Семестриален изпит по “Социология на комуникациите”, 8.01.2021. УНСС, специалност “Социология”.
“Online Exam Without Plagiarism” is an online university teaching practice that stimulates changes in students’ behaviour and culture by raising their awareness of academic integrity and increasing their motivation to uphold integrity.
The practice was implemented in the lecture course of “Sociology of Communication” taught in the autumn semester of 2020/21 to the students of Sociology. The core of the practice is the final semester exam – the students were required to prepare and present “Video textbook on a chosen topic from the course questionnaire”. Such a task replaced the writing of papers or doing online tests that the students were accustomed to. The audio-visual presentation of the scientific content urged students to think of innovative ways for presentation, to acquire new digital skills and competencies, instead of coping and pasting texts from the internet in their exam papers, which is the widespread form of students’ plagiarism.
As students of sociology they did not have any knowledge and skills on how to make audiovisual products. It was not possible for them to imagine how the scientific content, usually in written form, can be presented in audiovisual form. This objective premise requires the application of “Learning by Doing” approach, guided by the lecturer, and sharing of ideas and experiences between students in the group. The active participation in the “Learning by doing” process significantly raised the students’ awareness, knowledge, and motivation not only to successfully fulfill the task, but also to do this following the fundamental principles of academic integrity.
The students’ projects were presented and assessed during the online exam. The assessment criteria were preliminarily discussed with the students and accepted by them, which raised the students’ responsibility.
The exam was video recorded, edited and published in social media after the prior consent of the students. On the one hand, the procedure of informed consent guarantees respect for the copyright of the students and makes them feel confident and responsible for their online behaviour. On the other hand, they learn how to respect the rights of others.
The biggest problem that UNWE students and academics faced during the online semesters in time of COVID-19 pandemic is the plagiarism at online exams. During pandemic Bulgarian universities faced plagiarism not only in students’ course assignments or exam papers, but also The Commission of Academic Ethics at the Ministry of Education and Science reported some significant cases of plagiarism in the research works of Bulgarian academics. On top of it all, the latest event that happened is the allegations of plagiarism against the candidate for Minister of Interior, who is also a university professor.
Plagiarism is a crime against intellectual property, defined in the national legislation, in the UNWE Codes of Ethics and policies for academic integrity. As defined in legislation, plagiarism is thievery of words. The academic field is a field of words by which we present ideas. In this sense the thievery of words is one of the core violations of academic integrity principles and codes.
The mentioned social facts are quite enough to assume that plagiarism impacts the whole system of education and science in Bulgaria, not only a single university, department, or lecturing course. It seriously affects the academic integrity, and the quality of scientific research and education. It undermines public trust in the university as a public institution of higher education. The commercialization of higher education, the technological advancements, and the burgeoning essay mills industry, which increased significantly in the regime of online learning, conducted in the pandemic atmosphere of mass fear, gave a significant boost of plagiarism and other practices that threatened the academic integrity.
This context gives rise to the question of what to do to ensure a good quality of higher education in an online digital environment? Given the fact that we are living in The Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is easy to assume that after COVID-19 the higher education will go on its path of digitalization. As a matter of fact, the so called “universal digitalization” is one of the goals for the development of Bulgarian higher education to 2030. We obviously need to build a new culture of integrity in online and blended environments. The “new” could be replaced with “digital”, as the only “new” in the new culture is the digital environment of its application. In essence the culture of academic integrity remains the same as it is built on the known fundamental positive ethical principles.
So, the core question is not what to do, but how to convince students, academics, and public to comply with the highest ethical standards even working in an online environment where there are many opportunities for violation the rules – moreover, the open science increases these opportunities daily.
The solution we suggest is to start from the bottom – to stimulate changes in the behaviour and culture of students by raising awareness of academic integrity, convincing them that the academic integrity protects their personal interests and civil rights, and showing them how to uphold integrity in their communities.
In terms of pedagogy, the practice is following John Dewey’s pedagogical approach “Learning by doing”.
The online environment is full of information, including a lot of fake information. “Learning by doing” allows us (teachers) to train students in gathering and processing information as well as in distinguishing the fake one. While acquiring these basic research skills, students also tend to perceive the modes of responsible attitude to the information on the internet.
“Learning by doing” was also preferred because of the nature of the exam task the students had to complete. The task was entirely new, surprising and to some extent stressful to them. It requires a fundamental change of the way they were used to passing exams. Hence “learning by doing” and doing the exam work throughout the whole online semester together with the tutor and colleagues was the approach that led to the fulfillment of successful projects.
The practice is applying McTighe’s model of performance-based assessment of students’ exam works. As it measures the application of knowledge and skills in a real project, we found that it could limit plagiarism in online exams. Two of the widespread practices of online examination, according to the already cited research of quality of online education, were the online test often comprising solely of multiple-choice questions and written assignments, sent to the tutor. As they both freely allow plagiarism, we applied performance-based assessment as an alternative method for online assessment and combined it with students’ discussion on each of the projects. The method relies on the establishment of clear performance targets, authenticity in products and performances. It significantly raises honesty, fairness and mutual respect between the students in the group. The method also requires ongoing assessments through the course for feedback, as well as for the documentation of the results and the celebration of progress. The students’ results are documented in the video from the exam. The video also shows how we celebrate the progress we have reached. The fulfillment of all this is completely in line the aim of building digital academic integrity culture in students.
In terms of promoting academic integrity, the practice follows Festinger’s small group theory and as the lecture course is on “Sociology of Communication” – Lazarsfeld’s two-step flow of communication. The application of the small group theory was required by the total number of the students in the course – 20 according to the course list and 9 actively working. “The two-step flow of communication” assumes that opinion leaders first receive new information and then they spread it through their referent groups. The students in the course became the opinion leaders as they were the first to accept and apply the academic integrity culture in their video projects and then, as could be seen in the video of exam, they insisted on adherence to the academic integrity principles by their colleagues.
The practice “Online exam without plagiarism” continues 17 weeks. It started from the beginning of the semester and ended on the date of the exam. The semester includes 15 weeks. Each week the students had 4 lecture hours in which they present and discuss the state of their audiovisual projects. Furthermore, they worked independently between 4-6 hours. The final work on the projects took 2 weeks – between the end of semester and the exam date.
In the 1–3 weeks the main activities were:
Theoretical (T) – acquaintance with the theoretical and methodological framework of Sociology of Communication. The students had the task to choose the topic they would work on.
Promotion of academic integrity (PAI) – contracting the exam task and how it will be achieved, as well as the criteria for successful fulfillment of the task. The exam task, the methods of work and the criteria were explained to the students and discussed with them. On the one hand, this was required by the nature and the novelty of the exam task. On the other hand, contracting the rules of the course and exam criteria is a form of active involvement of students in the field of academic integrity and increases their responsibility in terms of the ethical rules they had accepted.
In the 4-6 weeks the main activities were as follows:
T – Theoretical discussion on each of the chosen topic. This allows the scientific theory taught in the course to be closely connected to what is most interesting to the students.
Methodical (M) – presentation of how the video editing software works.
PAI – legal and illegal use of software (video editing software) in academic work.
In 7-13 weeks:
T – Theoretical discussion and ideas on how to present a narrative written scientific content in audiovisual form.
M – The ethical use of the scientific databases in research. Setting the scenario for audiovisual projects.
PAI – Ethics in academic research. Intellectual property and plagiarism in written text, video, and audio clips.
In 14-15 weeks:
M – Finding and using free visual content. Producing visual and audiovisual content. Video editing.
PAI – Final discussions of the academic integrity principles and their application in student course works.
In 16-17 weeks:
Students’ independent preparation for the exam.
17th week is when the exam took place. The main activities were:
Presentation, discussion and evaluation of students’ video projects. The criteria for evaluation were: 1. The topic should be in the field of Sociology of Communication; 2. The presented project should be audiovisual; 3. The principles of academic integrity should be respected. No plagiarism. Each of the video projects were discussed by the students and evaluated along the set criteria.
The online exam was video recorded – after the consent of the students. The recording was edited and produced as audiovisual clip. After that the clip titled “Online exam without plagiarism” was published on YouTube and Facebook with the prior consent of the students.
 Mihailova, K. M. Mirchev (2021). The First Online Semester in The Perspective of Students and Professors. In: UNWE Research Papers, 3/2021, p. 13-56. http://unwe-research-papers.org/bg/journalissues/article/10401
Novinite.com. Candidate for Interior Minister from TISP Petar Iliev Accused of Plagiarism
 Nozharov, S. (2019). Case analysis in accordance with art. 173 of the Criminal code, concerning crimes against works of science. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337012429_Analiz_na_tipovi_kazusi_za_plagiatstvo_po_cl173_ot_Nakazatelnia_kodeks_pri_posegatelstva_sresu_proizvedenia_na_naukata
 Schwab, K. (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution. World Economic Forum.
 Undergraduate program of “Sociology”, administered by the Department of Economic Sociology, UNWE.