Recommendation for a new Learning Support Unit at XXX University
A brief discussion paper for XXX University.
Defining plagiarism in western institutions of HE is a fairly straightforward affair: The unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work,” is the dictionary definition. However, successfully working within the complex issues that surround plagiarism and intellectual property rights within a second language learning environment requires an empathetic and flexible approach.
One of the most utilised software to guide with appropriate referencing is Turnitin, (Turnitin.com) as a text-matching tool used by many institutions. I would advise caution against implementing such an excellent program across your institution too quickly as there my be unintended consequences, unless the teaching staff are well trained in use and prepared for the feedback.
A decade of teaching in the Gulf and across Asia, plus associating with Dr. Tim Walters of Zayed University on the first book to be published in the Gulf States to clarify both Sharia and International legal issues of intellectual copyright, “Bridging The Gulf”, confirms my supposition that flexibility and understanding are key components in dealing with plagiarism.
These students will generally readily admit that the work they hand in is taken from the Internet; they have little remorse as they simply do not understand that this is unacceptable. Even in the UK, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ALT) found that 58% of the teachers interviewed had been offered work that was plagiarised by A-level students. It has been suggested that once students clearly understand what plagiarism is, its consequences and how to reference to avoid plagiarism, then it becomes less of an issue. It is believed that the majority of students who engage in this form of plagiarism do so more out of ignorance than the desire to cheat.
This is true also, that most of the instances of plagiarism occur, not from deliberate cheating, but a combination of situations that result in the handing in of work that is not their own. Such as, a lack of awareness, poorly developed time management skills, and the fact that most of the work has to be completed in their second language. These problems are then compounded by the the paradigm shift in pedagogical methods to active, student-centered and autonomous learning, usually without enough academic support.
The difference in the originality of work handed in between a graduate of a local school and that from an international, private school is marked, as following a UK curriculum they are better prepared for student-centered, independent learning.
The main crux of both my master’s and doctoral research was this differential in pre-sessional preparation as well as the mismatch of expectations that are apparent between student from calligraphic learning backgrounds within a western administered institution.
Last year I completed an eight month project for the Ministry of Education to advise and offer pathways towards online active learning for 203 schools. The education consultant, Juhanni Kyrro and I worked together to produce the information architecture for the proposed Education Portal for the Ministry of Education, a 200+ page report.
This shift from passive to active learning along the precepts of constructivism is taking off across the Arabic and Asian regions at this time, interestingly enough in societies that have traditionally taught in rote and didactic fashion to enable the memorization of calligraphic scripts as well as Quranic learning.
The shift in teaching and learning methods taking place in this part of the world will better prepare local students to be active members of the knowledge society. In a fast developing and highly globalised networked region imparting strategies for learning flexibility is imperative, and follows the principles invoked in the Futures Curriculum stemming from Australia and the UK, upon which the current quality indicators are based.
This autonomous and independent learning style can come as a shock to these students, as witnessed by anecdotal evidence: I offer two examples, one in 2002 when I was a Team Program Chair and the other this month here at XXX University.
1) A student hands in an essay which obviously isn’t his. A quick cut and paste into Google brings up the paper written by XXX in the UK in 1997. He is requested to my office, I give him the original authors paper and informed him it was 100% copied; his exclamation was - “B..stard!.. I paid him to write that for me!”
2) Last week, when a student came to me to ‘negotiate’ her grade I explained that I couldn't give her a passing grade for her essay as there were obvious referencing issues, her response was:“Yes, of course I took it from the Internet, this is my graduating semester and we have always done that, no-one ever mentioned it as a problem before.”
Honest responses such as these from students indicate that it is us who are making this problem, a rod for our own backs. Speaking as a teacher with twenty years of overseas experience, I strongly suggest that if a student of mine is ignorant of a fact, then it is my fault as their teacher. It's because I haven’t taught that student in a way that is effective.
It is me who should adapt and correct my teaching, I should re-iterate in a way that will enable to the student to understand the need and the necessary strategies to apply that information.
We are failing our clients, in that we are not preparing them properly; it's hardly their fault, yet if they are to go out into the globalised workforce and forge a meaningful place for themselves as graduates then clearly this is an issue that we have to tackle. Plus of course, we are under accreditation processes and hence, are liable for any plagiarism that may come to light. We also have an increasing number of overseas institutions opening up in the region with whom we will have to compete for students and outcomes quality.
I suggest therefore that XXX University considers setting up a Learning Assistance Unit, which offers workshops, courses, teacher training, advice and support for students and staff alike. The reason universities feels the need for just such a learning unit is to support and add value to those students who come from a rote, didactic background to make the adjustment to an active, student-centered paradigm. Courses at a renowned university such as Curtin and the University of Queensland adopt the rationale and format as follows:
Learning Assistance Unit [or, Learning Support Department]
Tertiary preparation workshops can be as little as a half day and are often compulsory and free to all students. These help to affirm and strengthen acceptable learning approaches, address expectations and help with strategies such as critical and effective writing.
Further sessions may be interactive in their approaches and help the students to understand what professors are actually looking for in essays and reports. To give them the big picture of what we expect from them.
Continuing workshops assist students with methods, such as generating and organizing ideas, forming conclusions and following a linear and logical sequence of drafting papers.
Accepted referencing formats are discussed and illustrated: how and why referencing is so important.
The context of report writing, including how to present data and discuss results, formulating a logical and well-presented conclusion.
Case studies need specific strategies, identifying the problem, finding possible solutions, reporting research findings to justify recommendations, structure etc.
Academic writing has to be learned, especially when the student has no prior experience, the teaching and learning methods are alien and it is in a second language. It is for these reasons that analytical and critical writing workshops need to be available.
Students should learn how to produce work that is authoritative, objective and intellectual. It follows that what we are really discussing here is a growth of self-confidence in students’ individual abilities to become studious and self-reliant. This is surely the aim of any undergraduate program, to instill a level of intellectual ability and confidence that perhaps didn’t exist prior.
If XXX University wishes to compete at a higher academic and intellectual level then it becomes axiomatic that a specialized department be set up to offset the tendency towards representing the work of others as the student’s own. This should be inferred by the students to be supportive, as opposed to remedial in its nature.
This could be one of the first universities in the region to recognise the limitations of prior didactic educational experience to support and assist students to make the leap of faith into the constructivist domain of a globalised Higher Education.
Dr. Laurence Brown
+44 779604 8874 Skype