Information Ethics among Graduate Students of the University of Ghana.

Author:Paapa, Fynn Kwamena

Shortened title: Information Ethics among Graduate Students


The proliferation of information through information and communication technologies has made information readily accessible in every sphere of life. Be it in the business, banking and financial sectors, information is widespread and is required to enable the actors understand the needs and desires of the customers. Similarly in education, huge amount of information is readily available for faculty and students to exploit for scholarly purposes. For instance, faculty members need information so as to give cutting edge lectures; students need information to complete assignments, write term papers, projects and dissertations/thesis and above all to boost their academic performance. Whichever source faculty members or students are deriving the information from requires decisions having ethical overtones. They need to stay away from certain practices reckoned as breaches of information ethics which include copying (written 'cut and paste', Internet 'cut and paste'), inappropriate referencing, purloining (submitting an assignment that is substantially, or entirely, the work of another student with or without that student's knowledge), sham paraphrasing or verbatim copying (without citing the source, thus presenting the material as one's own) (Warn, 2006). The violation of these practices constitutes academic dishonesty.

Babik (2012) indicated that the core of information ethics is found in creating and upholding worldwide information society that centres on the study of approaches and adherence to ethical standards by information professionals and users of information in terms of information as a whole, information programmes and activities as well as technologies relating to information. Information ethics in the view of Babik (2006), concerns all human activity related to information, that is, our relationship with information, what we do with information, or how we generate, process and distribute it in the form of new technologies and innovations, which contain a lot of processed information. However, for the purposes of this study, information ethics is the responsible use of Information Communication Technology.

University of Ghana, the oldest university in Ghana, was founded in 1948 as the University College of Gold Coast for the purpose of promoting university education, learning and research. It became a fully-fledged university in 1961 with Dr. Kwame Nkrumah as its first chancellor. The student population of the University is about 38,500 comprising students enlisted on regular, sandwich and distance education programmes as well as others from affiliate institutions. The institution also has an increasing number of international students from over 70 countries enrolled on regular undergraduate and graduate programmes. The University of Ghana now runs a collegiate system which includes Colleges of Applied Sciences, Education, Health Sciences and Humanities with about 1,139 lecturers (Bonney, 2013). Also, there are a number of research institutions and centres for learning and research which includes Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, Regional Institute for Population Studies, Institute for Statistical, Social and Economic Research among others. The Graduate School of the University of Ghana runs master and doctorial programmes and was established in 1962. Currently, the Graduate School has a population of about 3538. The university is affiliated with a number of local and international institutions. The university has a decentralized library system with a central library which supervises the activities of all the departmental and residential libraries. The library with the Department of Information Studies runs information literacy programme including information ethics for all the students including graduate students. In addition, the institution subscribes to "Turnitin" plagiarism software which the faculty uses to check copying or similarities in students works.

While there is a significant body of work on information ethics, little of this relates to Ghana. Some works have been carried out including a study by Dadzie (2011) which examined different aspects of information ethics taught in tertiary institutions in Ghana. Dadzie and Mensah (2014) also conducted a study on awareness, opinions and attitudes of some Ghanaian students towards issues of plagiarism and intellectual property. Lowor (2015) focused on information ethics in special libraries. This paper therefore seeks to fill the gap in earlier studies by investigating the extent to which graduate students of the University of Ghana are aware of information ethics and their perspectives on this important subject. The specific objectives are to:

* assess the level of knowledge on Information Ethics by graduate students of the University of Ghana

* evaluate the level of compliance with Information Ethics among the graduate students of University of Ghana.

* assess graduate students' opinions on ethical use of information in the University of Ghana.

* identify the motivations behind violation of Information Ethics by graduate students at the University of Ghana.

The findings of this paper will hopefully enlighten university authorities on the reasons behind information ethics violations and help them to formulate policies that will strengthen the compliance of information ethics.

Literature Review

Information ethics issues may include plagiarism, academic integrity, referencing, computer/cyber ethics, information literacy, copyright, media ethics, censorship, intellectual property, access to information. Information ethics came to the front burner in 1997 with the first UNESCO Conference of InfoEthics in that year (InfoEthics, 2007) followed by the conference in Karsruhe, Germany under the leadership of the ICIE with support from the Volkswagen-Stiftung in 2004 (ICIE, 2004) and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003. Currently, there is an African Network of Information Ethics (ANIE) hosted by University of Pretoria which has organized four conferences to highlight the pertinent issues surrounding Information Ethics.

Knowledge of Information Ethics

Information ethics depends on an individual's firm understanding of concepts such as plagiarism, copyright, fair use, computer ethics, information literacy, proper referencing, and so on. Academic dishonesty has become major ethical issue in today's world with an increasing incidence of cheating in the form of 'plagiarism' in recent years as a result of the internet and other technological developments. Nejati et al. (2011) opined that graduate students in some universities in Egypt exhibited high moral awareness of plagiarism. On the other hand, Jamil et al. (2013) report that as a result of lack of training, the majority of undergraduate students from four different public and private sector universities in Pakistan had no proper knowledge or information about computer ethics. In a related study on undergraduate students' perception of copyright infringement, it was realised that the level of knowledge of copyright laws by undergraduate students was considerably high (85%) but the knowledge on the provision on the use of printed/literary materials was low among undergraduate in the University of Ibadan. The study also revealed that the majority of them infringed on copyright laws mostly through photocopying and the major reason for infringement of these laws by the undergraduate was because of high cost of materials (Isaikpona, 2012). Students get knowledge from numerous sources including ethics in library and information science, through the codification of codes, manifestoes and charters, through conferences, education and training (Sturges as cited in Ndwandwe, 2009).

Level of Information Ethics Compliance

Students in higher education most often struggle with course demands, writing and reading in a second language, academic writing and conventions, and perhaps an environment they find challenging (Bufton, 2003). According to Ashworth et al. (2003), the conventions that underpin academic integrity and scholarly writing are often complex with the result that students new to higher education, may find the convention incomprehensible. Writing academic essays requires consultation of a number of sources and there is need to cite these sources by both students and lecturers.

Pickard (2006), surveyed occurrences of plagiarism among undergraduate students at Northampton College in the UK and found that 14.6% of respondents admitted to handing...

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