springer Nature. I also serve on a multi-country working group for educational policy focused on academic integrity, through the European Network for Academic Integrity. My latest book, released just last month, focuses specifically on plagiarism. And I am one of two Canadians to hold a seat on the 40-person global Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) Council. In other words, I am more than qualified to undertake an analysis of alleged plagiarism.

Definition of Plagiarism

As I have pointed out here and here, there are no absolute definitions of plagiarism. There is general consensus that plagiarism happens when someone uses the words or ideas of another without attribution. This can include copy-and-paste plagiarism (i.e., direct plagiarism), as well as the practice of re-arranging or swapping out words from the original text with synonyms (i.e., indirect plagiarism). Similarly, if an original text is paraphrased without attribution, that is also often considered plagiarism (i.e., also called indirect plagiarism).

Detecting and Declaring Plagiarism

There is no single way to detect plagiarism or declare definitively that it has occurred. There are text-matching software products (e.g., Turnitin) that can find exact matches between two texts quickly. Human detection can also be highly effective, particularly when the individual investigating the case(s) is qualified and experienced, as in my case. In my analysis, I have conducted a manual analysis of individual examples, unaided by any software.

Purpose of this Review

My goal with this review is (1) to determine if there is plagiarism in the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum from my perspective as an expert researcher on this topic; (2) to provide a base of evidence for further dialogue among Alberta citizens, including educators and policy makers; and (3) to offer recommendations and next steps.

My goal is not to critique the content of the draft curriculum. Others, such as Dr. Carla Peck, have already done an excellent job of that. In my inquiry, I focus specifically on the issue of plagiarism.

In the sections that follow, I offer my analysis of some examples from the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum. These examples are not exhaustive, and nor are they meant to be. My inbox has been filling up with examples teachers have sent to me over the past week. I simply do not have time to analyze all of these examples for plagiarism that have been sent to me from the draft AB Curriculum; there are too many. I have randomly selected some and analyze them in depth.

I conducted my analysis April 1 – 3, 2021. It is possible that some of the draft text may have changed during that time. It is easy to change digital text online. Some websites, such as Wikipedia, track every change that is made to text. In other cases, it can be difficult to track how digital text was changed on some websites unless captures of previous versions were taken using tools such as the Wayback Machine Internet Archive. Screen shots can help capture how a text looks on a website at a given moment in time, so I have included screen shots in my analysis, along with a date and timestamp to further validate the work.

I have verified and carefully reviewed each one. Below I offer specific and detailed analysis of individual cases.

Example #1: Draft Physical Education and Wellness Kindergarten to Grade 6 Curriculum

The first example is from the draft physical education curriculum. The specific passages in question, come from the text of the draft Grade 2 curriculum:

“Adventurous play can

  • promote independence and problem solving
  • provide direct experience of cause and effect
  • develop children’s coordination and bodily control
  • boost self confidence and emotional resilience
  • reduce stress
  • satisfy curiosity and a need for challenge” (p. 1-2)

Screenshot 01: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Physical Education, Grade Two. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/pde2 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:05.

Screenshot 01: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Physical Education, Grade Two. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/pde2 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:05.

Screenshot 01: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Physical Education, Grade Two. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/pde2 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:05.

Likely source text: North Vancouver Recreation Centre

The text of the draft curriculum bears a striking resemblance to this text from the North Vancouver Recreation Centre:

“Adventurous play is sometimes called risky play. It is defined as thrilling and challenging forms of play that involve a risk of physical injury. Each time a child has a minor accident, learning and adaptation happen. The benefits of adventurous play are numerous. Challenging play:

  • Promotes independence and problem-solving
  • Provides direct experience of cause and effect (natural consequences)
  • Develops coordination and bodily control
  • Boosts self-confidence and emotional resilience
  • Promotes self-regulation
  • Reduces stress and fears
  • Satisfies natural need for challenge and thrill”

Screenshot 02: North Vancouver Recreation Centre. https://www.nvrc.ca/notices-events-blog/active-living-blog/importance-adventurous-play. Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:11

Screenshot 02: North Vancouver Recreation Centre. https://www.nvrc.ca/notices-events-blog/active-living-blog/importance-adventurous-play. Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:11

Analysis: The two texts are remarkably similar. Although some words have been changed, the substance of the content is largely the same. Also, the items in the list are in pretty much the same order in both cases.

Conclusion: This content should have been attributed to the North Vancouver Recreation Centre. Without attribution, this would be classified as plagiarism.

Example #2: Draft Social Studies Kindergarten to Grade 6 Curriculum

Educators have e-mailed me with numerous concerns about plagiarism in the draft social studies curriculum. In this example, the text in question comes from the Grade 6 draft curriculum:

“The religious affiliation of most Albertans is Christian, and the largest denominations are Roman Catholic, United, Anglican, Lutheran, and Baptist churches.”

Canada and Alberta’s latest census data on Albertan and Canadian religious diversity” (p. 33).

Screenshot 03: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Social Studies, Grade Six. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/sss4 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:38

Screenshot 03: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Social Studies, Grade Six. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/sss4 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:38

The text of the draft curriculum is very similar to text that appears on the Wikipedia page for the Demographics of Alberta:

“Over 60 percent of Albertans identify as Christian, while almost 32 percent of residents identify with no religion. The largest denominations are the Roman CatholicUnitedAnglicanLutheran, and Baptist Churches.”

04 - Screen Shot 2021-04-03 at 8.26.32 AM

Screenshot 04: Wikipedia page, “Demographics of Alberta”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Alberta . Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:26

Analysis: The similarities between the two texts is obvious. What was not immediately obvious was whether the Wikipedia text had been changed recently to make it look as if plagiarism had occurred after the draft had been released. I took a look at the revision history of this Wikipedia page (which is openly available to everyone on the Internet).

Screenshot 05: Revision history for Wikipedia page “Demographics of Alberta”. Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:27

Screenshot 05: Revision history for Wikipedia page “Demographics of Alberta”. Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:27

It does not appear to me as though the page was maliciously modified after the draft curriculum was released. (Note: In this blog post from 2012, I state openly that I do not consider Wikipedia to be reliable source material for academic work. This would include curriculum development.)

Conclusion: Although this is a short passage, its similarity to the Wikipedia page is close enough that attribution should be provided. In cases such as Wikipedia, attribution should include a “retrieved from” date to indicate when the source material was consulted. Without attribution, this could be classified as plagiarism.

Example #3: Draft Social Studies Kindergarten to Grade 6 Curriculum

In this example, the text in question comes from the Grade 6 draft curriculum, under the knowledge section:

“A popular theory, proposed as a way of drawing a distinction between two different societies, the United States and Canada: It suggests that there is a difference between the Canadian mosaic, where ethnic groups have maintained their distinctiveness while functioning as part of the whole, and an American melting pot, where peoples of diverse origins have allegedly fused to make a new people.” (p. 32)

Screenshot 06: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Social Studies, Grade Six. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/sss4. Screenshot taken April 3 at 09:03

Screenshot 06: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Social Studies, Grade Six. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/sss4. Screenshot taken April 3 at 09:03

Original text: The text above is an exact duplication of text published in a 1976 article authored by Howard Palmer, published in the International Journal.

Screenshot 07: Palmer, H. (1976). International Journal. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1290345770?pq-origsite=gscholar&fromopenview=true&imgSeq=1# Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 09:08

Screenshot 07: Palmer, H. (1976). International Journal. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1290345770?pq-origsite=gscholar&fromopenview=true&imgSeq=1# Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 09:08

Conclusion: The original author’s words have been duplicated without attribution. This is an obvious case of word-for-word plagiarism.

Discussion

I have identified several different sources in my brief analysis. This indicates that content has been lifted or borrowed from multiple original sources, not just one or two. Others have commented that additional source material might have come from CoreKnowledge and specifically, the Core Knowledge Sequence.

The approach of taking bits and pieces of others’ content and stitching it together into an allegedly new document is called patchwriting, a term used extensively by plagiarism scholars such as Rebecca Moore Howard and Diane Pecorari. Patchwriting happens when writers lack the skills or confidence to paraphrase effectively and is widely regarded as an indication that the writer needs support.

This draft curriculum is a patchwork of material pulled from different sources. Plagiarism happens when source material is not attributed. A basic tenet of academic and research integrity is to give credit where it is due. In this draft curriculum, there is little to no indication of acknowledgement of those whose ideas and words contributed to its development. It appears as though the draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum is rife with plagiarism.

Critics will no doubt jump on the fact that I have analyzed only three examples in this article. Although that is true, I began this post by saying that Alberta teachers have e-mailed me dozens and dozens of passages from the new curriculum that they believe have been plagiarized from a variety of sources. It actually isn’t my job to detect plagiarism in the new curriculum; it is up to the Alberta government to do that. I have provided enough examples here to show that further investigation is warranted, as is further discussion. There is much more to analyze than I had the time to do in a few days. It was important to me to get this post published so as to inform an evidence-based dialogue.

Recommendations and Solutions

The solution for plagiarism is easy: Cite the original source material. Here are three easy steps to fix the plagiarism in the draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum:

Step 1: Identify content replicated or paraphrased from other sources. This will require a line-by-line review of the entire draft curriculum.

Step 2: Document where the original source material came from. Keep detailed notes of who wrote the content, as well as when and where it was published.

Step 3: Cite and reference all the sources consulted in the development of the curriculum. (If you need a refresher on the difference between citing and referencing, I explain it in this post.)  In the References below I have provided details of the original sources I consulted to conduct my analysis for this blog post. I have used APA formatting, but any format would be fine. The key is to publicly show what source material was consulted and give credit to the original authors. Give credit where it is due. In many cases, plagiarism is entirely preventable.

The draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum for English Language Arts and Literature states that:

“Ethical use of information includes

  • asking permission to use, share, or store information
  • acknowledging the ownership of information used to inform writing (citing)” (p. 42 and p. 63)

These are skills that the Alberta government wants children in Grades 4 (p. 42) and Grade 5 (p. and p. 63) to learn. Surely if we are asking children in grades 4 and 5 to demonstrate the skills of ethical use of information, we should expect the same of the adults who develop the curriculum.

Acknowledgements: I wish to acknowledge all those who sent me examples of problematic passages in the new draft curriculum via e-mail or social media. Some of you wish to remain anonymous, so I conclude with a general note of thanks to everyone who has contributed to this inquiry. I am sorry I do not have time to analyze all of your examples, but I appreciate you sending them to me.

References:

Demographics of Alberta. (n.d.). In Wikipedia.  Retrieved April 3, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Alberta

North Vancouver Recreation Centre. (2018). Importance of Adventurous Play. https://www.nvrc.ca/notices-events-blog/active-living-blog/importance-adventurous-play

Palmer, H. (1976). Mosaic versus melting pot?: immigration and ethnicity in Canada and the United States. International Journal, 31(3), 488. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1290345770?pq-origsite=gscholar&fromopenview=true&imgSeq=1#

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Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.

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