The Student Room Group
Student at the Open University
Open University
Milton Keynes

OU plagiarism policy and application

Good day to you all,
I am representing an Open University student who was "investigated" for plagiarism. The case is now with the OIAHE and I am asking for the Complaint Decision to be reopened for reasons I plan to explain and explore more fully here in the future if permitted. To be brief for now, I have knowledge of repeated instances of students being misled as to what are clear and specific exceptions to the "normative" policy applying to their specific course/module. At a later date, students have then found themselves cautioned formally or informally for infringing the "normative" policy. Three examples:
1. Students were advised in one module they could "recycle" module or non-module material without needing to reference the fact. It was explained "recycling" was the term used in that module in place of "paraphrasing". Half way through the course the students were alerted to the "serious" issue of plagiarism, such as "paraphrasing".
2. The student I represent, having fallen for many many statements as above, including being advised explicitly and provably (in an online tutorial ironically about plagiarism) they could even "quote" and "directly quote" module material without needing to reference the fact, and then being accused of plagiarism (hence the complaint to OIAHE), and was then in their next module told by an exasperated tutor they did not need to reference every quote they used. The student declined to follow that "advice" as many would expect given their earlier experience. Other student protestations about this "advice", based on their own previous experiences and consequent cautions, were summarily dismissed because "we are out of time".
3. In yet another module, students were advised they could quote module material and not reference the fact. Yet again students with previous experiences challenged the advice and were told, "well perhaps only a sentence here or there, but no more".
Briefly, it has become clear to me that the Open University and it appears the OIAHE too in examining complaints against plagiarism penalties, use the institutionalised and "lawfully" supported , "joker card" of calling a plagiarism decision a matter of "academic judgement" and is almost I suggest (one or two possible exceptions) a cloak of total and unquestionable infallibility for ACOs etc
My reason for joining this forum are twofold:
1. To ascertain how prevalent the instances are of tutors of all levels at the OU giving advice and directions which explicitly contradict what I call the documented "normative" policies about what is plagiarism and to what extent, students have, either respecting the "tutors" "authoritative" advice, or naively being misled by such advice, have consequently fallen foul of following that advice.
2. Whether my supportable knowledge of such high instances in so few modules is an aberration or not, I want to warn present and future OU students of the real possibility they may too be misled in the exampled ways described above, unintentionally or for some other reason, and that they DO NOT fall into a similar, "unintentional" or for some other reason, trap set by misleading advice from "tutors" even as authoritative as the chair of a course and the head ACO of that faculty.
My impression is, from my experience so far, the burden of proof of guilt and/or innocence is heavily slanted in favour of the institution who use their "infallible" authority to the furthest extent they can get away with to avoid any of admission of "error" or "malpractice" on their part, or their employees part.
MY QUESTION:
Are there any students on this forum, who have, or know of other students who have "naively" been misled in similar ways to the above few examples and have consequently been warned or cautioned for plagiarism at the Open University? (Or any other university!)
I use in life the trope: "once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and three times or more is a pattern". I look forward to any feed back about this issue.
Christopher
Reply 1
you always have to quote and reference ou material. its always been that way.
Student at the Open University
Open University
Milton Keynes
Reply 2
you always have to quote and reference ou material. its always been that way.

Without falling foul of identifying any OU individuals, the documented and recorded facts are, the chair of the first level module in question and chief ACO of that modules entire faculty, in an hour long online tutorial about plagiarism and referencing, yes explained what most know are the "normative" rules about plagiarism, but repeatedly (over 16 times) explicitly stated that the "normative" rules did not apply to that first level module with respect to using all or any material from that module in TMAs.. From general carte blanche statements, to explicit mentions of using "ideas", "concepts", "paraphrases" and yes, "quoting" or "directly quoting" module material that IT WAS NOT necessary to reference the use of module material. Count that! Indeed, at least 16 clear directives. Yes, reference non-module material as per "normative" rules. No, no need to reference in anyway, module materials. During the so-called "investigation" and consequent appeals at the OU we have documented proof that the "investigating" ACO and appeal reviewers partially acknowledged that "students were clearly advised" NOT to reference module material. They repeatedly and totally ignored and unaddressed however the specific exculpatory advice from the plagiarism tutorial (in the most transparently juvenile fashion imo) which totally exonerates the student. I understand your probable incredulity about this, but understand the student accepted the "authority" of the head of the module and the chief ACO of that faculty (the boss right?), The students reduced marks were insignificant to them. In three later courses they achieved marks of 93% and above, But in those later courses three tutors also gave advice wholly contrary to what you say has "always been that way". It's the principle of the OU accepting either accepting they did "officially" advise students NOT to reference module material or they grossly misinformed students to do so. Either the way, the student cannot be "punished" for the OUs incompetence and inconsistency. When we are finished with the OIA (clearly not fit for purpose) I will be detailing the whole farce publicly and will provide the means to view it and then I would welcome any comments based on the facts. Other students have been misled in the same fashion on other courses. Something does not smell right. Cheers!
M dad does open university

He was told he could not use any or apart piece of work in his final essay as it would be plagiarism.

The previous price if work was a 5 mark assignments to draft the opening to the final essay.

I got him to check as that seemed bad to me -yes he should reference the fact it was from a previously submitted work (of his). Tutor agreed in the end it was fine to use as that was the point of the previous tma!
Their policy is indeed ridiculous. I had to help out a friend many years ago who was falsely accused of plagiarism. The reason? She included a silly pun at the end one of her answers. Given that the question was a corny pun in and of itself, it was inevitable that several students decided to play along. None of their actual answers were the same, but the OU latched onto the fact that these students actually had a sense of humour, and that is obviously cheating. She was eventually cleared, but the whole ordeal broke her. She abandoned the module after that and quit her studies altogether. So much for encouraging more women into STEM.

Bear in mind that this was more than a decade ago. I imagine if the same thing were to happen today, she would still be waiting for an outcome, which would eventually go against her no matter what.
Reply 5
Original post by Catherine1973
M dad does open university

He was told he could not use any or apart piece of work in his final essay as it would be plagiarism.

The previous price if work was a 5 mark assignments to draft the opening to the final essay.

I got him to check as that seemed bad to me -yes he should reference the fact it was from a previously submitted work (of his). Tutor agreed in the end it was fine to use as that was the point of the previous tma!

Hi Catherine,

Thank you for your comment.

The student I represent is not suggesting there are no clearly defined OU "normative" policy documents concerning what is and is not plagiarism. They are not, and I am not too, suggesting that these several specific examples they, and at least three others on different courses have experienced, proves a general practice of either incompetent misleading of students, or that advice is routinely given for students not to reference course material only for them to be later penalised for doing so. I do not know if my student (+ the 3 others) are nothing more than aberrant isolated examples. But as the chief ACO endorsed no referencing of module material they were also the chair of, and in three other courses 3 tutors in a less comprehensive way also advised following what everyone nominally agrees is the "normative" policy, including not referencing "paraphrasing" and "quoting" of course material there is something here that needs honestly addressing by the OU. In two of the later courses other students (those with their own earlier experiences) challenged two tutors about the directives they had given, such as above that my student did not need to reference everything they used from the module (I mean here quotes and quoting), the tutors simply declared "out of time". How odd, despite the OU Academic Conduct Policy document saying tutors will give students guidance about the policy, that it was the students schooling the tutors?

As some would say: "It's not the money, (or the lower marks) it's the principle!" Someone needs to hold those (few?) responsible for misleading students to be accountable for their actions and words and for the OU to have the moral integrity to acknowledge their failings. My students conclusion so far, and I wholly agree, is that the only defence used so far by the OU (and OIA) is an "argument from impunity".

I am in a hurry so I apologise if I've been unclear somewhere. I can clarify if necessary later. Take care.
Reply 6
Original post by Veet Voojagig
Their policy is indeed ridiculous. I had to help out a friend many years ago who was falsely accused of plagiarism. The reason? She included a silly pun at the end one of her answers. Given that the question was a corny pun in and of itself, it was inevitable that several students decided to play along. None of their actual answers were the same, but the OU latched onto the fact that these students actually had a sense of humour, and that is obviously cheating. She was eventually cleared, but the whole ordeal broke her. She abandoned the module after that and quit her studies altogether. So much for encouraging more women into STEM.

Bear in mind that this was more than a decade ago. I imagine if the same thing were to happen today, she would still be waiting for an outcome, which would eventually go against her no matter what.


Waiting for an outcome is certainly an issue now. The issue in my student's case is the disingenuous nature of that process which imo is nothing more than being seen to be going through the motions (following formal procedures) and with no intention to admit at the very least the OU itself was instrumental in drawing student (or students) into a trap (unintentionally possibly) they have no control over, other than totally ignoring numerous statements with the authority of a chief ACO.

I understand there will be some who, without the evidence before them respond with an argument or comment from/of incredulity, that it can be proven the ACO and appeal reviewers repeatedly employed tactics I can only describe as school level "debating" tactics to avoid OU culpability. Just one example:

My student listed over 16 quotes from the online plagiarism tutorial all of which support one another in the contextual sense that students were told they did not need to reference module material in TMAs. The "investigating" ACO cherry-picked one of those quotes pointing out with incredibly astuteness that this one sentence said students could "paraphrase module" material without a reference which was inadvertantley an admission on one level. He sarcastically pointed out, though with self-evident accuracy everyone would agree who reads it, the sentence did not say "quote". Why is this disingenuous, to put it politely? There were at least two possible quotes from the tutorial provided that he could have used that did use such clear langauge such as being permitted to "quote", used in conjunction with, and equal to in the context, "paraphrase" module material without the need to provide a reference. Another quote explicitly said if "you directly quote", or use "an idea" from the module, you did not have to reference this. It's all in simple plain unambiguous English.

The above cherry-picking was rampant and so was misrepresenting the students defence by either putting words into their "mouth" they never said and even plucking half a sentence from one page and marrying to it a sentence on another page and asserting this was the entirety of their whole defence.

I understand without seeing it in black and white the above may again appear incredulous and I understand that. When in a few weeks the OIA finally rubber stamp the OUs decision, which they will, I will at some time make the whole process and correspondence publicly available and I sincerely believe the OU absurdities and their wilful practice of "being economical with the truth" will be obvious to any genuine and truly independent reader. I know of many exasperated students at the OU who simply give up pursuing justice or keep their heads down with a view to their future prospects. This does not apply to my student and it certainly does not apply to me and rather simply doing nothing more than give a negative review somewhere, which will be met with the fallacious "I never had problem" responses, I will provide the evidence to sustain all the claims here (and far more). Then if someone disagrees with that evidence and it's implications they can do so with a little more credibility.

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