ESL Students: Fostering Skills to Avoid Plagiarism

Hazel Owen Published as: Owen, H. (2007). ESL students: Fostering skills to avoid plagiarism. In A. Jendli, S. Troudi & C. Coombe (Eds.), The power of language: Perspectives from Arabia (pp. 215-231). Dubai: TESOL Arabia.

Introduction I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think. - Socrates Plagiarism is a problem that needs to be addressed by all educators and learners (Martin, 2005). When issues such as studying through the medium of English as a second language, diverse educational backgrounds, and alternative cultural views of what constitutes plagiarism are considered, the problem increases. Nevertheless, every educational institution that adopts Western-style principles toward plagiarism has the responsibility to equip their students with appropriate skills. This paper considers a simple definition of plagiarism, and then looks at why students plagiarise. In addition, there is a brief description of a Research Skills and Projects (RS&P) course that was designed and built specifically for Higher Diploma Foundations (HDF) students at Dubai Men’s College (DMC). It is proposed, based on findings from the associated longitudinal research study, that skills learned on the RS&P course minimise incidents of plagiarism. Defining and Recognising Plagiarism Although there are numerous definitions of plagiarism (Hexham, 1999), it is not the purpose of this paper to compare classifications and underpinning philosophies. Instead, definitions provided by the institution at which the research study was conducted will be considered. The Higher Colleges of Technology’s (HCT) academic honesty policy defines plagiarism as “…deliberately presenting another person’s work as your own without acknowledgment” (Higher Colleges of Technology, 2003). This source also catalogues instances of plagiarism ranging from copy and paste to more sophisticated bricolage, and includes the use of images and charts without acknowledgement. The DMC library augments the definition as follows: “The use of another person’s ideas, expressions or opinions without acknowledging or noting the source” (Learning Centre, 2004). The question sometimes posited is why plagiarism is given such negative status when often there is no intention to deceive (Martin, 2005). Sheard, Markham, and Dick (2003) indicate, however, that in an educational environment plagiarism has three main effects. The

ESL Students: Fostering Skills to Avoid Plagiarism Hazel Owen

first is an escalating negative attitude toward the value of study; secondly, students who plagiarise have not learned anything, and finally, they have not achieved the desired learning outcome. It is therefore crucial that instructors recognise and indubitably confirm incidents of plagiarism (Hexham, 1999) because, as Klass (1987) warns, a large amount of distress can result from erroneous allegations. Instructors then have to determine the intention behind the plagiarism (Hexham, 1999) and whether it occurred due to skills disparity. Martin (1994) suggests that “most cases should be dealt with as matters of etiquette rather than theft” (p. 34).

Types of Plagiarism Encountered at DMC Higher Diploma Foundations What follows is not an exhaustive list of types of plagiarism, rather it is an attempt to identify and describe the main types of plagiarism seen in HDF at DMC: • • • • • • • copying another student’s work; having work done by another person and submitting it as his own; using a bricolage of sources (with or without references); employing a combination of his own words and a writer’s words (with or without references); using words and ideas from synchronous and asynchronous interactions and personal conversations without acknowledgement (Martin, 2005); duplicating presentations, pictures and / or charts from the Internet and submitting it as his own work (with or without references); and / or paraphrasing / summarising / quoting inadequately (with or without references). (Adapted from Young, 2005)

Reasons for Plagiarising Having identified the definition and types of plagiarism prevalent at DMC the next step is to establish the fundamental reasons behind plagiarism.

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Figure 1: Core reasons (one or in combination) that could culminate in students plagiarising.

Time Management Skills The pressure of time and time management may lead to plagiarism. Several coinciding deadlines can cause students who have poor time management and prioritisation skills, and /or low levels of motivation, to submit work merely to meet deadlines (Love, 1997). English Language Skills Studying for the first time in an English medium environment, students may find that their level of language is insufficient. This limitation can cause unsatisfactory paraphrasing and summarising, regularly accompanied by a misinterpretation of what constitutes plagiarism (Lahur, 2005). In addition, learners find it difficult to locate and interpret appropriate resources, and are not aware of subtle nuances in a text. Design of Assessments Passing assessments and assignments is usually crucial to a student’s success. Nurtjahja and Lahur (2002) found that in a study involving ninety-six Foundation Studies students 46.8% disclosed that they would use any strategy to pass. When designed poorly, or of an unsuitable level of difficulty, an assessment can give unscrupulous students opportunities to plagiarise. A poorly designed assessment may only:
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• • • •

test the compilation or recall of ‘information’; have a broad, general topic; use the same topic every year; or not personalise topics to encourage students to carry out original research and express their own interpretations.

Educational background A research study undertaken by the UAE University’s College of Education (2004, in The UAE Ministry of Information and Culture, 2005) ascertained that Emirati secondary school graduates were unable to synthesize, interpret, or apply ‘knowledge’, and therefore recommended “a shift from a passive culture of rote learning to an active culture of applied learning” (The UAE Ministry of Information and Culture, 2005, p. 998). Furthermore, the UAE Ministry of Information and Culture (2005) recognise that “the major challenge…is how to re-educate a teaching population that has…been educated and trained under the old regime [because the] process requires a total rearrangement of teaching values and methods” (p. 228). New Learning Culture Issues of cultural background and its impact on learners’ awareness, skills, and knowledge (Lave, 1991) are central. However, the concept of culture is fluid. According to Scollon and Scollon (1995) there are two main interpretations of ‘culture’: the first is high culture including the arts and intellectual achievement; the second is culture interpreted anthropologically thereby encompassing customs, language, values, attitudes and social structures; this paper will refer to the latter interpretation. Opposing cultural assumptions about what constitutes ‘knowledge’ as well as what the role of a student is (Lipson & Reindl, 2003), are central to teaching theory and practice, but can lead to a sense of dislocation when students move between systems. For example, students are frequently unused to expressing their views on intellectual practice and are from a culture that respects contribution to the community above the expression of individual thoughts, and indeed “may regard such declarations as arrogant or inappropriate” (Lipson & Reindl, 2003, p. 13). These points are particularly relevant when looking at plagiarism; where the belief is that a learners’ role is to mimic and repeat, students “default to a master, a truth,… or a (poorly
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understood) rule” (Lipson & Reindl, 2003, p. 13). Thus, when required to formulate and support an opinion, the issues of appropriacy and self-confidence are called into question. Critical Thinking, Study and Research Skills When a student’s primary and secondary educational background and learning culture differ from that in a tertiary institute, an alternative set of skills is required. In part this is attributable to the nature of the qualifications at tertiary level where learners have to: • • • • locate, interpret, compare, synthesise and think critically about resources; evaluate, analyse, and use independent thought; take responsibility for own learning; and adopt conventions and processes necessary for tertiary education as well as for the workplace. The Research Skills and Project Course The forty-week RS&P course at DMC was developed in response to study, research and critical thinking skill deficiencies among the student intake into HDF. RS&P is a heavily scaffolded blended learning course (see Figure 2) with an easily accessible infrastructure (Durham & Owen, 2006).

Figure 2: The concept of blended learning used in an educational context (Heinze and Procter, 2004)

The course design is underpinned by sociocultural theory. This theory has many of its roots in Vygotskyan cultural psychology which situates learning within the social structure of an activity,
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as opposed to the mental structure of the individual (Crook, 1994). The central hypothesis is that the process of human development, context and cognition are inseparable. As such, it is the social interaction of the individual with external social world (communities, rules, tools, and activities) that leads to the development of higher mental functions including logical memory, verbal and conceptual thought, and multifaceted emotions. Vygotsky also developed the notion of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which suggests that opportunities can be provided where the gap between a learner’s already assimilated knowledge or skills, and knowledge or skills yet to be assimilated, can be bridged when assisted by a more advanced peer or teacher - a concept known as ‘scaffolding’ (Owen, 2005).

Study, research, and critical thinking skills introduced / taught / assimilated

Skills applied in a task / project

Next task or project:- skills / experience applied

Feedback and grading (zero tolerance \ 0 grade for plagiarism)

Reflection and support / counselling

Figure 3: Iterative cycle used in the RS&P to maximise experiential learning

RS&P uses a blended learning approach whereby face-to-face classroom sessions are utilised alongside a series of tools, documents, models, explanations, instructions, learning outcomes and rubrics - all available on the online management system (OMS), WebCT. Over
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the course of one academic year students complete a series of assessed and non-assessed tasks set within four key projects: The Country Project, The Famous Person Project, The Career Project, and the Inventions, Developments and Change Project. The process is iterative (see Figure 3), thus the skills required to complete each research project are repeated and developed as the support provided through scaffolding is reduced. A variety of formats and media are used in RS&P to help meet differing student learning styles: visual, aural, read / write, kinaesthetic, multimodal (Fleming & Bonwell, 1998). Furthermore, the design attempts to extend the benefits of collaborative tasks while also providing a battery of tools, including annotated links to Web sites that assist with language and study skills.

Figure 4: The WebCT environment of the RS&P blended learning course.

The Research Study Having designed and built the prototype RS&P course, a range of qualitative and quantitative data collection tools were employed to study the effectiveness of the course, while also gathering attitudinal and evaluative feedback (Silverman, 2001).

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The research setting / problem For DMC students to adapt their whole approach to learning, alter their expectations of themselves as learners and of the teacher, while also adjusting their way of thinking, is an essential but challenging process. During this transition it is paramount to provide enough support for learners to develop the strategies that enable them to assimilate the necessary skills (McGrath & Noble, 1995). Results and Implications The full body of data that has been collected, collated, analysed and interpreted is substantial. As such, reference is made only to results and findings when they bear relevance to plagiarism. Fostering Skills to Avoid Plagiarism As noted above, there are myriad reasons for plagiarism. Martin (2005) advises that “the main focus should be on learning, not penalties for transgressors” (p. 5). The RS&P course therefore emphasises participant training and experiential learning in a supportive environment.

Awareness Raising and Reflection Awareness raising tasks and counselling are employed to encourage students to reflect critically on their actions and the associated outcome. As such, each individual constructs his own understanding of what has happened and why, thereby enhancing the impact of the experiential learning (Dubai Women’s College, 2001). The process begins during the students’ first weeks at DMC and is continued throughout his college career by: • • • • • • establishing the concepts of academic honesty (Lipson & Reindl, 2003); raising awareness that no amount of copying is acceptable; translating key terms and concepts into Arabic; discussing the consequences of plagiarism; illustrating that there are skills available to avoid plagiarism; investigating examples of plagiarism;

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• • •

getting students to include an academic honesty statement on all documents; using concept checking to ensure students are aware of whose words and ideas they are reading (including their own) (Lipson & Reindl, 2003); and providing easy access to clear expectations (Christe, 2003) and policies (Martin, 2005);

Current research into education and computer mediated communication (CMC) indicates that when a learner has to articulate and explain concepts to other students understanding is often enhanced (Chan, 2001). As such, online tasks using synchronous and asynchronous communication through emails, chat (initially Skype but now MSN), and a discussion board have also been integrated into the course to discuss issues such as plagiarism (Christe, 2003). One benefit is that students have to isolate and reflect on a problem before putting it into wordsi.e. what he does and does not know. The chance to use chat with teachers and other classmates has been a great success, with students using the tool for clarification and negotiation, and teachers have been able to respond to individual student requirements. In addition, chat has enhanced the learning community, which was particularly important for more reserved learners and mature evening students. Peers and teachers have become more accessible, and when project deadlines approach there is much less of a sense of isolation. It has also been observed that the promotion of good relationships in a learning situation has assisted in the diminishment of “some dishonest student behaviour” (Christe, 2003, p. 55). Experiential Learning One instructor wrote: “what we…want is not only for our learners to know MORE but to know DIFFERENTLY” [emphasis in the original] (Owen, 2006). Some learners find the transition challenging, but based on student results from the academic years 2004 to 2005 (82.6% pass rate), and 2005 to 2006 (89% pass rate), most students are able to make progress. However, one of the impacts of the experiential approach is that semester one results have a relatively high failure rate. Nevertheless, because students have the opportunity to try again, with the grades weighted accordingly to reflect the ongoing learning process, they are not heavily penalized, but the feedback and result do capture their attention. The approach has proven effective for decreasing incidences of plagiarism; for example, from the results of the semester one, 2005 Country project Web site assessment (Figure 5)
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compared with the second Web site students produced in semester two, 2005 (Figure 6) it can be extrapolated that the rate of plagiarism reduces by approximately 15% over a period of 20 weeks.

Figure 5: Incidence of plagiarism within student Web sites (semester 1, 2005)

Figure 6: Incidence of plagiarism within student Web sites (semester 2, 2002/2005) - (students cannot pass the assessment if there are any instances of plagiarism)

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Referencing and Language Skills and Strategies It has been suggested that it is necessary for students to actively ‘make’ and ‘own’ meaning (Hughes, Kooy, & Kanevsky, 1997); therefore basic and more advanced language and referencing skills and strategies are covered in RS&P (Lipson & Reindl, 2003) including: • • • • • • paraphrasing and summarising; synonyms and word substitution; changed word and sentence order; evaluating and analysing sources; referencing skills; and in-text citations;

To foster the skills listed above dynamic interaction is encouraged through a range of tools, and scaffolding is provided by peers, models and examples, as well as problem solving scenarios, mainly comprising: • • • • • • • models and examples (available in WebCT); instructions and rubrics (available in WebCT); translation of key concepts into Arabic; paper and links to online dictionaries / thesauruses vocabulary tasks that encourage translation, recycling, and production for authentic purposes; suggested suitable, relevant resources and sites; Camtasia (screen capture software with audio capabilityhttp://www.techsmith.com) is used to illustrate key concepts as well as empower students by providing a forum that can be accessed from anywhere, as many times as required; • • NoodleBib referencing software (http://www.noodletools.com); TextSTAT concordancer (Figure 7 - http://www.niederlandistik.fuberlin.de/textstat/software-en.html)

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Figure 7: Using the TextSTAT concordancer to illustrate the use of the geographical vocabulary in context, and as a tool to encourage use of synonyms

Examples and models are used extensively in the RS&P course to provide students with a clear idea of the product that is expected for assessment. For example, in semester one, students are given a model for their first presentation (uploaded to WebCT for students to access), which demonstrates ‘best practise’ for PowerPoint slides. One criticism that could be levelled is that students’ creativity is stifled. Quite the opposite appears to be the case because students become secure in the knowledge that they are meeting the assessment requirements, thereby allowing them to concentrate on gaining the skills and confidence to speak in public in English. By semester two, fewer models are used, and instead examples are provided which students have the flexibility to adapt and change as they desire. The final project has no model thus encouraging students to apply all they have learned in the other three projects. Findings indicate that students go on to employ the skills they have learned in the higher diploma courses without the necessity of further scaffolding.

Design of Assessments Assessment topics are chosen for their relevance to graduate outcomes as well as their motivation for students. Findings imply that when task completion expectations are high students are challenged and a higher quality of work is submitted. Transparency is strived for and at the outset of a new project instructions and marking criteria are made available to students thus enabling them to identify the level and type of assessment requirements (Christe, 2003).
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Cross-over assessment is used extensively whereby students produce one piece of work that is then assessed for research, study, and computer skills, as well as math and English competency. One key benefit of cross-over assessment suggested by the research study is that student overload is less likely as there are fewer coinciding assessment deadlines. Furthermore, close integration with other Foundations courses and cross-over assessment emphasises the authentic nature of the tasks as there is always immediate relevance. A minimum number of text references is specified for each assignment, and students are expected to cite sources in MLA style. Initially students also provide print outs or photocopies of resources (Culwin & Lancaster, 2001). Also, where possible, the collection of original data is encouraged through beyond the classroom tasks, and by accentuating the legitimacy of data collection through personal interviews and emails. The focus on original data and demonstrated skills means that even though the projects titles remain the same it is less possible to plagiarise (Martin, 2005). To further reduce the possibility of plagiarism alternative assessment types are used, including oral presentations (Culwin & Lancaster, 2001).

Conclusion

The RS&P course design is tailored to Emirati students and their specific needs as learners. The blended learning approach is perceived as being valuable by students and instructors as it recognises the importance of training and empowering students, enabling them to become lifelong learners. RS&P employs a functional, ‘authentic’ approach with the focus being on processes with ‘real-world’ significance, thereby consistently re-enforcing the relevance of both content and skills to current and future learning. Furthermore, a transition period is also factored into the design of the course, thus presenting learners with opportunities to be coached and mentored while they experience the adaptation to the new culture of learning (Lahur, 2005) – a form of academic apprenticeship (Lipson & Reindl, 2003). The role of the teacher in the RS&P course is less a provider of knowledge, and more of a facilitator and guide. This approach is uncomfortable for some students, and some become annoyed as they consider (based on their previous educational experience) that the teacher not doing their job. Nevertheless, ultimately learners are encouraged to adapt to a new learning culture where research, original production, and creativity are particularly valued.
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Plagiarism is explained, reflected on, and discussed, and this approach, alongside the teaching of skills and strategies essential to avoid it, appears to reduce incidences. The focus of the course is as much on the process as the end product, with students discovering through experience. Moreover, time is given for students to find their own voice, and to realise that they views and personal opinions are valued (Lipson & Reindl, 2003). However, even with such a proactive method, there are still students who persist in plagiarising partly because their “perceptions may be influenced by their own personal agenda rather than the lecturers’ or the course objectives” (Lahur, 2005, p. 6). The RS&P course is dynamic and therefore improvement and development are an ongoing process and research into its effectiveness will be continued. The easily adaptable format means that it has the flexibility to be used in the variety of educational settings within the Gulf region, and possibly at other institutions around the world.

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