Engineering Students' Understanding of Plagiarism


The engineering profession has clearly embraced the importance of ethical behavior among students and working professional engineers. The prevalence of unethical behaviors, such as plagiarism, among college students has increased significantly in the past 30 years10. Research suggests that science and technology students have the highest levels of cheating including plagiarism10. University educators often debate whether plagiarism is committed willfully or unintentionally out of ignorance and research investigating this area appears equivocal. Therefore, we sought to investigate first-semester freshmen engineering students' understanding of plagiarism at a science and technology university. Nearly 1,100 first year engineering students at a Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) completed an online survey and corresponding quiz designed to assess their understanding of plagiarism, and a self-report measure of their perceived academic integrity. The vast majority of students were recent high school graduates from the United States. Males outnumbered female students, as is the case in the freshmen engineering class and student body at the university and across the country. Participants rated themselves as 5.5 on a 7-point Likert scale of ethical behavior (0 = "not at all ethical" and 7 = "extremely ethical"). Only 5.2% of participants rated themselves below the mid-point on the ethical behavior scale. Additionally, approximately 93% reported having previous training or educational experience about cheating, plagiarism, and/or student misconduct. Three items on the survey provided a passage and then specifically assessed students' ability to determine whether a sentence related to the passage was plagiarized. Response options included "yes", "no", and "I don't know". For the three questions; 60%, 38%, and 87%; respectively, selected the correct answer. The incorrect answer was selected 33%, 51%, and 4% of the time. "I don't know" was selected 7%, 10%, and 8% of the time. These preliminary findings indicate shortcomings in first semester, freshmen engineering students' understanding of plagiarism and its significance. Although the vast majority of participants' self-identified themselves as ethical and as having previous training regarding academic integrity, when specifically tested on their understanding of plagiarism on average only 60% of students answered correctly. These data suggest the possibility that, in some situations, students failure to follow proper academic guidelines maybe a lack of understanding rather than a willful violation of academic integrity. The paper concludes with recommendations for improving engineering students understanding of plagiarism and its consequences. An annotated list of references and online training available for instructors' use is provided. A discussion of plagiarism software (such as iThenicate) and referencing software (such as Endnotes) is included.

Meeting Name

122nd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition (2015: Jun. 14-17, Seattle, WA)


Engineering Management and Systems Engineering

Second Department

Psychological Science

Third Department

Chemical and Biochemical Engineering

Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version


File Type





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