Where Facebook Meets Plagiarism: An Investigation and an Intervention


  • Heather Alison McQueen Edinburgh University
  • Cathy Shields University of Edinburgh




Facebook, plagiarism, co-creation, open educational resource.


Closed (student only) Facebook groups are commonplace amongst students and the social and academic benefits of such groups are well studied. The exclusion of staff from these Facebook groups could conceivably lead to inappropriate behaviour such as plagiarism but the occurrence of this is unknown. Many students have a poor understanding of what constitutes plagiarism, or the rationale for its avoidance (other than to avoid penalty). In this study we sought to explore the behaviours of students on Facebook groups, focusing on plagiarism. We also broadened our analysis to encompass an investigation of general plagiarism awareness in order to use the findings to inform the co-creation of a simple plagiarism intervention tool for use on Facebook groups.

Our mixed methods approach encompassed seven student focus groups and a survey of 273 students at one UK University, as well as consultation of 11 HEI staff. Information and ideas drawn from the investigative phase of the project informed the design and co-creation of a plagiarism avoidance video resource.

We did not find plagiarism on Facebook to be a major concern despite wide use by students of closed groups to support learning. We did, however, find that interactive discussion on Facebook was minimal, and that membership was non-inclusive, and therefore suggest caution towards formal use of Facebook in learning. We also found that >40% of our students held misconceptions and anxieties about what constitutes plagiarism and about how to avoid it, and that University guidelines on plagiarism are not improving understanding. Plagiarism confusion was heightened for students new to our University, although further research into the generality of this observation is required. We advocate good scholarship education that actively engages, but is not limited to, students in their first year of study, and present our own anti-plagiarism tool that is suitable for deployment via Facebook groups.

Author Biographies

Heather Alison McQueen, Edinburgh University

Heather McQueen is a senior lecturer in molecular genetics at the University of Edinburgh. She held the role of College Academic Misconduct Officer for the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh from 2011-16. She is currently seconded to the Institute of Academic Development at the University of Edinburgh. Email: h.mcqueen@ed.ac.uk

Cathy Shields, University of Edinburgh

Cathy Shields is a Learning Technologist at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, formerly of the University of Edinburgh, with an interest in how students learn through online interaction. Email: c.shields@rbge.ac.uk


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Original Research