Racial Equality Considerations in Assessment
#5Do all students understand what plagiarism means?
Just asking the students if they understand the concept is not sufficient; students have to be shown what it means. Furthermore, at international postgraduate levels, lecturers often assume that all students have been taught referencing conventions as undergraduates. We need to distinguish between what is genuine plagiarism and what is really negligence in adhering to academic conventions.
academic staff comment
Plagiarism is a deliberate attempt to mislead. As such it is dishonest and is a form of cheating. However, plagiarism can also be a result of poor scholarship resulting from confusion about referencing conventions, poor academic literacy, poor time management and/or lack of preparation or research for the piece of work.
Many students argue once accused of plagiarism that it is non-deliberate. Reasons given include:
- a poorly framed assessment task which merely requires the presentation of others’ ideas;
- the course or programme not providing sufficient advice or examples of what plagiarism means;
- failure to understand the nature, meaning and consequence of plagiarism within the Western cultural tradition;
- poor information-handling and analytical skills, which lead students to combine unacknowledged source material with their own work;
- deference to authoritative information, combined with the desire to “get it right”, resulting in wholescale lifts of sentences or paragraphs from other sources;
- poor language skills, leading students to use other people’s writing as a scaffold for their own;
- in the case of collaborative groupwork, not understanding the difference between collaboration and collusion;
- not realising that self-plagiarism is still a form of academic misconduct
In many cultures there is a belief that the teacher is always correct and therefore quoting verbatim from what the teacher has written is encouraged. Various cultures draw much of their knowledge from folklore. Folklore is a means of transmitting information, particularly in those cultures with historically non-text-based traditions of sharing knowledge. Folklore knowledge is considered to be in the public domain, and it would not be necessary to acknowledge the source or author. This could lead students to copy other material without due citation.
In addition, students whose first language is not English often find it difficult to paraphrase a text they consider to have been written in perfect English. Rather than risk losing the meaning or the context, these students are likely to copy the material. For others, altering of text through paraphrasing or précising would not be viewed as acceptable practice.
Non-deliberate plagiarism can be avoided by
- explicitly signalling “Western perspectives” on the value of academic honesty and integrity and the consequences of plagiarism;
- in academic literary terms, helping students develop skills in such areas as problem-solving, critical analysis, assignment construction, layout, referencing and use of citations;
- including in induction programmes discussion of plagiarism and different cultural understandings of using the work of an expert, giving students the opportunity to ask questions and to see examples of plagiarism in practice and how it is avoided;
- conducting staff development in diverse cultural approaches to plagiarism;
- providing targeted and effective language support, as required;
- setting assessment tasks which are based on a particular stimulus (e.g. an article, news report, critical case study) and varying these from year to year;
- requiring students to apply what they have learnt to a very particular set of circumstances, to undertake some form of research as the basis for their assignment or to produce a personal reflective essay;
- using declaration proforma and plagiarism detection software.
The Plagiarism Advice site commissioned by Ofqual, the regulator of qualifications, exams and tests in England, disseminates good practice in the area of detecting and dealing with plagiarism. The site contains excellent papers presented at their annual conferences which provide useful information relating to plagiarism.
For more information about cultural issues and plagiarism, go to Robert Gordon University’s website and download the Project Report “Overcoming the cultural issues associated with plagiarism for International students”; and for more information on staff development and plagiarism deterrence see the Plagiarism Project
The following articles also provide useful reading for those interested in considering issues of cultural diversity and the topic of plagiarism.
- Graham, A. and Leung, C.K. (2004) “Uncovering "blind spots": culture and copying”
- This paper challenges common stereotypes and generalisations about students from Chinese traditions in relation to plagiarism. It also explores other links between culture, ethnicity and copying.
Hayes, J.N. and Introna, L. (2005) “Cultural values, plagiarism, and fairness: when plagiarism gets in the way of learning ”, Ethics & Behavior, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 213–31
Perry, C. (2004) Addressing the Needs of Students from Diverse Cultural Backgrounds with Respect to Academic Writing.