How often do we hear teachers bemoaning the students for their apparent lack of motivation and concentrated effort?
Often though, most of the problems that these teachers face in their classes are of their own volition, of their own making, they don’t realise how high the barriers to effective learning are that they themselves put in front of their students. This lack of awareness is often because these students are just too well brought up and polite to say, “Excuse me, I don’t get that. Could you explain again please?”
Native English speaker instructors tend to work overseas on a new contract by trying to teach the way they have been used to back home, and some new graduates can get teaching positions without any experience of qualifications. Most teachers overseas are worked hard and are rarely given opportunities to reflect upon their praxis or conduct research, focus-group analysis, or draw their students’ considerations into the instructional design.
On the surface many roles overseas offer students who seem particularly easy to interact with, even much of the humour translates, and for a while we bask in the pleasantness and warm buzz of the classroom interaction, until we hit the essay assessment, then reality tends to bite. Panic sets in and we look for ways to enhance the quality of output.
The assignments may show obvious sections of plagiarism; we Google search a few words and there it is. These students may freely admit to copying a paper, or paying someone else to write it for them.
They may well change a few words here and there and think that is fine. 'Yes, I copied it from that site. What do you mean I can’t?' Or, 'We’ve always done that and no teacher ever told us we couldn’t.'
(These are actual quotes from degree students).
You might jump on your high horse and assume a defensive stance, but it won’t do you any good so you might as well clamber down again and look at how this happened. It’s not necessarily their fault, if a student really doesn't understand something then it is our job to enlighten them in a way that makes sense to them.
Put yourself in their shoes, bear in mind motivational levels may perhaps already be quite low, maybe because of the complexity of minimal one-to-one interaction with an English native speaker teacher; or they may have had minimal or no experience of active learning techniques and expectations. So you may come to realise that they have been thrust into expectations of independent student-centered pedagogy with little in the way of background or preparation. They're attempting to climb up from the lowest rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and your staff could well be tripping them up without knowing it.
Consider also that probably some of your PhD lecturers may not have teaching qualifications; just because they have a doctorate doesn't necessarily make them communicative or empathetic teachers.
If the instructors are not checking student drafts regularly during the semester and offering quality direction and constructive feedback then the students well might remain lost and so procrastinate, and in the end feel they have no choice but to copy to get it handed in on time.
Do the students actually even understand how their projects and papers will be graded?
Does your institution have defined grading rubric for each module/course which you share with the cohorts from week 1?
So, what do you do? You can’t give a plagiarised assignments a passing grade, you have to deal with the problem. These assignments could be picked up by your dean, or external examiners, or even called for in the triangulation-of-evidence by the QA assessors then the trouble can your institution hit hard.
Just work out a plan of action to better prepare and help these students to compensate for their lack of preparation for higher academic study, in their second language, or sometimes even their third, (eg. Arabic, Tagalog, English).
Plagiarism can be quite easily avoided by using simple project management skills, workshops and some helpful change mentoring tutorials.
Note, I am also talking about your staff training here, not just helping the students to prepare for independent and effective study.
Copy and pasted work is easy to find by a QA assessor, but also easily managed if the teaching and assessment grading is approached in a systematic and transparent way, and it's much less problematic for the teachers as well.
There are quick and simple fixes for this seemingly impossible problem, utlising QAA Edu and our tailored templates to help move away from the 'need' to copy and paste will remove the stresses of procrastination and subsequent plagiarism.
Get in touch with us and chat about what we can offer to help you reduce and negate the serious risks of plagiarism to your institution's reputation.
Dr Laurence Brown