Self-plagiarism is a thorny issue. On the one hand I sympathise with students who say ‘but it’s not dishonest, it’s my own work, why can’t I hand it in again?’ This view seems borne out by the University’s website where in answer to the question ‘what is plagiarism?’ the following response is given:
Plagiarism … is using the words or ideas of others and passing them off as your own. Plagiarism is a type of intellectual theft.
It is not until we follow the link to ‘common forms of plagiarism’ that we come across the following (as the very last example):
‘Self-plagiarism’ occurs where an author republishes their own previously written work and presents it as new without referencing the earlier work, either in its entirety or partially. Self-plagiarism is also referred to as ‘recycling’, ‘duplication’, or ‘multiple submissions of research findings’ without disclosure. In the student context, self-plagiarism includes re-using parts of, or all of, a body of work that has already been submitted for assessment without proper citation.
At my university students attach a cover sheet to their submissions acknowledging ‘that this work has not been submitted for credit elsewhere.’ We may think that as law students they should be aware of the need to READ declarations before signing them! On the other hand, it is understandable that students might attach and sign the cover sheet without taking too much notice, treating it as a record of their name, student number, word count and date of submission.
Nonetheless, I would have thought it obvious that when we’re assessing students we want to know what they’ve learned and how they’ve developed their understanding during the particular course in which they’re being assessed. However, I have to wonder how obvious this really is in relation to self plagiarism. My brother, a teacher, says ‘it’s their own work, it’s not dishonest to re-submit it.’ My son, a university student, says ‘but that’s what academics do all the time…’
Perhaps we would do better not to call this self plagiarism at all. Let’s separate it from the copying / theft concept and simply call it what it is: recycling or resubmitting. Students know why ‘plagiarism’ is prohibited, now let’s teach them why ‘recycling / resubmitting’ are prohibited, and see if that gets the message across.