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Towards Consistency and Transparency in Academic Integrity

Edited By Salim Razı, Irene Glendinning and Tomáš Foltýnek

This book is an outcome of the 4th International Conference «Plagiarism across Europe and Beyond» organized by Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Mendel University in Brno, and the European Network for Academic Integrity. The conference is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships Programme of the European Union. It aims to be a forum for sharing best practices and experiences by addressing issues of academic integrity from a wide-scope global perspective. With regards to the crucial role of ethics and honesty in academic work, universities are in need of more effective policies against infringements of academic standards. The papers in this book therefore aim to contribute to the standardization of consistent and transparent approaches to issues of academic integrity from several perspectives.

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English Language Teaching Students’ Attitudes towards Plagiarism and their Locus of Control (Billur Yıldırım / Salim Razı)

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Billur Yıldırım1 & Salim Razı2

Uludağ University, Turkey & Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Turkey

English Language Teaching Students’ Attitudes towards Plagiarism and their Locus of Control

Abstract: Any relationship between personal locus of control and attitudes towards plagiarism may offer pedagogical insights since the locus of control may change through instruction and training. This study aims to investigate departmental policy on plagiarism, reveal student opinions about plagiarism, and discover any correlation between attitudes to plagiarism, academic externalization, and academic success. The participants were 58 under- and post-graduates and three lecturers in the English Language Teaching Department of a Turkish state university. The data were collected via two scales and semi-constructed interviews. The data revealed that the students did not hold positive values towards plagiarism, despite a significant difference between undergraduates’ and post-graduates’ opinions and significant correlations among variables. Qualitative data showed that the students consider plagiarism as resulting mostly from contextual factors as well as a few individual factors. It is noteworthy that necessary precautions against plagiarism proposed by the student and instructor interviewees match each other, and also suggestions made on how to eliminate these factors.

Keywords: Attitudes to plagiarism, externalization, locus of control, plagiarism

Introduction

There has been growing interest in research on plagiarism, which is basically defined as using “words, ideas, or work products attributable to another identifiable person or source without attributing the work to the source from which it was obtained … to obtain some benefit” (Fishman, 2009, p. 5). Institutional academic integrity policies may take the “intention” into consideration. Therefore, it is important to examine these concepts with the various types of plagiarism. Plagiarism that emerges due to lack of academic literacy or linguistic deficiencies is categorised as unintentional plagiarism; while that conducted on purpose, such as paying someone else for an assignment, is defined as serious intentional ← 3 | 4 → plagiarism (Grigg, 2010). However, the wide array of definitions reveals that plagiarism cannot be defined merely with a dual categorization, since there are sometimes contextual reasons (Löfström & Kupila, 2013) behind it. Moreover, types of plagiarism vary, such as unauthorised collaboration (McCabe, 2005) or self-plagiarism (Bretag & Carapiet, 2007).

When all the varied perceptions are considered, it seems necessary to construct a shared definition and understand students’ perceptions of plagiarism at the higher education (HE) level. As Lakoff and Johnson (1980) put it, the metaphors used in studies referring to the plagiarism concept reflect the negative perceptions of plagiarism, such as “sin” (Bombaro, 2007, p. 296), “fraud, excessive repetition” (Howard, 2000, p. 475), “theft” (Robillard, 2009, p. 406), and “Pandora’s Box” (Sutherland-Smith, 2005, p. 83).

Despite the negative connotations that plagiarism creates in western academia (e.g., Rets & Ilya, 2018), Share (2006) proposes a different, intertextuality perspective, which requires dealing with plagiarism in regard to the cultural and contextual variations in text interpretation and construction. It is also claimed that academic behaviour is extensively determined by the values of the academic community (Payne & Nantz, 1994). For instance, more students tend to plagiarise if lecturers neglect to review their assignments (Burnett, 2002), whereupon students’ perceptions of plagiarism gradually resemble those of their instructors (Sims, 1995).

Underlying Roots of Plagiarism

The relevant research highlights the impact of both contextual and individualistic factors on students’ attitudes towards plagiarism. The effects of contextual factors on their attitudes are various. Both institutional policies and lecturers’ strategies on plagiarism exert an impact on student attitudes regarding plagiarism (Comas-Forgas & Sureda-Negre, 2010). Also, students’ attitudes apparently contain traces of their home cultures (McCabe, Feghali, & Abdallah, 2008). Provided that the students continue their study in the same education system, level of the programme (Stănescu & Iorga, 2013) appear to create a significant difference between the attitudes of undergraduates and postgraduate students, and the discipline (Yeo, 2007) seems to have a role in differentiating the attitudes of students. Contextual factors such as time constraints may encourage students to plagiarise, despite their generally negative attitude towards it (Eret & Gokmenoglu, 2010). Consequently, attitudes towards plagiarism and the social or academic context may be linked. ← 4 | 5 →

In addition to contextual factors, several studies indicate that individual differences may influence a tendency towards plagiarism. For example, a low level of foreign language proficiency may be linked to unintentional plagiarism (Eret & Gokmenoglu, 2010). Regardless of language proficiency, some socio-cultural genre-based studies also demonstrate a lack of academic literacy as a factor in plagiarism and the need for instruction in academic skills (Abasi & Graves, 2008). Academic achievement in relation to plagiarism has also been investigated to see if there was any correlation; however, no direct connection was detected (Siaputra, 2013).

Granitz and Loewy’s (2007) study on the ethical theories employed by students to justify their acts of plagiarism revealed that the most common are deontology (behaving as if they were not aware of what they did), situational ethics (following different codes in different situations), and Machiavellian reasoning (taking the opportunity to plagiarise and blaming others if they are exposed).

Studies on the link between personality factors and attitudes to plagiarism have generated similar results except for a few conflicting examples. Although some studies indicate no significant association of attitudes towards plagiarism with certain personality traits (Lewis & Zhong, 2011); in general, a link between personality and academic dishonesty tendencies has been supported (Siaputra, 2013; Stănescu & Iorga, 2013). Anomia, defined as lack of integrity in social life (Caruana, Ramaseshan & Ewing, 2000), seeking excitement, absence of conscientiousness (De Bruin & Rudnick, 2007), and narcissism (Menon & Sharland, 2011) are among the factors which may be linked with academic integrity and plagiarism. Academic locus of control and tendencies towards plagiarism have also been shown to be factors associated with self-efficacy (Yesilyurt, 2014); nevertheless, a direct link between locus of control and attitudes regarding plagiarism has not yet been studied.

Some personality trait associations may be pedagogically problematic since instructional precautions cannot alter them, such as with narcissism. However, others may be tackled with covert programme alterations and direct training. One of these is the student’s locus of control, which refers to an individual’s beliefs about the possibility of control over their lives. People tend to belong to two groups, externalisers and internalisers, regarding their locus of control. Externalisers believe they cannot change what happens to them in life; therefore, they assume fate or external factors direct their lives. In contrast, Internalisers believe that their own actions can change their lives (Rotter, 1966). ← 5 | 6 →

Aims of Study

Locus of control can be altered with training or education (Hill, 2011). Thus, discovering any possible relationship between attitudes towards plagiarism and externalization may have pedagogical implications. However, the relevant research lacks a study that investigates such a relationship in the Turkish context.

Relevant literature (e.g. Comas-Forgas & Sureda-Negre, 2010; Payne & Nantz, 1994) reveals that student tendencies are under the impact of context and institutional policies; therefore, discovering attitudes towards plagiarism in specific contexts may help in interpreting how they are connected to each other. The views of language teachers are particularly important as their outlook may influence the intertextuality of foreign language learners. Accordingly, the purpose of this descriptive case study is threefold: (1) to investigate implicit departmental policy regarding plagiarism; (2) to reveal students’ attitudes towards plagiarism; and (3) to discover any possible correlation between attitudes to plagiarism, academic externalization, and academic success.

Methodology

Setting and Participants

The data were collected from an English Language Teaching (ELT) Department with both BA and MA programmes at a state university in Bursa, Turkey. The students are admitted to the department according to their score in the centralised university entrance assessment process. The department offers courses where aspects of plagiarism are taught to sophomores as a module in their research skills course and postgraduate students as a regulation by the Council of Higher Education to prevent unintentional plagiarism.

Table 1: Demographic Information of Participants

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*GPA: Grade point average

As illustrated in Table 1, there were a total of 58 student participants whose ages ranged from 18 to 40. All participants were selected from among those who declared that they had heard about plagiarism before; thus, they were considered ← 6 | 7 → to have developed attitudes towards plagiarism. As Table 2 demonstrates, formal lectures and informal talks by lecturers were identified as the main sources of learners’ familiarization with plagiarism.

Table 2: Means of Plagiarism Familiarisation

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In addition to collecting data via a questionnaire, 8 of the student participants (undergrad: nmale = 1, nfemale = 2; postgrad: nmale = 1, nfemale = 4) and 3 female instructors, two of whom lecture in both graduate and MA programmes while one lectures only in the graduate programme, were interviewed to enable triangulation.

Data Collection Tools

To identify students’ attitudes about plagiarism, the Attitudes Towards Plagiarism scale (ATP – Mavrinac, Brumini, Bilić-Zulle & Petrovečki, 2010) was used. ATP consists of three factors, namely, a ‘positive attitude towards plagiarism (PAP)’, ‘negative attitude towards plagiarism (NAP)’, and ‘subjective norms towards plagiarism (SNP)’. The items under PAP do not consider plagiarism as misconduct whereas the items under NAP indicate that plagiarism is not acceptable under any circumstances. Additionally, the items under SNP illustrate excuses used by plagiarisers to defend their behavioural misconduct. Those excuses are mostly contextual. The present study obtained reliable Cronbach alpha values for each section of the instrument (PAP, α = .70; NAP, α = .75; SNP, α = .82).

PAP and SNP are expected to positively correlate, while PAP and NAP are supposed to negatively correlate (Mavrinac, Brumini, Bilić-Zulle, & Petrovečki, 2010). PAP establishes that the participant has a positive attitude that considers plagiarism as an unimportant incident. NAP consists of items that reveal a personal disapproval of plagiarism. SNP however, includes items that are expected to positively correlate with PAP and reflect a perceived acceptance of plagiarism in the academic community.

To find out students’ direction of locus of control, the participants were asked to answer Trice’s (1985) Academic Locus of Control Scale for College Students ← 7 | 8 → (ALCSCS), consisting of 28 dichotomous items (True / False). The items were coded in the direction of externalization (EXT) so that a higher score indicates a higher level of externalization. ALCSCS was chosen as it is the only locus of control scale created for university students, and more exact results are obtained regarding locus of control with instruments designed for specific fields rather than general behaviour (Rotter, 1975).

Semi-constructed interview sessions with 8 students and 3 instructors were initiated with two sets of questions and inter-coder reliability was ensured by an independent rater.

Data Collection and Analysis

The data were collected through to the end of the 2016–2017 academic year by means of ATP, ALCSCS, and interviews. The quantitative data were first analysed via Kolmogorov-Smirnov and Shapiro-Wilk tests and the results were not significant (p > .05). The values for each set of data were between the -1 and +1 values of Skewness and Kurtosis; therefore, they were normally distributed. In addition to descriptive statistics, Mann-Whitney U test was conducted to reveal any significant differences between under- and postgrad programmes; while Person Correlation test was used to check the correlation between PAP, NAP, SNP, EXT, and GPA. Meanwhile, semi-structured face-to-face interviews were conducted with the 8 volunteer students and 3 instructors. Thematic and content analyses were used to analyse the qualitative data. The content analysis of the interviewees’ definition of plagiarism and the personality traits they associated with plagiarism were conducted using Lextutor.com, and the results are given with their frequencies. The rest of the qualitative data were analysed by means of theme-coding.

Findings

Implicit Departmental Policy on Plagiarism

Two instructors stated that the policy each instructor followed was decided by individually considering the nature of the assignment; however, they reported that the application of text-matching software was mandatory for MA theses. Although the decision regarding cases of reported plagiarism was made by the University Senate, the lecturers stated there was no institutional policy regarding procedures to be followed in the case of breaches.

The common point regarding a definition of plagiarism by the three lecturers is that they consider plagiarism as not only taking someone else’s words but also their ideas, without giving any references or citations. One of them said ← 8 | 9 → that she considered “a text with long quotations and very few original ideas” as a plagiarised text, even though it cites appropriately. Despite variations in their understanding of plagiarism, all three instructors found self-plagiarism as serious and punishable as plagiarizing the work of others.

The instructors identified seven factors that lead to plagiarism under two themes. The first theme related to contextual factors and included ‘time limitations/workload’ (n = 3), ‘lack of information about plagiarism concept’ (n = 1), and ‘traditional acceptance’ (n = 1). The second theme related to individual factors including ‘lack of academic writing skills’ (n = 3), ‘low language proficiency’ (n = 2), ‘personality’ (n = 2), and ‘students’ insensitivity’ (n = 1).

The lecturers associated plagiarism with four different negative personality traits, namely, ‘dishonest’ (n = 3), ‘too ambitious’ (n = 1), and ‘lacking integrity’ (n = 1). However, they also stated that students sometimes plagiarised as they lacked enough information about the boundaries of plagiarism. One of the interviewees considered personality as the most important factor in student sensitivity to plagiarism.

Two of the lecturers stated that both students and instructors were equally responsible for the prevention of plagiarism and emphasised the necessity of reviewing assignments and declaring certain standards. However, one of them claimed that the students should be held more accountable for any plagiarism “as long as they were previously informed about plagiarism and its consequences”.

The instructors proposed six measures to prevent student plagiarism: ‘Using text-matching software’ (n = 3), ‘giving students information about plagiarism’ (n = 2), ‘developing students’ academic writing skills’ (n = 2), ‘ethical values education from an early age’ (n = 1), ‘feedback from instructors who are knowledgeable in their fields’ (n = 1), and ‘being clear about expectations from the students’ (n = 1).

The interviewees were unanimous that text-matching software discouraged plagiarism; although one of them called attention to the fact that the algorithms of such software may not show all similarities. However, lecturers added that awareness of their learners’ capabilities and being experienced in the field should help to reveal incidents of plagiarism in the case of failure by text-matching software.

Student Attitudes towards Plagiarism and Level of Externalization

As indicated in Tables 3 and 4, the PAP mean value implies that the participants did not hold highly positive attitudes toward plagiarism act on average, which means they did not declare a total personal acceptance of plagiarism; instead, as the NAP mean revealed, they held relatively negative attitudes towards plagiarism in all classes when compared with PAP means. Also, the mean value of SNP shows that the participants’ perceived acceptance of plagiarism acts in accordance with ← 9 | 10 → their academic context and subjective reasoning is not high on average, either. However, it is also seen that students in their senior year and at postgraduate level have lower mean values of PAP while students in their first, second, and third years seem to have more positive attitudes towards plagiarism on average. Overall, the externalization scale mean value was 14.26 (SD = 4.33), which reveals a mediocre level of externalization on average since the highest possible score is 28.

Table 3: Mean Values on the Level of Externalization and Attitudes of Students to Plagiarism

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Table 4: Mean Values on the Level of Externalization and Attitudes of Students to Plagiarism

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Mann-Whitney U tests indicated a significant difference (z = -3.14, p = .002) between undergraduates (Mdn = 34.35) and post-graduates (Mdn = 19.55) over PAP values; and between undergraduates (Mdn = 24.92) and post-graduates (Mdn = 38.39) over NAP values (z = -2.97, p = .003). There were significant differences between undergraduates (Mdn = 37.03) and post-graduates (Mdn = 14.05) regarding SNP values (z = -4.87, p = .000); and also undergraduates (Mdn = 33.63) and post-graduates’ (Mdn = 21.03) concerning EXT values (z = -2.68, p = .007). In the light of those statistically significant differences, it can be claimed that the undergraduates held relatively more personal acceptance of plagiarism and felt less negative about plagiarism acts than the postgraduate students. Also, they apparently declared a higher level of subjective acceptability of plagiarism concept in relation with their own reasoning and their context instead of developing objective or stable principles or values. Therefore, undergraduates seem to tend to plagiarise or approve plagiarism more than undergraduates. Similarly, undergraduates tend to externalise the results of their behaviours more than the postgraduate students. ← 10 | 11 →

The content analysis of interviews indicated that student participants used seven acts to define plagiarism, namely, as ‘stealing’ (n = 6), ‘theft’, (n = 3), ‘pretending’ (n = 3), ‘copying’ (n = 2), ‘cheating’ (n = 2), ‘crime’ (n = 1), and ‘fraud’ (n = 1). Plagiarism was most associated with the act of stealing and theft by the interviewees in five different ways: ‘stealing someone’s scientific effort’ (n = 1), ‘stealing someone’s work’ (n = 4), ‘stealing someone else’s words and reputation’ (n = 1), and ‘a kind of scientific or academic theft’ (n = 3).

The participants reported that they believed people who had the following 15 personality traits tended to plagiarise more than others: ‘lazy’ (n = 7), ‘non-respectful’ (n = 3), ‘dishonest’ (n = 3), ‘impatient’ (n = 2), ‘self-interested’ (n = 2), ‘careless’ (n = 1), ‘too ‘ambitious (n = 1), ‘unenthusiastic’ (n = 1), ‘not idealistic’ (i.e. not seeking perfection/high standards) (n = 1), ‘insecure’ (n = 1), ‘greedy’ (n = 1), ‘worried’ (n = 1), ‘liar’ (n = 1), ‘feeling incompetent’ (n = 1), and ‘bad at time management’ (n = 1). Almost all the interviewees associated plagiarisers with laziness, and almost half of them stated disrespect as associated with plagiarism in two ways, either related to disrespect as to what they were doing themselves and/or the acts of other people.

When it comes to self-plagiarism, student attitudes were categorised under three themes: ‘self-plagiarism is not plagiarism’ (n = 3), ‘as bad or punishable as plagiarizing the work of others’ (n = 3), and ‘self-plagiarism is as serious as other types of plagiarism’ (n = 2).

The students reported 10 factors that lead to plagiarism under two themes. The first theme contextual factors included ‘time limitations’ (n = 6), ‘workload lack of an academics’ (n = 4), ‘irrelevant / useless assignments’ (n = 3), ‘lack of training on plagiarism concept’ (n = 2), ‘lack of adequate feedback’ (n = 1), and ‘lack of access to main sources’ (n = 1). The second theme of individual factors covered ‘low language proficiency’ (n =3), ‘lack of academic writing skills’ (n = 3), and ‘people’s personality’ (n = 2).

Although only two participants reported in the survey that personality traits were a factor resulting in a tendency to plagiarism, when asked in person all the student interviewees declared that they thought both personality traits and contextual factors might cause such a tendency. Whereas five of the interviewees thought that both contextual factors and personality traits had an equal effect on committing plagiarism, two of them claimed that personality traits had much more impact.

Five of the student interviewees proposed that both professors who made no attempt to detect plagiarism and students who plagiarised shared equal responsibility for plagiarism; while three of them insisted that the lecturers’ responsibility was greater. ← 11 | 12 →

All of the interviewees claimed that it was possible to prevent extensive plagiarism although they found it unlikely it could be stopped entirely. The precautions against plagiarism they proposed are listed below:

Using text-matching software (n = 4)

Training on plagiarism (n = 3)

Giving students enough time to review the literature (n = 2)

Developing better academic writing skills (n = 2)

Raising learner motivation (n = 2)

Encouraging lecturer-student collaboration (n = 2)

Becoming more proficient in a foreign language (n = 1)

Having access to academic sources (n = 1)

Student interviewees also indicated that there should be committees to standardise academic integrity policies at institutional, national and international level including both lecturers and students. They said that the involvement of student members on these committees would create a ‘democratic’ environment and ‘increase autonomy’.

Interestingly, all the lecturer interviewees thought that undergraduates paid little attention to the issue of plagiarism in their assignments, despite the efforts of the lecturers; however, post-graduates were regarded as being more sensitive on this issue.

Correlation between Attitudes, Externalization, and Academic Achievement

Quantitative data from the two instruments of ATP (Mavrinac et al., 2010) and ALCSCS (Trice, 1985) were taken into consideration to reveal any correlations among the factors involved in these scales. The matrix in Table 5 presents the correlation coefficients between GPA, PAP, SNP means, and EXT scores retrieved via Pearson Correlation test.

Table 5: Correlation between Attitude, Level of Externalization, and Academic Achievement (N = 58)

illustration

* p < .05, ** p < .001 ← 12 | 13 →

As Table 5 indicates, there is a strong correlation between SNP and PAP (p < .001), a moderate negative correlation between SNP and NAP (p < .001), and a moderate negative correlation between PAP and NAP (p = .004), similar to the findings of Mavrinac et al. (2010), which is expectable since the ones who feel more positive about plagiarism tend to hold less negative attitudes towards it. Also, students with more subjective view of plagiarism in accordance with the contextual variables tend to have less negative perception about plagiarism. More insightfully, the results also reveal a moderately positive correlation between EXT and SNP (p = .008) and a small negative correlation between EXT and NAP (p = .03). This may imply that those who externalise the responsibility of their actions more hold more subjective norms about plagiarism and develop their attitudes towards plagiarism according to the contextual variables instead of depending on any objective and stable values. They also tend to feel less negative about plagiarism concept personally, therefore they are more likely to conduct plagiarism.

Discussion and Conclusion

When the PAP and SNP values are viewed together with the negative personality traits associated with plagiarism by students and the negative metaphors with which they described plagiarism (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980), it is apparent that students have low positive attitudes towards plagiarism in general. However, when Mann-Whitney U test results and lecturers’ perceptions are considered together, it is seen that undergraduates have more positive attitudes and subjective norms towards plagiarism than postgraduate students, similar to Stănescu and Iorga’s (2013) findings. It might be the contextual variables that altered their attitudes towards plagiarism. As the lecturer interviewees declared, there was a stricter policy against plagiarism in the postgraduate programme. These results also seem to confirm other studies in the literature that claim contextual factors influence people’s attitudes over time (Burnett, 2002; Payne & Nantz, 1994). Another reason may be that the attitudes of postgraduate students towards plagiarism become similar to their instructors gradually over the time they spend at university, as claimed by Sims (1995).

However, it is especially noteworthy that both the lecturer and student interviewees agreed that only contextual factors could not lead someone to plagiarise without a pre-existing personality factor, as it is possible to change some personality influences, such as the locus of control, with training (Hill, 2011). In addition to training, student-inclusive decision-making processes, which were proposed by some of the student participants, could help reduce students’ externalization about their plagiarism acts and intentions. ← 13 | 14 →

The negative correlation between EXT and NAP and the positive correlation between EXT and SNP imply that the direction of locus of control is a factor in students’ attitudes towards plagiarism. Externalisers seem to feel less negative about plagiarism and hold positive attitudes towards plagiarism under the effect of external factors. Within this perspective, externalisers might be considered to be more prone to committing plagiarism.

Consequently, policies against plagiarism can make even the externalisers employ situational ethics (Granitz & Loewy, 2007) and avoid plagiarism because contextual perceptions on plagiarism have been shown to influence people’s attitudes (Payne & Nantz, 1994). Similarly, as both instructor and student interviewees agreed, an effective policy against plagiarism might prevent unintentional and intentional contextual plagiarism (Löfström & Kupila, 2013).

All in all, it seems that there is a desire for an institutional academic integrity policy that functions in a reliable and consistent manner and be developed cooperatively with the involvement of all stake holders, including students. In this respect, the lecturers, administrators, and policy makers are expected to take personal locus of control and attitudes towards plagiarism into consideration, in addition to other factors, to prevent plagiarism in student assignments.

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1 Lecturer, School of Foreign Languages, billuryldrm@gmail.com

2 Assistant Prof. Dr., Department of English Language Teaching, salimrazi@gmail.com