Ling (all names have been changed for anonymity), a graduate nursing student who obtained her undergraduate nursing education outside of the United States, submitted a paper with large portions of the paper plagiarized. When the student was questioned, it was evident that she did not understand what plagiarism is, nor the proper way to reference sources. The student explained that her standard way of writing a paper was to take a portion of the text and change a few words, so it was not direct copying. She did not understand why she had to cite published authors and researchers, so she inconsistently did so. The student was confused as to why her method of writing was currently a problem, as she had never been reprimanded in the past. The student was remorseful for doing something wrong, but she clearly did not understand where she had faulted.
In the United States, plagiarism means borrowing another speaker's or writer's words, ideas, or arrangement of ideas without giving credit to the source of those words, ideas, or arrangements (Duff, Rogers, & Harris, 2006; Mundava & Chaudhuri, 2007). Plagiarism is often defined as intentional versus unintentional and can be viewed either as a linguistic problem, a cultural problem, or a combination of the two (Shi, 2006). This article focuses on the occurrence of plagiarism that is unintentional, as often is the focus of discussion in the literature related to foreign-educated students, addressing both linguistic, as well as cultural, viewpoints. Exploration of the literature on plagiarism occurrence by students educated in non-Western countries revealed four key reasons why plagiarism may occur—cultural upbringing, educational preparation, inadequacy with the English language, and the Western educational environment. This article explores the findings from the literature and will discuss strategies to help graduate nursing students who were educated outside of the United States learn how to properly cite and reference sources and prevent plagiarism.
Plagiarism can have a culturally sensitive view when it comes to students trained in other countries. In the Confucian heritage, individual intellectual property does not exist but is owned by society in the form of common knowledge (Shi, 2006). The in-fluence of Confucianism often arises in the literature regarding students educated in Asian counties. In addition, societies that have a strong oral tradition—where information is more often passed down by telling stories—tend to have the view that information and ideas are owned by the society as a whole rather than an individual (Mundava & Chaudhuri, 2007). An example of such a differing view comes from Ledesma (2011), who noted that instructors “from an individualistic environment may have a completely different definition of what constitutes academic integrity” than do students who “come from a collectivist setting” (p. 25). Individualism–collectivism addresses with how people define themselves and their relationships with others. This is important in that a large proportion of communication stems from an individual's viewpoint of the world and where the individual fits into that viewpoint (Dainton & Zelley, 2005). Harris (2008) stated:
In some cultures, documenting sources is not very important. In other cultures, documenting something, particularly from a well-known work of literature, can be interpreted as an insult because it implies that the reader is not familiar with that work. (p. 378)
Students express confusion as to why they should paraphrase, summarize, or manipulate the work of the author, as doing so with their own interpretation would be disrespectful to the author. The view is that the author's work is clearly superior and they are merely students who are learning (Song-Turner, 2008). In this sense, paraphrasing is seen as illogical and disrespectful. The best way to honor the work of the individual is to repeat it exactly as it was written (Amsberry, 2010).
Aristotle (2012) argued that a speaker's credibility is that speaker's most powerful tool of persuasion. Williams and Colcomb (2010) claimed that “of all the ethical transgressions that a writer [or speaker] can commit, few are worse than plagiarism” (p. 233). Efforts to help students avoid plagiarism are warranted and must be conducted in a culturally sensitive manner.
The way students were educated during their formative education has an influence on their educational practices as graduate students. The method of instruction in some non-Western educational systems was to encourage students to memorize the text as a means of learning (Fawley, 2007; Maxwell, Curtis, & Vardanega, 2008; Pennycook, 1996). Students then become confused when direct repetition of the learned text is deemed inappropriate in an academic writing assignment. It is difficult for students to distinguish when using the words of the author is appropriate and when it is discouraged.
The methodological process for finding quality primary sources to support academic writing is not always taught consistently across all educational systems. Students report being provided with source texts during their secondary education; therefore, they never learned how to obtain their own sources of information (Shi, 2006). Educators may not realize that students are struggling with how to find quality references, as they are often focused on the content of the academic paper and the correct citations of references (Foltynek, Rybicka, & Demoliou, 2014; Tran, 2012). A need may exist for education on how to find appropriate primary references as a means of preventing plagiarism, as students who use secondary sources are more likely to plagiarize (Gilmore, Strickland, Timmerman, Maher, & Feldon, 2010). Some foreign-educated students report that they never learned how to properly cite sources (Orim, Davies, Borg, & Glendinning, 2013; Tran, 2012; Wheeler, 2014). In fact, many students do not fully understand the concept of plagiarism, as it was not a part of their education in their home country, and they only first began to learn about the concept when they came to a Western country (Orim et al., 2013).
Inadequate English Language Skills
Not all foreign-educated students are English-as-a-second -language (ESL) students, but for the students who are, specific plagiarism-related struggles emerge. A transition period exists that takes place for ESL students as they learn how to write proficiently in English. Students who have weak English language skills are more likely to plagiarize (Gilmore et al., 2010; Song-Turner, 2008). A common technique that is used is called patchwriting, whereby the student takes a passage from text and changes just a few words, resulting in an attempt at paraphrasing that is too similar to the original work (Howard, 1995). Patchwriting was described by Howard (1995) as an essential methodology during the draft process for ESL writers. This is most commonly conducted in students who are not proficient in English (Sun, 2012). Students who struggle to understand the meaning of the text are more likely going to struggle to paraphrase the content of the text in a way that is not plagiarizing the author's words or ideas (Holmes, 2004, Maxwell et al., 2008; Sun, 2012).
Due to unfamiliarity with proper referencing techniques and lack of English language skills, the process of writing takes longer for foreign-educated students (Song-Turner, 2008; Tran, 2012). The timeliness of the deadlines puts additional pressure on these students as they work to find quality references, understand the meaning of the text, synthesize the significance, and use proper referencing techniques (Foltynek et al., 2014).
For students from non-Western countries, assimilation into the new educational environment in a Western country includes additional challenges regarding the act of plagiarism. The understanding of plagiarism in Western countries differs from those from non-Western countries. The ability to integrate into the academic environment—the ability of the student to understand the norms, expectations, and practices of the Western educational system—plays a role in the occurrence of plagiarism. Students who are not integrated into the graduate academic educational environment are more likely to plagiarize (Guo, 2011). Students assimilating into a Western educational system quickly learn the word plagiarism and often understand that it is a wrong thing to do. Even before fully comprehending the word, they understand that steep university punishments for plagiarizing exist, which may jeopardize their ability to continue their education in their host county (Orim et al., 2013). Fear of breaking the institutional code exists, even if they do not always realize why plagiarism is wrong (Sun, 2012; Tran, 2012).
The grading practices of faculty members can contribute to the existence of plagiarism. Students express confusion when inconsistencies exist in faculty member expectations regarding proper referencing (Tran, 2012). For example, the grading rubric for an assignment in one course may include a large number of points attributed to proper referencing, whereas another course may not include proper referencing as a criterion. Students perceive the lack of point allocation toward proper referencing as an aspect of the paper that is not important and, therefore, does not need to be completed (Tran, 2012). It may be an assumption among graduate-level faculty that graduate students have already received education on plagiarism and proper referencing techniques and, therefore, it is assumed that any assignment includes proper citation techniques, regardless of whether it is included in the grading criterion.
In addition to assimilating into the Western educational system, foreign-educated students may also struggle with understanding the nuances of academic scholarly writing and discipline-specific writing methodologies. The use of stock phrases can be specifically challenging for students, as they may struggle with the inability to differentiate the use of a stock phrase with plagiarism (Amsberry, 2010). One example of a stock phrase in academic writing is “this article will address,” which is a standard phrase seen in many publications, but a foreign-educated student may struggle with seeing how the use of a stock phrase is different from plagiarizing.
Suggestions for Helping Students
There are a variety of strategies that can be implemented to help foreign-educated graduate students learn about plagiarism and help them with writing in a manner that does not involve plagiarism. First and foremost, faculty members can change their mindset from being reactionary and punitive to being proactive and preventative. Taking a proactive approach through the creation of workshops, writing circles, and other methodologies that teach students how to properly cite reference sources is suggested (Amsberry, 2010; Duff et al., 2006). The assumption is that students from other countries have a more difficult time understanding what plagiarism is and how to avoid it, but it can be just as prevalent in native students (Maxwell et al., 2008). Encouraging graduate students to actively use plagiarism software or detection services prior to the submission of assignments would enable such resources to aid in the learning process of preventing plagiarism rather than using a punitive approach after the assignment has been submitted. Taking a proactive approach stymies unintentional plagiarism by educating students prior to unfavorable occurrences.
One proactive approach to avoiding unintentional plagiarism is to provide online learning modules that educate the student on plagiarism. Foltynek et al. (2014) found that students preferred learning through online learning modules. Perhaps this is due to the ability to access and repeat content as needed. It could also be that this method avoids potential embarrassment in front of peers. In addition to instructing students about plagiarism in general, education should include examples of what plagiarizing is and is not, including classic variations such as patchwriting (Amsberry, 2010; Maxwell et al., 2008). Embedding plagiarism education within the assignment is another effective strategy. Volkov, Volkov, and Tedford (2011) conducted a study in which the students were given an assignment with the sole purpose of giving them feedback related to their use of references. This process resulted in positive feedback from students who participated in the study, resulting in improved understanding of plagiarism, understanding of university policy against plagiarism, and confidence in not plagiarizing.
Duff et al. (2006) saw a significant decrease in plagiarism among engineering students after the incorporation of targeted strategies, such as academic writing and plagiarism workshops, assignments that incorporated using sources properly, and the use of writing circles. Instruction needs to be an ongoing process with repeated instruction and guidance (Tran, 2012). By incorporating plagiarism instruction within the context of scholarship activities, graduate students are becoming assimilated into academic writing standards and expectations of their chosen academic discipline. Directing students to resources that help them differentiate stock phrases from plagiarism can be helpful in teaching them how to write in a specific academic discipline. A resource such as the Academic Phrasebank by the University of Manchester ( http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/) may be a useful tool for graduate students to appropriately use stock phrases.
Although many strategies exist that faculty members may take to decrease the challenge of helping foreign-educated graduate students to assimilate into a Western educational system and demonstrate academic writing skills, it is ultimately the students' responsibility. The strategies discussed are only part of the equation and require active participation and accountability by the student. Offering workshops and writing circles is only beneficial if the student attends and finds value in what is being taught. University writing centers and group writing circles may be of benefit to the student, especially in a peer group setting where the student may feel more comfortable. The student has to take the initiative to work with the faculty and university support services to master proper citation and referencing, as one would do for any other skill. Avoiding plagiarism requires effort from both the faculty member, as well as from the student, to achieve the desired goal.
Ling, the graduate student mentioned at the beginning of this article, was given a failing grade on the assignment and dismissed from the school of nursing. She was allowed to return after completing an educational module on plagiarism through the university library system and she worked on writing skills and plagiarism with the chair of her department. She worked closely with the university writing center on the remaining writing assignments in her educational program and graduated without further incidence.
When plagiarism occurs, no one benefits. It is an upsetting event for faculty members and for students and often involves some type of negative consequence, such as a failing grade or university dismissal. Understanding the context and possible influences on foreign-educated students to plagiarize gives faculty members insight into the student's perspective. The assumption that graduate-level students understand what plagiarism is and how to avoid it is often erroneous, particularly with foreign-educated students. Providing proactive education on plagiarism and instruction on proper referencing techniques is essential for foreign-educated students and most likely also is needed by students who are native speakers. Faculty must instill ownership of the importance of mastering this important skill and encourage students to take responsibility for upholding academic integrity. Faculty should plan for repeated instruction, as well as provide support and guidance as students start to acquire proficiency in proper referencing techniques and understand the nuances of academic writing.
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