Prior to attempting this week's discussion students are to read the week 2 lesson found in the weekly content section of the classroom for this week. Students are to list the various databases and other sources utilized in their search for information on their topic. Students are to include their thesis statement in the first line of their post. Then, share with their classmates at least 2 helpful hints they feel will aid them in their search for information. Also, students are to be sure to post any difficulties they have found in searching for information.
Ensuring Effective Student Support in Higher Education Alleged Plagiarism Cases
Craig Baird & Patricia Dooey
Published online: 5 February 2014 # Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014
Abstract Plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct are matters of great concern at all levels of study worldwide. This is especially so for students in higher education institutions, where higher degrees and publications are key focus activities. Ready access to internet based resources assist academic writing practices. However, the unintentional, or sometimes deliberate, lack of acknowledgment of intellectual property ownership by some students results in plagiarism allegations. In this article we explain how the Business School at Curtin University, Western Australia, currently handles plagiarism accusations; and we propose a model for making the University’s approach more transparent, supportive, and educative for students. We recommend this model to others.
Keywords Plagiarism . Academic integrity. Student support . Learning styles . International students
Issues surrounding plagiarism have attracted much attention in recent years, particu- larly with the growth of the Internet and ease of access to material posted on it (Carroll, 2007; Flowerdew & Li, 2008; Park, 2004; Sutherland-Smith, 2008). In this article plagiarism is understood as the use of intellectual property, ideas, or published materials without providing clear acknowledgement of the source or ownership of such materials. All Australian universities have policies and procedures for dealing with cases of alleged plagiarism.
Here we examine the process used to deal with plagiarism allegations by the Curtin Business School (CBS), the largest faculty of Curtin University, Western Australia.
Innov High Educ (2014) 39:387–400 DOI 10.1007/s10755-014-9285-4
Craig Baird (PhD) works at Curtin University (Western Australia), where he assists academic staff research activities and supports higher degree students in their doctoral studies.
Patricia Dooey (EdD) is Coordinator for English Language Development in the Faculty of Humanities at Curtin University.
C. Baird (*): P. Dooey Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia e-mail: [email protected]
Throughout this article the plagiarism resolution process being discussed will be referred to as the CBS process, which is situated within the University’s policies and procedures for dealing with plagiarism. Arising from our experiences, we propose refinements to the CBS process designed to guide students through that procedure in a communicative, supportive manner. Changes to the current CBS process are intended to make the investigation and resolution of plagiarism allegations transparent by clearly communicating to students each of the procedures and decisions pertaining to their situation. The aim of the proposed changes is to ensure procedural justice and support for students by having a trained designated person available to advise them throughout the procedure for resolution of the allegation.
Curtin Business School has a student enrolment of over 16,000 students, of whom about 70% are international enrolments in both onshore and offshore campus settings. With such high numbers of international students it is not surprising that the incidence of plagiarism allegations is heavily weighted to that group. We, the authors, work almost exclusively with international students at CBS; and therefore our focus in this paper is on how this group of students, in particular, is impacted by plagiarism allegations.
Upon enrolment, all Curtin University students are required to sign an official document called the student charter, which includes information about the University’s policies regarding academic misconduct and plagiarism. In addition to setting out their rights and responsibilities as students, the charter document also notes that students are required to become knowledge- able about specific Curtin University policies on a range of topics concerning behaviour, racism, equity matters, and plagiarism. By signing this document students agree to check their official university email and other communications, (such as announcements shown on their log-in page when using the University’s internet access service) at least once a week. This online resource is intended to keep them informed and up to date on the full range of official University information. It also requires them to take timely action on key matters, which is particularly relevant in cases of alleged plagiarism. This information is further reinforced through the learning (unit)1 outline materials provided for every course (multiple units) in which a student is enrolled.
In response to the growing international cohort of students, faculty, and professional staff,2 CBS provides workshops and individual learning support to assist those experiencing difficulties with language, culture, learning practices, and plagiarism. Some students new to Curtin University have not previously experienced an evidence-based approach to writing and find themselves caught up in unintentional plagiarism as a result of not referencing their work. This is particularly the case for international students who may have come from countries where the rules for acknowl- edging intellectual property vary from those at Curtin University, and thus they are unaware of their non-compliance. To a degree this is dealt with at CBS through learning support workshops and individual student support sessions focussed on academic writing. However, there are many students who do not access these services because they are unaware of their deficit in writing skills or have study difficulties which go unnoticed until a plagiarism allegation arises.
1 The term unit in Australia is the equivalent of a course in North America. It typically describes a unit of study that lasts the duration of a single academic term or teaching period. A course in Australia is regarded as a group of units needed to complete a university degree. 2 Note that the Australian usage of the word “staff” is to be understood as including both faculty and staff members in North American parlance.
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Causes of Plagiarism and Related Issues
A number of studies have investigated the reasons why students plagiarise. One such study examined student perceptions concerning plagiarism and found that the reasons given included (not in any particular order) “inadequate admission criteria, poor understanding of plagiarism, poor academic skills, teaching/learning issues, laziness/convenience, pride in plagiarising, pressures and education costs” (Devlin & Gray, 2007, p.187). These researchers studied a broad student cohort and identified many issues that relate strongly to English as an Additional Language (EAL) students, who comprise a substantial cohort of the student body in western universities.
In a North American context, Abasi & Graves (2008) investigated the interaction between international graduate students and their professors in order to explore the notion of ownership of language and ideas and the balance that graduate students are required to find between providing their own ideas and language and supporting these appropriately with the work of others. Findings suggest that the challenge is greater for international students writing in another language, who might not yet have access to “words of their own” (Abasi & Graves, 2008, p.223) in that language. Furthermore, international/EAL students are more likely to come under scrutiny for plagiarism than local students because “the tutor is familiar with their writing styles” (Bamford & Sergiou, 2005, p.17) and because of “the more prominent differences in language level and tone between copied and original work” (Wheeler & Anderson, 2010, p.171). Thus, the triggers for plagiarism to occur are more likely to result from circumstances which are pertinent to international students. In other words, the common issues facing students in terms of academic integrity are compounded for such students.
The fundamental principles of academic integrity have been defined as honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility (The Center for Academic Integrity, 1999); and it is these principles that form the basis of the CBS guidelines for dealing with issues of plagiarism. Some students might plagiarise knowingly with the intention to deceive. However, given that the interpretation of plagiarism is multifaceted, other students, especially those from diverse cultural and/or educational backgrounds, find themselves unwittingly facing plagiarism alle- gations. Many international students come from educational backgrounds where it is not considered necessary to acknowledge the ideas of others, nor to conform to a specific referencing system (Baird & Dooey, 2012). Therefore it is important to establish as far as this is possible, the degree of intentionality in order to determine appropriate ways of dealing with reported instances of plagiarism. It is also critical to determine the distinction between intentional and unintentional plagiarism, which is a key part of implementing policy and practice at CBS.
Processes and the Study
Our research began with seeking to understand how the plagiarism process used by CBS affects students and faculty involved in resolving an allegation of plagiarism. Over a period of one year (2012), we recorded field notes concerning comments, anecdotes, processes, and outcomes for fourteen students whose alleged plagiarism was dealt with via the CBS plagia- rism resolution process (all cases for that period in CBS). Primary data were collected from those students in informal discussions that formed part of the learning development consulta- tions the authors conduct at the students’ request whilst other information came from more formal interviews with those same students, following resolution of their plagiarism allega- tions. To align what the students had noted as their experience of the CBS plagiarism
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resolution process with what the staff members involved had experienced, we conducted informal interviews with 18 faculty members (a mix of academic and administrative personnel) who had played various roles in dealing with those 14 students’ plagiarism allegations. The aim was to confirm details of how the matters had been conducted and what the impact was on students and staff, from a staff perspective. The participants included Unit/Course Coordinators, tutors, student services officers, and administrative staff in the Dean of Students’ (DoS) office. We then used the findings which emerged from analysis through coding for common themes and key issues to make recommendations for a more student- focussed approach to implementing the CBS plagiarism resolution process.
The changes we suggest are intended to provide a more transparent, communicative and supportive experience for all students going through the plagiarism allegation process. To date, no changes of the kind we recommend have been made to the CBS plagiarism resolution process at Curtin. For some students plagiarism is unintentional, possibly through a lack of knowledge or understanding of the rules. For others, it may be deliberate. Either way, the approach proposed here follows the same pathway and offers the same guidance and support with a view to making this an educative, supportive process.
Although plagiarism occurs across all student groups, there are a number of contributing factors such as educational background, level of English language skill, and independent academic skills, which may contribute to plagiarism by international students (Devlin & Gray, 2007; Liu, 2005). Many studies have noted a lack of awareness within this student group of expectations regarding plagiarism and preparedness for a western-style educational environ- ment (Hellsten, 2002; McCulloch, 2012; Sawir, 2005; Wellman & Fallon, 2012). University faculty and administrative personnel interviewed for this research noted that many interna- tional students failed to reference their work appropriately. Students from some cultures have been encouraged to reproduce the work of learned scholars, or to “cut and paste” without acknowledging the source (Wong, 2004, p.163). This is unintentional plagiarism since they are not familiar with a western, evidence-based approach. Our findings support those of others in suggesting that international students are more likely to plagiarise unintentionally than inten- tionally. Interviews conducted with the 14 students, who had faced an allegation of plagiarism and gone through the CBS process to resolve it, revealed that many were unsure of how or when to acknowledge the work of others or how to indicate ownership of knowledge. This is a key cause of unintentional plagiarism.
It is not uncommon for commencing students to be unprepared or ill-informed about institutional rules and practices and basic academic skills (Elander, Pittam, Lusher, Fox & Payne, 2010). Various studies have highlighted the need for interventions and ongoing learning support in regard to plagiarism and referencing skills (Maxwell, Curtis & Vardanega, 2008). In the CBS, support is provided through workshops and one-on-one consultations to coach students in plagiarism matters. However, because these services are not compulsory, some students who might benefit do not attend and thus remain unaware of the significance of plagiarism within the western educational context. This is a particular concern for postgraduate students,3 who are expected to demonstrate high levels of academic writing and referencing skills as per the plagiarism guidelines. Under the CBS regulations, students at the higher year levels of study are more heavily penalised than those at the early stages of their study when found to have plagiarised in comparatively similar ways. This is because they are expected to be fully familiarised with university policies by this advanced stage in their studies.
We found that students facing plagiarism allegations experience feelings ranging from guilt to disbelief and shame. The fallout from such allegations can be compounded for international
3 “Graduate” student in North American parlance.
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students because the final outcome might result in loss of face (Sutherland-Smith, 2008), shame to the family, and even a threat to their visa status. An essential requirement under the mandatory conditions (Condition 8202) for holding an Australian study visa is that students “… must maintain satisfactory attendance in your course and course progress for each study period as required by your education provider” (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2012). If proved, a serious plagiarism allegation might mean the loss of a study visa. The stress caused by the investigative process and outcomes can significantly affect a student’s emotional state and academic performance. This possibility is particularly important for EAL students, who may be ill-equipped linguistically to navigate the investigation process (Baird, 2010; Bretag, 2007; Birrell, 2006; Coley, 1999; Dunworth, 2010; Sawir, 2005).
From an institutional perspective, there has been a shift in the approach to dealing with issues of plagiarism from a punitive to an educative one (Macdonald & Carroll, 2006; Pecorari, 2003). The difficulties faced by international students in relation to plagiarism are said to often be more pedagogical than moral (McCulloch, 2012). Given the manner in which policy drives practice in higher education institutions, a study was conducted by the organisation formerly known as the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) to review academic integrity policies across the Australian tertiary sector. That study identified five core elements of exemplary policy. These are access in that the policies are easy to locate and read, concise, and comprehensible; approach in that the policies include a statement of purpose with an clear educative focus throughout the policy statements; responsibility is taken by all stakeholders including academic support staff; the detail is adequate but not excessive; and the final element is support so as to ensure that proactive and embedded systems are in place to implement the policy (Bretag et al., 2011).
The practical implementation of policies in a clear and transparent manner can be complex and confusing with broad-ranging implications. For example, reporting incidents of alleged plagiarism can be problematic (Sutherland-Smith, 2005) by setting in motion a train of events (such as those required by the policies and procedures of Curtin University), which are not readily reversed and can have far-reaching effects, such as the loss of the student’s study visa. Reluctance to report cases of alleged plagiarism has been linked to concerns over revealing personal inadequacies (Wellman & Fallon, 2012). The data we gathered for this study indicate student confusion about referencing work, a situation that is further complicated by the English language skills of some faculty members who may themselves experience difficulty with providing adequate written feedback.
The growth of greater numbers of students needing academic language support has fre- quently not been matched with an expansion of faculty members who are skilled in providing such support, as noted by Sutherland Smith (2008, p.188) in saying that such staff are being “thinly spread across a spectrum of student needs and unable to meet the demands”. This is certainly the case at Curtin University, where some faculty members who work part-time (known as sessionals) are being assigned to course-coordination roles but are not provided paid time so as to offer academic writing support or coaching to students. In addition, such faculty members are also required to develop assessment tasks for their course subject area, often without training in ways to design such assessments so as to discourage or prevent plagiarism. This combination of reduced academic writing support and the potential for assessment tasks to be vulnerable to plagiarism puts students at risk. Therefore, a holistic approach is called for (Devlin, 2003; Macdonald & Carroll, 2006; Sutherland-Smith, 2008) whereby all stakeholders work together to ensure that assessment tasks are designed in ways that minimise the opportu- nities for plagiarism to occur. In this way, those students identified as being at risk, particularly EAL students or those who enter the university through non-traditional backgrounds, are routinely referred to Academic Language and Learning support staff (Leask, 2006).
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Dealing with Alleged Plagiarism
University staff may become indifferent when faced with poorly defined, time consuming processes for detecting, reporting, and dealing with alleged plagiarism. Some staff members have been known to “turn a blind eye” to low level plagiarism rather than having to deal with it appropriately. This reaction has led to some students reaching an advanced stage of their studies still unaware of appropriate practice and facing plagiarism allegations (Baird & Dooey, 2012). Ignoring low level plagiarism can lead to greater difficulties for students and staff when students demonstrate the same plagiarism behaviours at higher levels of study when the consequences are far more serious.
At Curtin University, plagiarism is classified using three levels of seriousness. It should be noted, however, that for disciplinary purposes, Level I (minor/first time or unintentional plagiarism) is not considered to be a serious issue and is not subject to any penalty; only a warning and guidance is provided. Level II and Level III are regarded as more serious and as such are subject to penalties. The University provides multiple resources that detail its rules concerning plagiarism and ways to avoid inadvertent transgression of these rules. These resources include a checklist to help prevent plagiarism (see Curtin University, 2011), course outline materials (syllabi) online, and library resources. Students facing a plagiarism or academic misconduct allegation are dealt with using a ten step process (Curtin University, 2012). This investigative process provides opportunities for students to explain matters that may have influenced their behaviour. In this instance, it is international students who are most impacted by cases of plagiarism allegations because their study visa is provisional on having good course performance and a course exclusion penalty could see them returned to their home country.
The Point of Accusation
When accused of plagiarism by a faculty or staff member, some students say that they have never been taught an evidence-based way of writing and that in their previous learning setting and culture they did not have to acknowledge information sources in academic writing. Some Curtin University students who have been granted advanced levels of enrolment after having partially or fully completed degree studies overseas may not be conversant with referencing requirements. Such students typically do not have academic skill levels comparable to those who have undertaken all of their studies in Australia, and they often experience plagiarism problems.
For international students, provision of proof of English language competency and the need to interpret English language admissions criteria is a key requirement for enrolment in an institution where English is the language of instruction, which is the case not only in Australia but also beyond. Of particular concern are the difficulties faced by EAL students, who struggle to cope with the linguistic demands of their courses (Coley, 1999; Oliver, Vanderford & Grote, 2012). The International English Language Testing System, or IELTS, (one of the most widely recognised international tests of English), has recommended that: “… each individual institution should set its own minimum IELTS score for applicants, depending on specific institutional and programme requirements” (IELTS, 2011, p.13). While such tests have been available for many years as an indicator of readiness to begin studies in an English- speaking environment, students (Sutherland-Smith, 2008) and even the receiving institutions
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(Dunworth & Kirkpatrick, 2003) often believe that a minimum score on these tests reflects the full range of linguistic skills required to succeed in their courses. Regrettably, this is not necessarily the case. Further, a relatively small percentage of students actually use the IELTS or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) as evidence of English language proficiency upon enrolment. Many students enrol in courses via other pathways such as satellite campus partnership arrangements involving overseas institutions. This research reported that many students have poor English language skills, resulting in a failure to understand course materials; assessment tasks; rules that govern writing structure and practice; and, quite often, the concept of plagiarism. This problem appears to be a growing one in universities, particularly those with a substantial number of international students (Baird & Dooey, 2012).
All but two of the 14 international students who participated in this research noted that their earlier studies mostly entailed rote learning of facts and that referencing to them meant mirroring the words of the teacher. Local students may also have this same misunderstanding because they too may be unfamiliar with exactly what constitutes plagiarism and may not know how to avoid it (Maxwell, Curtis & Vardanega, 2008). Missing from the experiences of many students are specific study skills (Park, 2003) such as finding, analysing, using, and referencing appropriate refereed source materials so as to construct a sound argument about which they are able to express a view or make recommendations. This misunderstanding or lack of skills can lead to inadvertent plagiarism through unsupported argument, the use of materials without appropriate citation, or conscious misuse of materials due to not knowing how to acknowledge those materials appropriately (Devlin & Gray, 2007). Even though students are provided with all of the requisite information regarding rules and regulations, simply directing them to electronic versions of plagiarism and academic integrity policies or useful resources does not guarantee that students will access or use these resources. International students struggling with English language issues are particularly vulnerable in this regard.
Any student who undertakes studies in a country other than their own usually faces a range of new experiences such as adapting to new foods, currency, language, behaviours, living conditions, and transport systems. Such things can put great pressure on students living away from home for the first time (Wellman & Fallon, 2012). Some students accused of plagiarism cite these factors as contributing to study pressures that led to their transgression (Sutherland- Smith, 2008). Some share assignments with other students or reuse their (or others’) earlier works out of opportunity facilitated by living in shared accommodation where work sharing is part of the collective culture. For some, this situation can result in plagiarism out of desperation for fear of losing their study visas by not demonstrating progression in a course of study, or they may have their enrolment placed on “conditional status.”
An Overview of Australian Practice
To contextualise the academic culture and approach taken by CBS for dealing with plagiarism, we offer a brief overview of how the principal Australian universities deal with such matters through their policies and procedures. Changes in government policies and funding in Australia
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over about the last thirty years have brought about a shift from having colleges of advanced education to having approved universities. Key to that growth was the presence of eight foundation universities, each sited in a capital city or major centre. Those eight universities have come to be called the “Group of Eight” (Go8). Many regard the Go8 institutions as representing the best of Australian university practice, and they are thereby perceived as setting standards of practice for others. For this reason, the policies and practices utilised by the Go8 for dealing with plagiarism and academic misconduct are reviewed here so as to provide a broader perspective and context for examining the approach taken by Curtin University.
While there are similarities in the overall Go8 approaches in regards to plagiarism, some important differences exist. To explore these, each of the universities is addressed here by a code number rather than its name. All eight define plagiarism in much the same way, and mostly they treat unintentional or “ill-informed” or inexperienced (less than 24 months of tertiary study) plagiarism in a low key, low (or no) penalty manner. Mostly the approach is educative rather than punitive, with the emphasis on procedural justice and fairness through highly communicative practices. The rights of individuals are articulated in policies that govern every aspect of the procedures used to investigate and resolve academic misconduct matters. All of the Go8 institutions provide legal and counselling support for students and staff as part of their investigative decision-making and appeal practices so as to provide those facing allegations with every opportunity to understand and deal with the legalities and stresses associated with the processes. By comparison, Curtin University takes a very procedural approach that does not necessarily include aspects of support and advice for students and university staff in the manner of the national practices used by the Go8.
University 1 has an eight-stage procedure that begins with a thorough information gathering exercise with a checklist to ensure procedural fairness in a reasonable time frame. The espoused core value for this university is “academic honesty and integrity”. These terms are used in all of its documents in preference to plagiarism as seen elsewhere. All stages in its procedure are characterised by a constant exchange of information with any person accused of plagiarism, whether through negligence or intention. Throughout the process, the person facing an allegation is kept informed of what is happening and what the outcomes might be. In low level cases a purely educative, counselling approach is taken; in cases of repeated or higher level inappropriate conduct, actual penalties are applied, ranging from the downgrading of marks to exclusion from courses.
The approach taken by University 1 is replicated by University 2 with the addition of an academic conduct advisor appointed at the outset to assist the accused person at every stage of the process. Their role is focussed on communicating and explaining each aspect of the progress of the case while offering support services such as counselling and advocacy personnel where appropriate (language matters, gender issues, cultural factors, financial difficulties, and visa condition requirements). This approach is also seen in University 3, which is a smaller institution that provides a high level of support for students generally and continues that approach when dealing with alleged plagiarism. Its focus is on equity and transparency in the review process. This is achieved by having very detailed procedures for gathering information about any alleged plagiarism prior to the rendering of the accusation. Preliminary investigations involve senior staff in the discipline who must report and inform the student of the accusation, and the actions that will be taken to resolve it, within ten days of the occurrence. The approach taken is to inform and educate with skills development being the principal means for dealing with low level transgressions.
The next group of four universities comprises the oldest and largest university institutions in Australia, which as such have high status in matters of academic integrity. Each of these has a highly detailed and structured approach to dealing with matters of plagiarism with one in
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