|Teaching and Learning Forum 2009 [ Refereed papers ]|
Brad Stappenbelt, Chris Rowles and Eric May
School of Mechanical Engineering
The University of Western Australia
This paper discusses the issue of plagiarism in higher education. In particular, the cultural influences that contribute to student attitudes and abilities to avoid plagiarism were examined through a case study involving a number of postgraduate engineering students at UWA. These individuals were amongst a group of students who were caught plagiarising in an assignment and were permitted to resubmit their assignments following compulsory attendance at a writing skills workshop. The students mounted a defence of their actions based on educational cultural ignorance of the university's expectations regarding plagiarism. They claimed they did not grasp the university's expectations and had never learnt the skills required to avoid plagiarising. All students were from non-English speaking backgrounds and had acquired English as a second language. Student attitudes to plagiarism before and after the incident were determined as was their ability to recognise and rate the level of plagiarism in a series of writing samples. The results revealed that the students did appear to possess the necessary skills to successfully avoid plagiarising. There was however poor alignment of students' understanding of plagiarism and their perception of its impact compared to that stated in university academic conduct policy.
Plagiarism, broadly defined as "Passing off someone else's work, whether intentionally or unintentionally, as your own for your own benefit" (Carroll, 2002) is on the increase in higher education. The growth in information technology and accessibility has provided much material to fuel the observed increase in the incidence of plagiarism (Childs, 2001; McCabe, 2001; Maslen, 2003; Furedi, 2003). The behavioural issues associated with students' plagiarising are complex and have been examined in numerous prior studies such as those described in McGowan (2005), Marsden, Carroll and Neill (2005) and Park (2003). It is not the purpose of this paper to examine the behavioural basis of plagiarism in any detail.
A current teaching and learning initiative in the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics at the University of Western Australia, included the provision of online plagiarism detection software for student and staff use in evaluating written work. The intent was educational rather than punitive. The commercial product Turnitin was employed for this purpose. This plagiarism detection software produces originality reports by comparing the submitted written material to existing text in the Turnitin database, online texts and journals and information from the internet (Frazer, Allan & Roberts, 2004). The final judgment as to whether the submitted work contains plagiarised material is however the domain of the student or educator.
The present case study examined the attitudes and abilities of a group of thirteen ESL students who were caught plagiarising in a postgraduate engineering course at the University of Western Australia. The group consisted of mostly international students and a few domestic students who were recent immigrants to Australia. All had acquired English as a second language (ESL) and were from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB). Individually and as a group, these students defended their academic misconduct by adopting a cultural ignorance defence similar to that discussed in Song-Turner (2008). The argument put forth by the students and supported by some staff was that the universities from which these students had obtained their undergraduate degrees did not instil in them the need to avoid plagiarising and did not prepare them adequately with the requisite skills to achieve this.
In addition, the questionnaire contained a short exercise testing each student's ability to recognise cases of plagiarism (section four of the questionnaire) and to rate the level of plagiarism present. The exercise contained six writing samples drawing on an excerpt from a newspaper article. Students had to rate the level of plagiarism as 'none', 'some' or 'much'. At the conclusion of this section of the questionnaire, the students were to provide an indication which sample they believed was the worst case of plagiarism from the samples provided.
Attitudes to plagiarism were also investigated by an adjective selection exercise. Twenty adjectives were presented and students were to select three that best represented students who had committed plagiarism. This part of the questionnaire administered was also adapted from the study by Deckert (1993). In the present study, thirteen of the sixteen students resubmitting assignments completed the questionnaire. This represents a response rate of over 81%.
|1||In my studies prior to coming to UWA I was taught about plagiarism||2.1||1||1.4|
|2||In my studies prior to coming to UWA I was taught about referencing||1.8||1||1.0|
|3||In my studies prior to coming to UWA I was taught other skills to avoid plagiarism||1.6||1||0.8|
|4||Before commencing my studies at UWA I understood that engaging in plagiarism would result in academic misconduct penalties||3.0||4||1.5|
|5||Before commencing my studies at UWA, I believed that it was wrong to plagiarise||4||3.5||1.4|
After the compulsory plagiarism workshop, most of the students surveyed strongly believed that they understood what constituted plagiarism (Table 2). This perception was in agreement with their demonstrated abilities in the plagiarism recognition and rating exercise part of the questionnaire where the majority of students successfully recognised and rated all but one of the writing samples provided. The students also indicated that they felt confident of their ability to avoid unintentionally plagiarising in future work. Again, this was in agreement with the quality of the re-submitted assignments produced. The mean plagiarism report percentage for the original assignment, as reported by the online plagiarism detection tool Turnitin and verified by inspection, was 52%. The mean plagiarism percentage for the re-submitted assignments was 7%. Half of the students resubmitting had plagiarism percentages below 5%. In light of the previously submitted reports, which yielded plagiarism percentages between 46% and 64%, the resubmitted reports demonstrated significant improvement in adherence to proper referencing and citation and paraphrasing of source material.
|6||Currently, I believe that I understand what plagiarism is||4.5||5||0.5|
|7||Currently, I feel confident that I have the skills to avoid unintentionally plagiarising in future work||4.1||4||0.6|
|8||Currently, I believe it is wrong to plagiarise||4.5||5||0.7|
By examining Table 3, it may be seen that the most common word that students selected to describe student who plagiarise was 'inexperienced' followed closely by the adjective 'unsure'. This aligns well with the students' argument that educational cultural deficits were responsible for the plagiarism that was detected in their work. It is interesting to note that few students chose adjectives indicating deceitful or dishonest behaviour. As one student stated on the written response part of the questionnaire: "From my experience regarding the plagiarise assignment, at no stage or moment we even dream of being deceitful, or to cheat [sic]".
The perceived effect by students of their plagiarism on the university and the original author of the work were ranked highest in the present case study (Table 4). These two objects of unfairness also showed least variation in responses across the group. The students also felt that plagiarising was unfair to themselves because they were not being truthful about their own abilities and because of the decreased educational value of the work. The study by Deckert (1993) where all participants were of Chinese origin (n=170), is in general agreement with this result. This study however demonstrated a stronger egocentric perception of the object of unfairness by the students. The perceived effect on the teacher in the present study rated relatively low. Interestingly, the shame or embarrassment associated with punitive consequences was not regarded as a strong reason for the unfairness associated with committing plagiarism. In fact, most students rated their response to the corresponding statement as neutral. Deckert (1993) also reported this item as the least significant effect of plagiarism as perceived by the students.
|Item||Object of unfairness||Reason for unfairness||Mean||Mode||SD|
|10||University||Educational goals not reached||4.4||4||0.5|
|11||Myself||Shame related to punishment||3.5||3||1.2|
|12||Original author||Taking credit for their work||4.5||4||0.5|
|14||Myself||Decreased educational value||4.1||4||0.9|
|15||Teacher||Decreased effectiveness of education effort||3.6||3||0.8|
The students were unanimous in their positive response to the survey question regarding the effectiveness of plagiarism software as a deterrent to plagiarising (Table 5). All but one student responded that it was reasonable for the university to use plagiarism detection software after informing students. This is a somewhat perplexing set of responses given the present plagiarism academic misconduct case. All students were informed on several occasions prior to submission of their assignments of the use of Turnitin to ascertain the originality of their work and were reminded regularly of the university policies regarding plagiarism. These actions clearly did not have the desired deterrent effect. The student support for such a plagiarism detection method was also conspicuously absent when they were faced with academic misconduct charges.
Of most interest in the present case study were the results of the plagiarism recognition and rating exercise contained in the questionnaire administered. The former study by Deckert (1993) concluded that the ESL students in his study (n=170) had little ability to detect plagiarism and were unable to rate the level of plagiarism present in the writing samples. With the exception of writing sample F, the majority of students in the present study correctly identified the presence and severity of plagiarism. The misuse of source material in writing sample F was somewhat deceptive. This writing sample contained a quote which was paraphrased from the original source. If the quoted section was not read carefully it may readily have been assumed to be a direct quotation. All students in the present study were able to identify the most severe cases of plagiarism from the samples provided, with the majority correctly determining what coul d reasonably be judged as the worst case.
|16||It is reasonable for the university to use electronic plagiarism detection tools if students are informed before submission||4.2||5||0.9|
|17||Knowing that my submitted work will be run through an electronic plagiarism detection tool will deter me from plagiarising||4.4||4||0.6|
The only assistance provided prior to resubmission of the plagiarised assignments was a ninety minute workshop on writing skills provided by the Learning, Language and Research Skills (LL&RS) team at UWA. Students were permitted only two weeks to resubmit their assignments. It was stated by the LL&RS team prior to these workshops that one short session could not possibly remedy such deeply entrenched cultural beliefs and equip students with the skills required to paraphrase and reference adequately (Barrett-Lennard, 2003, pers. comm. 17 September). It was therefore expected that student resubmissions would show difficulty by the students to properly paraphrase and reference source material. This was not what was observed. All of the work resubmitted was entirely free from plagiarism with adequate referencing and citation throughout.
Given the rate and degree of improvement in student work in light of the very limited instruction provided, it is likely that most of these students already possessed most of the necessary skills and knowledge to avoid plagiarism prior to the initial submission of their assignment. What they did not appear to possess was a clear understanding of the university's expectations with regard to the implementation of these skills. As one student put it: "After attending the plagiarism workshop I can see now the stakes are very high on both students, the lecturer and anyone involved. I did not had a proper comprehension [sic]". This position would explain the dissonance between the students' academic misconduct and the later support for the use of detection software at university as a deterrent to plagiarism as discussed previously. Many students requested that the material covered in the plagiarism workshop, dealing with the expectations of the university and the effect of plagiarism on the parties involved, should form part of the orientation program for the postgraduate degree.
Alternately, as suggested by Song-Turner (2008), international students, under immense pressure faced with additional burdens such as economic hardship, cultural differences, housing difficulties and familial expectations, are not as careful or thorough in avoiding plagiarism as is expected. As Song-Turner (2008) stated of the students in her study: "Plagiarism was often used as a means of completing a task - moving on - submitting work - getting through rather than a deliberate and planned act of deception and poor behaviour". Both of these positions are congruent with the lack of dishonesty related adjectives the group selected to describe students who plagiarised.
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|Authors: Brad Stappenbelt, Chris Rowles and
School of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Western Australia
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Please cite as: Stappenbelt, B., Rowles, C. & May, E. (2009). Cultural influence on attitudes to plagiarism. In Teaching and learning for global graduates. Proceedings of the 18th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 29-30 January 2009. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2009/refereed/stappenbelt.html
Copyright 2009 Brad Stappenbelt, Chris Rowles and Eric May. The authors assign to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.