Abstract: Plagiarism in student’s assignment is rampant in the college and presents a growing concern for a tutor who is intent on upholding academic integrity. However, a myopic view of plagiarism as a purely ethical issue is misguided. It is not always merely a deliberate attempt to deceive. Through the involvement of first-year students of BA in Bhutanese and Himalayan Studies (BHS) programme, this case study uses an action research approach to explore how to reduce plagiarism in a student’s assignment. The research also highlights the requirement of awareness on plagiarism beyond the ACS101 modules offered in the college to understand the consequence of academic dishonesty to contain fair and honest conduct in the assessment system. The findings suggested every faculty need to emphasize constructive feedback, and create awareness on other forms of academic dishonesty such as collusion, commissioning, duplication, false declaration, falsification of data, and provide written feedback as directed by WAL D4 Academic Dishonesty.
Keywords: Plagiarism, feedback, synthesis, awareness, action research
Plagiarism is a much-discussed problem, especially at the college level. Bum (2009) provides a recent in-depth exploration of the question concerning college culture. Similarly, other studies also revealed that at least half of college students admit to cheating at some point in their academic careers (Angell, 2006; Roig & Caso, 2005). It indicated that faculties teaching at the college level face the grave problem of plagiarism due to students ability to access electronic sources through the internet freely. The main issues of plagiarism this action research stresses to solve are the unethical practice of using words or ideas that could be either planned or accidental of another author/research or ones’ previous work without proper acknowledgment. We consider plagiarism a serious academic and intellectual offense and can cause highly negative consequences such as assignment cancellation, deduction of marks, and loss of reputation. Although in Bhutan, most students at tertiary education are not aware of its severe problem and future consequence. Given the focus of much discussion about plagiarism, this research attempts to reduce both intentional and unintentional plagiarism by making students aware of academic principles of integrity, encouraging students to make a genuine commitment to maintain personal integrity, and assuring that students understand how to cite and quote sources correctly.
Researchers’ teaching experience at the College of Language and Culture Studies, had observed that maximum numbers of students cannot perform well in a presentation. This observation has developed the curiosity to focus and explore about this pressing issue across the programme. Although, these issues were recurrent problems that existed for many years and perhaps have been rampant since the start of academia itself. However, the literature that would shed some light on the issue seemed non-existent, especially in the Bhutanese context. One topic that needed to be thought about was plagiarism in a student’s assignment.
Most of the students do not seem concerned about academic dishonesty despite being taught a full credited module, Academic Skills (ACS101) in the first semester which mainly focuses on academic culture focusing specially on maintaining Academic Standards (Unit 1, ACS101) and Referencing Techniques (ACS101, Unit 7). Students have taken it as tradition and attempt to copy from sources available for working hard before submission. This last-minute habit of working on academic workload is transferred on to poor academic results and later on personal emotional state. Working at the last minute has become the scapegoat for students when explaining plagiarisms, poor academic work, and academic failures.
Most of the students argued that unavailability of resources, heavy academic workload, and availability of time as a reason for plagiarism. However, no studies have authentic and valid it, but this only harms their academic writing skill and makes them increasingly dependent on others’ work without proper acknowledgement. If these issues were not resolved in a timely fashion, students who write on their own would be rare; and their writing skills would generally be regarded as poor for college students. It impacts the quality of work they submit and to the whole academic discourse. Students are not able to work at the most efficient level. It is also indicative of the poor work ethics that students develop in themselves throughout their prior years.
Though this issue is well known by module tutors, It is reflected in Wheel of Academic Law D4 Academic Dishonesty. Another problem that arises is students and tutors’ misguided perception that a single module such as ACS101 is sufficient to make students aware of academically dishonest practices. As such many module tutors and students think it is only meant for that particular module, and thus, they do not apply to other modules that are taught in the college. If this issue is not resolved in the long run, it will tarnish the reputation of graduates, as well as the programmes offered at the college while developing academically dishonest habits in the students.
Of the two researchers involved in this project, one is a novice lecturer, and one is a senior lecturer with considerable research skills. One is just introduced to research skills only recently and recently has been able to differentiate conventional research from action research. This assignment is part of a follow-up workshop on Higher Education on Pedagogic Research to improve teaching and learning, which would help us to substantiate the theoretical knowledge that we learn in the previous workshop.
Our critical friend for this purpose is Tshering Om Tamang, lecturer of the English Department at college of language and culture studies.
There might be various theories concerning the development of students’ higher-order thinking processes, which could be another way to foster the avoidance of plagiarism. The research pointed out that some of the approaches are effective, and this review will highlight those approaches:
The study pointed out that one of the strategies to minimize plagiarism is through raising awareness of the problem of plagiarism, increasing students’ ability to recognize it, teaching students to synthesis information (note-taking, paraphrasing, citations, and referencing methods) and how to acknowledge the sources. Researchers such as Walden and Peacock (2006) states that the problem of plagiarism can be improved through raising awareness, and suggested that it is better to lessen the emphasis on the detection of plagiarism and instead engage with the cause and attempt to make students aware of their problems. These findings were further supported by Sterming (1992), Auer and Kripner (2001), Tyalor (2003) and Thomas (2007) argued that the
Need to create awareness regards to nature of plagiarism to increase their ability to recognized plagiarism in its various forms and to understand the ramifications if they are discovered resorting to using of unethical information.’
On the contrary, scholars such Kulthau, McGregor, Streitenberger, Pitts pointed out that making students learn about the synthesis of information is one method of assisting and helping students to avoid plagiarism since it links the problem with lack of deep understanding of the content being taught and learned (1989, 1993, 1998, and 1994). This is because they felt that students’ difficulties lie in the process of collecting information, which includes synthesis. Students’ lack of a deep understanding of the topic content also results in problems for synthesizing information and expressing it in their own words, which could unintentionally lead to the copying of original work.
The significance of attribution of sources was highlighted in many research studies. For example, studies in Alberta and Texas by McGregor (1993) and Streitenberge (1998) found out that while comparing the submitted assignments of two groups of student with sources of their information, the result indicated that the Texas group who had been instructed about the need to acknowledge sources of information had a lower level of outright plagiarism than the Alberta group who did not receive this instruction. With this experience, it gives us an indication that tutors need to make students aware of paraphrasing, quoting, citing, and referencing style to avoid plagiarism. Therefore, this research attempts to go beyond what earlier literature review found out and attempts to not only guide the students about academic practices but also through the engagement of students in the formative assignment.
- Think about plagiarism in particular and tell me, What do you think are your most significant challenges when it comes to academic writing?
- What instruction did you receive about plagiarism, referencing, academic writing, and synthesizing information in your previous semesters?
- How do you feel about penalties for plagiarism? What would you recommend?
- Did you find that the ability to turn in specific writing assignments without fear of penalty was beneficial? Why?
- Tell me about the feedback you From your peers and tutors
- Did the feedback help increase your understanding of plagiarism, referencing, and information synthesis? How?
- In what areas of academic writing, do you feel you need additional instruction?
The overall goal of the study is an effort to increase student competencies necessary to avoid plagiarism. The study has employed qualitative aims to find out the appropriate intervention strategy to reduce plagiarism, which was collected through interviews (semi-structured interview), direct observation, group consultations, and discussion. It was used mainly to acquire appropriate information through opinions, reasons, and students’ problems associated with plagiarism while writing assignments.
The sample consisted of 35 (21 female and 14 male) students from the Bachelor of Arts in Bhutanese and Himalayan Studies course studying HST202 Basic Methods of Writing History module. This module was identified for study data collection since it is based on 100% formative assessment. The duration for the collection of data and analysis is semester-long (15 Weeks) for the convenience of students and researchers.
At the initial stage, students were provided with classroom instruction including a discussion about what constitutes plagiarism, necessary referencing and citation guidelines, and proper mentoring on how to avoid plagiarism. The consequence of accidental or intentional plagiarism was also highlighted. Besides, students were instructed on how to access the online library and writing resources. The post-intervention data collection and analysis were performed after the submission of the final assignment to determine the outcomes of the study.
The researcher employed collaborated within the class to create an awareness of plagiarism and how to avoid it as a regular part of the programme. In this lesson, students were made clear on the focus of avoiding plagiarism in addition to the topics they are writing. Developing awareness is vital to reduce plagiarism. Mentoring intervention strategies include raising student awareness of the problem of plagiarism and the ability to define and recognize instances of plagiarism. Students were provided handouts, APA style guidelines and were urged to follow what they previously learnt in ACS101, especially with regards to note-taking, paraphrasing and synthesizing their ideas.
As many scholars pointed out, students need to be made aware of and understand the moral, legal, and ethical consequences of plagiarism through proper feedback and identification of whose work had been plagiarized. We observed this is helpful to some extend since we can use plagiarism detector software to check the level of plagiarism in their work. From these experiences, students extended their understanding of plagiarism and might have realized that merely copying and pasting from the internet is not acceptable.
As highlighted in the literature review, note-taking is a common strategy to reduce plagiarism. For this purpose, the class was engaged in exercises in effective note-taking by providing sample notes and PowerPoint presentations. These note-taking helped students identify the main facts and ideas, retain essential information, recording main points in bullet point form using students’ own words, identifying and clarifying unfamiliar words and phrases to ensure understanding, and the relationship between points in the central concept.
Student’s knowledge about attribution of sources is one way to reduce plagiarism. For this reason, the researchers made students paraphrase, quote, cite, and list references in the classroom by providing feedbacks and necessary corrections. Paraphrasing is another way to reduce plagiarism. The skill of transforming information through paraphrasing requires students to understand the information they have read, and then to bring together ideas from various sources and express this critical act of synthesis in their own words to create something new.
As Patrica (n.d.) states, ‘When something is prescribed, you only see one thing, with action research, you see the whole picture that’s important for me.’ Merely exposing students to the curriculum does not necessarily result in learning. We need to get to know the emotional part of students, what interests them, and what upset them. Not only for this study[E2] , students were also briefed about the consequence of academic plagiarism.
For this purpose, students were instructed clearly at the beginning of how to take notes and summarize book chapters or articles to demonstrate their understanding. They are assigned to make presentations in a group so that peers can review the first draft of literature, and only the second draft was submitted for tutors’ feedback and necessary evaluation. However, in the final assignment, it is observed that some students did not make the necessary changes as per the feedback they received.
Similarly, formative assignment and project work’s first and second drafts were thoroughly checked, and the research found that students were not serious in considering feedback and submitted the final assignment with minimum changes only.
Significant changes and implementation in assignment content, format, argument, and reference were observed after rigorous awareness of avoidance on plagiarism. Most of the students, after rigorous awareness, came to understand that they had to offer one’s opinion at some points in their assignment. They also perceived that paraphrasing and synthesizing information would effectively lead to advance the in-depth understanding, learning, and holding of the content.
For example, few students realized that plagiarizing means that “you do not learn anything, because you are just copying it, they might not read through it and they do not do as much work”. Similarly, some recognized that when they are given work, it is supposed to be their ideas and opinions, not some else’s, and the teacher is looking for what they know and understand. Students also became aware that if they are plagiarizing and just taking different people’s idea in their assignment, it is not their work, and there is no point in writing the assignment without substantial learning.
Compared to the pre-intervention stage assignment and classroom practice, and the researchers observed that students were quoting and citing the sources they referred to while making presentations, speaking and discussing to counter-argue the points. This indicates that students were able to adopt academic writing skills that were different from the traditional form of study.
Most students also expressed that they can implement what they learnt across the module they are learning once they understand the process of doing it. This was evident from the final assessment of students’ work that 40% of the students wrote with proper citation, quote, reference, and paraphrasing sources in their opinions.
Students challenges in avoiding plagiarism
In the initial stage, when students were instructed and explained on how to paraphrase, cite, quote, and referencing, 35 students indicated that they had a good understanding. However, the result of the finding through assignment, class discussion, and interview proves otherwise, as reflected in the pie chart.
The pie chart represented based on a final assignment submitted by students in the HST201 module by one class, where 40% of students were familiar with APA style and did proper referencing, paraphrasing, quotation, and citation in their work. On the other hand, 60% of them have had improper referencing, quotation, and paraphrasing using APA style. This figure indicates that there were misconceptions between what they understand in theory and implementing it in practice while writing. From the assignment work, interviews, and feedback, several common challenges to avoiding plagiarism emerged.
Synthesizing Information: Students found that information synthesis is most challenging. They said this occurred due to two reasons: lack of unavailability of resources or unfamiliar topics was severe, and this resulted in challenges during the literature review process. Thus, they lend up in copying or writing the same information as it was.
The problem of when to cite: With regards to plagiarism, students indicated that understanding when to cite information was their primary challenge in academic writing. They are confused with the concept of citing ideas and theories when not directly quoted from the text. Most of the students were unable to understand that ideas taken from other sources that share similar views also required citation, even when paraphrased.
No uniformity among tutors: Most of the students reported that there is no uniformity among the module tutors when it comes to the use of the American Psychological Association (APA) style. Students whom the researcher interviewed and discussed argued that some tutors do not bother about plagiarism while other tutors emphasize it as important. This indicates that a standard format is not followed but every module tutors adhere to their standard, which confuses students and hamper academic writing at the college level because of the lack of uniformity. They expressed that some tutors neither address nor report the instances of plagiarism by their students.
Students’ perceptions of existing Plagiarism Penalties: It is surprising to report that most students agreed that penalties for plagiarism in college should be harsh with the cancellation of their work instead of letting them reattempt the assignment. For that, they argued, I mean it to penalise those who intentionally plagiarise. They also felt that it is not beneficial; the tendency to depend on easy work is high, which deprived them to think independently.
However, some students opinioned those present penalties of deduction of marks and redo itself is fair and expressed requirement of leniency in case of inadvertent plagiarism because they felt that sometimes penalties are too extreme for those who do not have the skills of academic writing. Some even suggested measures to detect plagiarism reasonably in students’ work is using software such as Turnitin and Google search.
Perceptions of written feedback on assignment: Most of the students based on the interview revealed that it divided them concerning their perceptions of the appropriateness of existing written feedback on assignments. Some said input is useful. It is through the feedback that students can increase their understanding of plagiarism, paraphrasing, referencing, and information synthesis because tutor underlines or circled their mistakes in quotes, citations, and references, which is a useful lesson for the next assignment.
Still, some opinioned that there is a grey area in written feedback. Students said that it is not helpful for those who have had not submitted drafts since drafts are optional. Moreover, written feedback only highlighted the content of the topic, language structure, and references. Students reported that written feedback on plagiarism is neither helpful nor could it be not applied to any other assignment since marks are already awarded.
A New Solution: Limitations and Suggestion for Future Research
A limitation of the study is that with such a small sample, significant generalizations from the findings cannot be made. Also, participants represented only one class within the college. Future research might employ a quantitative methodology using a more extensive and more diverse sample.
Another limitation is that it bases the study on students’ perception and does not provide any evidence of student learning performance. Similarly, Kirkwood and Price (2013) pointed out that ‘while students’ attitudes and opinions are important, other forms of evidence need to be presented to conclude whether learning has improved’. Therefore, future research needs to emphasize to measure the overall learning outcome in response to written feedback and survey to indicate authenticity.
Students’ perception of not able to understand the APA style and penalty of plagiarism also needs to be studied in future research by employing alternative data collection methods. Written and verbal feedback of a few students does not determine the exact outcomes of learning in tertiary education.
Further, since college is the highest available tertiary education in Bhutan, the Royal University of Bhutan needs to advocate avoidance of plagiarism among faculty through seminars and conferences so that WAL D4 Academic Dishonesty can be implemented practically without being ideal in law.
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