13 Sep 2011

Cheating: not just for students!

A few weeks ago in the Canadian media, there was much ado about the so-called disproportionate number of international students in Canadian universities caught cheating and plagiarising. The headlines were typically sensational and smacking of the Us vs. Them isolationist rhetoric that is being spewed in certain quarters in the U.S. and Canada.

However uncomfortable I am with the rhetoric, as an ESL teacher, I cannot deny that some of my students and yes, some cultures (how can I say this delicately?) seem more accepting of the concept of cheating than I ever was when an undergraduate student. Below is a summary of a U.K. survey by the Higher Education Academy detailing various reasons for cheating and plagiarism. The summary and larger report are both interesting and unsurprising. I recommend anyone in ELT read the report, if only to reflect on the issue and perhaps develop your own, informed approach to managing cheaters.

As for me? Well, the article was well-timed. Turns out I have my very own cheater in my midst. Trouble is, it's not a student, but a colleague. Worse, the colleague is plagiarising ME! Worst, the colleague is also a friend. I know, I know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...blah blah blah. It doesn't feel like flattery though, it feels like betrayal.

In our tech-age, so much is available at our fingertips and even I admit that many of the faceless contributions online seem almost anonymous. Note to World: they are not! Someone has worked hard and spent time to research, source, write, and contribute whatever bit of information it is that you are cutting and pasting in a millisecond. Credit him. Tweet her. Remember this old-fashioned word: CITE! Second note to World: it is a small world.

Now, in my case, it wasn't a simple act of plagiarism but complete and exact copies of sections of a copyrighted and isbn'd textbook I authored stuffed into the template of "new" curriculum designed for a local college. It was by pure chance that it came across my desk. A last-minute contract. Imagine my surprise.

Perhaps cheating and plagiarising is less cultural than individual. Perhaps we all are guilty of some measure of intellectual theft. Perhaps sometimes the dance at the photocopier in the morning is less than legit.

Perhaps students and teachers are not so far apart.

Oh, and, ok,um, I'm a little bit flattered. BUY THE AMAZING ESL BOOK THAT IS WORTH PLAGIARISING right HERE (it's actually legally reproducible too - just don't say you wrote it!)

Stuff to read and share on cheating and plagiarising (extremely well-cited of course!) - your students will thank you for sharing it with them:

from "Overcoming the cultural issues associated with plagiarism for International students"

Authors: Dr. Charles Juwah, Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen; Dr David Lal, Dept. of Business and Management, Aberdeen Business School, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen; Ahmed Beloucif, Dept. of Marketing, Aberdeen Business School, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen

What cultural factors impact how students understand the concept of plagiarism?
Respect for authority 25.6 %
Language problem 20.9 %
Previous educational experience on referencing conventions 27.9 %
Cultural misconception (Plagiarism does not matter) 20.9 %
Individual values (Personality trait) 4.7 %
Why do students plagiarise?
Lack of awareness of referencing conventions 19.61 %
Cheating 17.65 %
Lack of awareness of plagiarism 15.69 %
Time 9.8 %
Lack of confidence/self-worth 7.84 %
Language problem 7.84 %
Laziness 7.84 %
Lack of subject knowledge 5.88 %
Carelessness: forgetting to reference 5.88 %
Pressure to write to academic standard 1.96 %

from the Globe and Mail: Why many international students get a failing grade in academic integrity

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