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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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Micro-Level Policies and Practices Regarding Plagiarism in Advanced Reading and Writing Courses in Turkey (Ali Erarslan / Ece Zehir Topkaya)

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Ali Erarslan1 & Ece Zehir Topkaya2

Alanya Alaaddin Keykubat University, Turkey & Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Turkey

Micro-Level Policies and Practices Regarding Plagiarism in Advanced Reading and Writing Courses in Turkey

Abstract: A growing body of literature shows that plagiarism has become widespread student behaviour at tertiary level. Here, we report on a small-scale qualitative research study regarding academics’ individual policies against plagiarism and their gate-keeping practices and behaviour in a year-long, compulsory “Advanced Reading and Writing” course at pre-service English language teacher course in Turkey. Five academics from five different universities participated in the study. The data were collected via document analysis and an online survey and submitted to inductive content analysis. The document analysis of the course syllabi revealed that there are no plagiarism statements, warnings or possible repercussions of unethical conduct, or an explicit section allotted to Academic Integrity as part of the content. As for the findings of the survey study, three major themes were identified: awareness on plagiarism, individual policies, and departmental awareness and policies. The findings indicate that the academics have a similar understanding of plagiarism and they pay attention to it. However, they have different practices in terms of detecting and preventing plagiarism due to not having similarity-detection software, the high number of students taking the course, and lack of institutional/departmental awareness. Finally, there are no departmental written policies or guidelines to prevent or manage academic misconduct. Thus, institutional, departmental and individual policies need to be clarified to make students aware of this issue and avoid it.

Keywords: academic dishonesty, academics, advanced reading and writing course, micro-level policies, plagiarism

Introduction

Academic dishonesty involves cheating, fabrication, facilitation of supporting academic dishonesty and plagiarizing someone’s work intentionally or unintentionally (Law, Ting, & Jerome, 2013; Simpson, 2016). Student academic dishonesty ← 117 | 118 → also refers to any behaviour that breaks stated policies to gain advantage over others in school or academic contexts (Bayaa Martin Saana, Ablordeppey, Mensah, & Karikari, 2016). Due to the availability of technology able to reach scholarly works and the information needed on any subject, the rates of academic dishonesty are reported to be on increase (Eret & Gokmenoglu, 2010; Howard, Ehrich, & Walton, 2014; Perry, 2010; Teeter, 2015), which leads to a decline of academic integrity (Kisamore, Stone, & Jawahar, 2007; Stabingis, Šarlauskienė, & Čepaitienė, 2014), which refers to ethical policies to be followed by students and academics in educational contexts (Macfarlane, Zhang, & Pun, 2014).

Of the types of academic dishonesty, plagiarism is a crucial area of concern in higher education given the increasing number of instances of plagiarism among university students. Although a number of definitions exist in the literature, plagiarism is commonly regarded as “literary theft” (Eret & Gokmenoglu, 2010; Mavrinac, Brumini, Bilić-Zulle, & Petrovečki, 2010), stealing or appropriation of someone’s work or ideas (Teeter, 2015), or fraud in the form of copying or borrowing the work of others without their consent (Poorolajal, Cheraghi, Doosti Irani, Cheraghi, & Mirfakhraei, 2012). Although there are a number of reasons for student plagiarizing, among the most obvious are accessibility of the internet, abundance of web-based sources, lack of student responsibility in fulfilling the requirements of academic life, motivation and the teacher factor (Šprajc, Urh, Jerebic, Trivan, & Jereb, 2017). Academics’ attitudes towards plagiarism, their gate-keeping behaviour and principles, namely, micro-level policies regarding academic dishonesty, are among the most significant factors in prevention of students’ plagiarizing. Thus, how instances of academic dishonesty are treated by academics plays a significant role in preventing students from committing plagiarism-related activities.

Instances of plagiarism in the writing tasks of foreign language students in higher education are reported to be common since learners often lack competency in language, cognitive domains and socio-cultural aspects to successfully complete any given task (Barkaoui, 2007; Hyland, 1990). As a result, they tend to look for ready-made texts available on the internet and use parts of them in their writing.

In the context of this study, on the Advanced Writing and Reading (henceforth ARW) course offered compulsorily in pre-service English language teacher education in Turkey, students are required to complete assignments including different types of academic writing. Though not many, the few studies on plagiarism encountered among pre-service English language teachers have shown that it is a widespread and a serious offense and that academics also share the responsibility for preventing plagiarism (Razi & Pektaş, 2017). Therefore, there seems to be an ← 118 | 119 → urgent need to examine academics’ individual policies regarding plagiarism as well as understand whether these policies are supported by departmental rules and regulations.

Plagiarism and Ways to Prevent It

In its broadest sense, plagiarism stands for any activity of intentional or unintentional passing off another person’s work and idea gathered either from the internet, published documents or from another person as one’s own without acknowledging the source or asking the consent of the author (Fish & Hura, 2013; Jones, 2001; Perry, 2010; Pickard, 2006; Wilkinson, 2009). In fact, in most cases it is thought of as a moral issue violating copyright and academic integrity (Howard et al., 2014; Law et al., 2013; Mavrinac et al., 2010; Wilkinson, 2009); thus, any kind of plagiarism conducted either by students or academics is taken as a serious offense (Sarlauskiene & Stabingis, 2014). What constitutes the most-frequently encountered incidences of plagiarism is assignments handed in by students (Fish & Hura, 2013; Howard et al., 2014; Moten, 2014). However, it should be noted that plagiarism appears in a number of forms both in academic papers and student assignments.

Plagiarism may be conducted in different ways intentionally or unintentionally and the most common types are appropriation, patch writing, and self-plagiarism (Sarlauskiene & Stabingis, 2014; Howard et al., 2014). In appropriation, the entire or some parts of pre-written sources (verbatim) or intellectual property are presented as if one’s own without giving any citation or proper credit (Habibzadeh & Shashok, 2011). The copy-and-paste form of plagiarism from the internet or different written sources is quite common among types of plagiarism given the availability of ready texts, articles and essays on a specific topic (Poorolajal et al., 2012). In terms of internet sources, downloading and presenting a text partly or fully or buying, commissioning and utilizing it as one’s own without quotation or citation is among the common copy-paste plagiarism acts (Jones, 2001). In patch writing, on the other hand, either because of poor paraphrasing skills or poor quoting and citing, the authors replace some words with their synonyms while keeping the main structure almost the same (Fenster, 2016; Teeter, 2015; Wilkinson, 2009). Rogerson and McCarthy (2017) even claim that a number of software programs such as word processing programs or dictionaries and websites help authors to paraphrase texts found in the internet environment, thus promoting patch plagiarism. Lastly, self-plagiarism refers to presenting or publishing one’s previously published work and data as new, or segmentation of the same data to produce more texts (Mavrinac et al., 2010; Sarlauskiene & Stabingis, 2014). ← 119 | 120 → Also, plagiarism may be supported by colleagues or friends either by ignoring it or presenting a work of collaboration with others as one’s own.

Given the significance of plagiarism as a serious offense detrimental to integrity in the academic world, ways to prevent students from the act of plagiarizing constitute a greater challenge for both academics and institutions in the academic world. It is certain that the spread of plagiarism among university students calls for urgent attention in higher education (Bayaa Martin Saana et al., 2016) since it can be controlled and minimised by carefully-defined institutional and departmental policies as well as academics’ own procedures and efforts in their courses. As Pickard (2006) states, finding ways to prevent plagiarism requires a holistic approach incorporating all stakeholders and stages from curriculum development to administrative policies.

One of the most effective ways of minimizing or preventing plagiarism is teaching how to credit the source (Poorolajal et al., 2012). However, it is generally agreed that in most cases students are reported to have lack of information and awareness about what kind of behaviours are accepted as plagiarism, in addition to experiencing difficulties in giving proper citations and referencing (Dias & Bastos, 2014; Jones, 2001). Thus, as suggested, institutions and academics should cooperate to establish policy frameworks of what constitutes plagiarism, including its definition and plagiarism prevention procedures (Sarlauskiene & Stabingis, 2014). Students should be informed about honest behaviour and requirements in submitting assignments or academic studies depending on the course offered. Penalties for plagiarism such as failing a course or other disciplinary precautions should be highlighted for students clearly (Jones, 2011).

Considering the significance of plagiarism and ways to prevent academic misconduct, studies mostly focus on students’ perspectives related to plagiarism (Bayaa Martin Saana et al., 2016; Fish & Hura, 2013; Perry, 2010; Sarlauskiene & Stabingis, 2014; Simpson, 2016). However, studies regarding academics’ perceptions of plagiarism and their individual approaches to it are quite limited. This study therefore focuses on academics’ perceptions of plagiarism and their gate-keeping practices on an Advanced Reading and Writing (henceforth ARW) course and departmental policies in various universities of Turkey under the following research questions:

1. What are academics’ perceptions of plagiarism?

2. What policies do they follow in the ARW course in terms of plagiarism?

3. Are there institutional and departmental policies defining and supporting academics’ micro-level policies? ← 120 | 121 →

Methodology

The research was designed as a small-scale qualitative study. To explore academics’ views and practices against plagiarism at course level, an online survey was created and sent to lecturers teaching the ARW course in departments of English Language Teaching in various universities across Turkey. The online survey, which consisted of 23 questions, had four parts covering participants’ demographic data, personal and academic information, departmental and institutional policies, their perceptions of plagiarism, and their practices for preventing it. Additionally, document analysis was utilised for investigating the participants’ course syllabi, and departmental and institutional policies. For analysis of the documents, the academics’ course syllabi and web-pages of the English Language Teaching departments and their faculties were carefully analysed.

Participants of the Study

A total of 5 academics (3 male, 2 female) from 5 different universities in Turkey took part in this study. Universities in the west part of Turkey were selected for the study as they were within reasonable travelling distance. A greater number of lecturers in the department of English Language Teaching were sent the form for data collection; however, only the 5 academics who responded were included. It is worth noting here that these 5 members together teach the ARW course to nearly 300 students. Among the participants, 4 were Asst. Professors and one was a lecturer. The average length of teaching experience of the participants was 15 years while years of experience as a teacher educator were found to be 11 on average. Additionally, the participants had been giving the Advanced Reading and Writing course in the department of English Language Teaching for 8 years and this indicates that participants were experienced in teaching the course.

Data Analysis

The qualitative data were analysed through inductive content analysis to identify common categories and themes. The authors of the study worked on the collected data and first classified repeated and recurring themes and categories separately. For the purpose of reaching an agreement on the classified themes and categories, they then debated any conflicting themes and later merged all the analysis together to confirm the initial and subsequent analysis of the data. As Bengtsson (2016) states, this method of applying content analysis is the one most commonly used in analyzing qualitative data, ensuring validity and reliability. ← 121 | 122 →

Findings

The findings of each research question are reported below and the participants were coded as A1 to A5 in the tables of themes and categories.

Findings Related to Academics’ Perceptions of Plagiarism

In the survey, the academics were asked how they defined plagiarism, the significance of plagiarism-related activities, and whether they paid attention to student assignments from the perspective of plagiarism. Analysis of the data yielded 5 major categories grouped under two overarching themes: definitions of plagiarism and reasons for plagiarism (see Table 1).

The participants in the study perceived plagiarism as mainly stealing someone’s written text or copying the sentences of others. To illustrate, A1 stated “…it is cheating and copying someone’s written text or sentences partly or wholly as if his own”. Similarly, A3 expressed that “[Plagiarism is] copying the sentences of others (authors, other students), giving the impression that you wrote it.”

Among the participants, two of the academics (A2 and A5) explained plagiarism as being the issue of giving improper or no citation to sources utilised. For example, A5 defined it as “presenting others’ work, ideas, and statements without acknowledging them or giving credit, as if all those ideas and sayings originated from themselves.” while A2 saw it as “using other people’s ideas and work without citing properly”. Thus, it is clear that the participants all agreed upon what constitutes plagiarism and defined it as stealing or copying others’ written work without giving proper citation.

Table 1: Academics’ Perceptions of Plagiarism

Themes & CategoriesParticipant code
Definitions of plagiarism 
Stealing and copying

Poor/No citation
A1, A2, A3, A4, A5

A2, A5
Reasons for plagiarism 
Lack of awareness/knowledge

Course/Assignment difficulty

Lack of academic culture
A1, A2, A3, A4, A5

A1, A4, A5

A2, A4

Regarding the reasons for student plagiarizing, three categories were identified, as “lack of awareness or lack of linguistic knowledge”, “course difficulty or assignment difficulty” and “culture”. According to the participants, one of the main reasons for students’ plagiarism is their lack of awareness of plagiarism, and even if they are ← 122 | 123 → aware of its significance, their lack of knowledge related to proper paraphrasing makes them inclined to plagiarise. Regarding this, A5 stated that “…lack of familiarity with research itself, research paper writing conventions, and lack of awareness in such ethical issues… These are the main reasons for plagiarism”. Similarly, A3 attributed the causes of plagiarism to a lack of linguistic knowledge by saying; “….even if they want to cite properly, they cannot do so because they don’t know how to paraphrase a given sentence…”

The second reason stated as a cause of plagiarism is “course/assignment difficulty”. The mismatch between the students’ level of English or their writing skills and the assignment was reported to be a problem. To illustrate, A1 responded: “Students plagiarise because writing topics may be difficult for them. Generally, I try to find easier topics in their major (ELT/teaching) to write”. Similarly, A4 also explained that students tended to copy things on the net because the course was difficult for them, saying:

Students plagiarise because they cannot produce a coherent text and they do not like writing because it is a burden for them. They do not have the background or any information about the topic. The course is difficult for those who try to write for the first time, so they copy something on the net.

Finally, “academic culture” in the Turkish context was perceived as a reason for plagiarism by two of the participants (A2, A4). Having no policies for preventing and detecting plagiarism, or receiving no punishment for appropriation of others’ work in the current academic culture at all levels of education in Turkey, was stated as indicators of this culture. A2 expressed that “In Turkish culture, students see such examples and no punishment is given in such cases. Thus, they show no respect for ideas in the culture… even professors do it.” In a similar vein, A4 reported that “previous habits at high school or secondary school cause plagiarism; they are not aware of plagiarism itself, let alone the notion of plagiarism.”

Findings Related to Academics’ Policies and Practices to Avoid Plagiarism

The survey form asked the participants a number of interview questions addressing various aspects of the ARW course such as course syllabus, assignment policy, and feedback frequency to help detect plagiarism. The participants’ written course syllabi were also subjected to document analysis to find out whether they had any specific modules on academic integrity/ethics and plagiarism, and any clearly stated policies regarding their approach to academic integrity and assignment rules. The analysis of the responses revealed their individual practices and policies, which were then categorised under three themes: course syllabus, assignment ← 123 | 124 → practices and policies, with a focus on plagiarism, and their perceptions regarding barriers to implementing an effective plagiarism avoidance strategy (see Table 2).

Table 2: Academics’ Policies and Practices to Avoid Plagiarism

Themes & CategoriesParticipant code
Course syllabus 
Modules on academic integrity/ethics

Modules on how to avoid plagiarism
A2, A4

A2, A3
Assignment policy and practices 
Providing feedback on citation rules and referencing

Assignment policy including avoidance of plagiarism

Integration of plagiarism into syllabus
A1, A2, A3, A4, A5

A2, A4

A2, A4
Barriers to implementing a plagiarism avoidance strategy 
Lack of software

Crowded Class
A1, A3, A5

A1, A5

Firstly, all participants reported assigning students at least 5 written assignments per term, which included writing process-oriented paragraphs and essays. Additionally, two of them (A2, A4) reported requesting students to write research reports. Despite this intensive assignment load, analysis of the data showed that only 2 participants had a module on academic integrity and teaching strategies to avoid plagiarism. For example, A2 stated: “I focus on academic integrity and lecture on avoiding plagiarism and contract cheating. I also make use of similarity reports. I also teach the rules of in-text citations in the fall semester whereas I deal with writing reference lists in the spring semester”. A4, the other participant who had a module on the related issues, explained: “I give the definition of the concept and its importance is emphasised in one module at the beginning of the fall semester. As for avoiding plagiarism, direct-indirect quotations are exemplified.” One of the academics (A5) stated that “This issue is explained in Research classes, not in the ARW classes. But sometimes I give some information about how to cite, quote, etc.”

As for assignment policies and practices, it was found that all participants gave feedback on assignments while four of them did this after task completion (A2, A3, A4, and A5). They also stated that students are expected to make revisions and edit all written assignments after feedback including citing and referencing styles. In the event of plagiarism incidents, all participants reported giving feedback on plagiarism while giving feedback on the tasks. A1, A3, A4 and A5 stated that they returned students’ assignments for rewriting (A1), while A3, A4 and A5 also explained what plagiarism was and what the likely consequences of another incident ← 124 | 125 → of plagiarism would be. One of the academics (A2) developed an “anonymous-multi mediated writing model” to prevent plagiarism in student assignments.

The findings revealed that the academics did not have an assignment policy that includes avoidance of plagiarism. Only one of the participants (A2) reported asking students to hand in their assignments via an online similarity-checking tool while the others collected them through e-mail systems or in class. A2, regarding this issue, stated that “students in the ARW course have to submit their assignments through similarity-detection software and to succeed on the course, students need to submit several drafts and the final version of their written assignment, in addition to peer review sessions”.

Finally, the document analysis of the written course syllabi of the participants also showed that only two of them (A2, A4) made clear statements regarding plagiarism in their syllabus. The statement regarding plagiarism of A2 is as follows:

Either accidental or intentional, there is no tolerance for plagiarism. You need to submit all your assignments through Turnitin and as the lecturer, I will determine the originality of your assignments by checking them against plagiarism. Please check departmental policy of plagiarism for further details.

Similarly, A4 integrated plagiarism into her course syllabus with the statement: “Plagiarism is strictly forbidden and will result in penalties leading to grade F”.

When it comes to barriers to implementing an effective plagiarism-avoidance strategy, the academics mainly emphasised lack of the necessary software to obtain similarity reports of the student assignments. Regarding this, A1 stated that:

I am aware of the significance of plagiarism; however, the university I am working at has recently been established and even the library is not in service. At the moment, no academics have been provided with plagiarism-detecting software. Even so, I am still trying to use other free-online software.

Another participant (A5), focused on the difficulty of dealing with plagiarism apart from checking and giving feedback on student assignments due to crowded classes. In this respect, she explained that: “I have 3 classes of the ARW course in both semesters and in each class there are nearly 40 students. All my time is spent reading students’ assignments and giving feedback. For this reason, plagiarism control is quite difficult for me.”

Findings Related to Institutional and Departmental Policies Defining and Supporting Academics’ Micro-Level Policies

To find out the institutional and departmental policies and practices related to preventing plagiarism at the participants’ universities, an online search was conducted ← 125 | 126 → to reach written documents including such regulations and rules. Apart from this, the participants were also asked about their own departmental policies and practices in addition to their course syllabi to see if they included any statements concerning plagiarism and sanctions to be applied in the case of detecting academic dishonesty, either in the form of cheating or plagiarizing. The online search did not yield any written codes, regulations or sanctions on academic dishonesty at university or departmental levels. The participants also reported having no clear institutional and departmental policies/practices against plagiarism apart from their own individual efforts. Regarding this, one of the participants (A4) stated that “Unfortunately, … there is no policy in the department. They find such concepts like ethics “amateurish”. I just try it myself.” Similarly, emphasizing the necessity and significance of having a departmental stance against plagiarism, A5 expressed that: “I think a consistent Faculty/Department policy is of high importance. Many lecturers just ignore such things. Actually, many academics intentionally or unintentionally plagiarise. How can you expect such people to do something about plagiarism?”

Conclusions and Discussion

This study was conducted to understand how academics teaching Advanced Reading & Writing courses in the department of English Language Teaching across various universities in Turkey perceived plagiarism and what micro-level policies they followed in terms of academic dishonesty on the ARW courses, in addition to institutional and departmental policies.

The findings of this study show that the academics offering the ARW course in English Language Teaching departments in five different universities in Turkey have similar understandings regarding the notion of plagiarism. Yet, they believe students’ lack of awareness about plagiarism as an ethical problem, combined with cultural tolerance of such behaviour without punishment, contribute to high incidences of plagiarism events. In the literature, one of the significant components of plagiarism-related acts is viewed from the cultural perspective. The issue of plagiarism is regarded as a cultural phenomenon and depending on the cultural background of the students, the term plagiarism may be viewed as a serious offense in some cultures while in others it may be seen as matter of sharing (Hayner, 2009; Introna, Hayes, Blair, & Wood, 2003; Law et al., 2013). Therefore, it is possible to conclude that academic ethics need to be introduced to students in earlier stages of their education and all educators at all levels of education need to pay attention to instances of plagiarism in their students’ assignments.

The participants of this study also regarded plagiarism as stemming from students’ underdeveloped paraphrasing skills, which is seen to be related to their ← 126 | 127 → low level of language proficiency in English. Writing in L2 requires students to possess morphological, lexical, syntactic, and grammatical knowledge in addition to awareness of proper text organization to produce various text types with appropriate discourse and meta-discourse features (Barkaoui, 2007). Thus, when students are challenged with tasks and assignments without taking their linguistic level into consideration, they may find it easier to plagiarise.

Related to individual policies in designing courses and assignments to prevent plagiarism, it can be concluded that the assignment policies of academics are not tailored to prevent plagiarism except in rare cases. However, the academics check the citing and referencing styles of students in their assignments due to the significance of the issue. At the same time, imposing no sanctions on students in the case of personal detection of plagiarizing also appears to be a significant conclusion of the study. Only a few academics warn students about consequences of plagiarism. On the other hand, unavailability of plagiarism detectors provided to academics as software by universities is seen as an obstacle to plagiarism detection. Academics also emphasise the difficulty of treating plagiarism with the care it deserves since checking the written assignments of students is a time-consuming effort together with giving feedback about the assignments.

Finally, although it is hardly possible to make any broad, far-reaching generalizations in the light of the findings of this small-scale study, it can be tentatively concluded that regarding both micro-level individual policies and practices and macro-level institutional and departmental policies/practices, awareness of plagiarism and having well-formed policies framing it in all aspects, from prevention to minimizing it, is far from being satisfactory given the current practices against academic misconduct.

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1 Assistant Prof. Dr., Department of English Language Teaching, ali.erarslan@gmail.com

2 Associate Prof. Dr., Department of English Language Teaching, ecetopkaya@yahoo.com