Guiding students from plagiarism to research

Friday 3 May 2019

Sometimes a student will find an experiment online which is very similar to their own IA. They think this is a disaster, they are trying to find an original research questions for their investigation and someone online has stolen their best idea !

The temptation to copy this method without acknowledging it might lead to academic malpractice. As teachers, our role is to guide students to do the right thing and to make use of online resources correctly. That is to make use of this 'online resource' in a scientific way, rather than copying it and risking an accusation of plagiarism?

At the start of an Individual investigation this situation is like that of a research student conducting a literature search at the beginning of a research project.
What would a research biologist do if they found a similar study during their literature search? 

  1. A literature search at the beginning of an investigation discovers a very similar study to the research proposed.
  2. The biologist evaluates the study, looking for weaknesses in the methodology or the data, thinking of improvements which could become an idea for a personal investigation (IA).
  3. The researcher reads the published evaluation carefully to find suggestions for extension work or further study.  This could help to identify a good related topic for a new investigation which builds on the study.
  4. If there are no weakness, or extensions, a biologist might think of another method for investigating the same research question. Repeating a study using a different methodology would then either confirm the conclusions of the study found during research or falsify these conclusions.

By attempting these four steps it is quite likely that a student would put their individual investigation into the context of the other study. The background part of their exploration would be relevant and include a pertinent reference. The conclusion is more likely to refer to theory and a comparison of the two data sets would be interesting. The student is learning about the nature of science and avoiding any risk of academic malpractice.

This could also be a great opportunity to teach about the Nature of Science. The Biology guide says this about peer review, "Work is reviewed by several scientists who decide if the research methodologies are sound and if the work represents a new contribution to knowledge in that field." (NoS 4.4 on p10 of the IB Bio guide).

I'm looking forward to the next time a student finds the exact same experiment they wanted to do for their IA!


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