I found it interesting that you viewed your dean’s involvement with the faculty as an unnecessary use of time. Perhaps the intervention was more politically motivated to give a sense of collaboration more than for any real purpose. You also brought up the issue of plagiarism, which like many, you presented in purely negative terms. I’d like to address this complex topic in the light of values conflict potential.
Much work into plagiarism stems from native (English) language research where writers such as Park (2003) describe various levels of dishonest, confusion and inconsistency in the understanding and treatment of cases of plagiarism among staff and students in English speaking countries. However the issue becomes a complex one in second language learning. I’d like to briefly touch on three points related to plagiarism for non-native speakers, and then ask you how do you view this problem? Before beginning, please understand my examples assume undergraduates only. I think that the problem changes significantly for higher levels of education.
Or cultural imperialism. The ability to memorise whole chunks of text is valued in certain regions (Tweed & Lehman, 2002; Valiente, 2008). In many Asian contexts regurgitation of fixed answers is often the only way to succeed in education (Tran, 2013). The Western expectation of unique output needs to be understood as a bounded cultural method.
Furthermore, expecting undergraduates to produce authentic language in English can lead to situations where better higher scores are obtained for weaker linguistic output because students’ language can become awkward trying to avoid plagiarism (Pennycook, 1996). The question of values conflict arises between language expertise and student interlanguage development.
Where should educators draw a line between authentic, original language and foreign language learning? Surely if a student comes across an expression that they wish to emulate, they could use it as their own until their language ability progresses to the point where they can paraphrase it while retaining the core meaning and expressionate beauty. Using Turnitin to early in the language learning process may induce stilted output. Perhaps it may be better to allow direct copying at the undergraduate level: with discrimination between overt, unethical plagiarism and genuine expressionate copying. Making that distinction, however, it’s difficult.
Purpose of education
Trowler (1998) discusses Newmanite education, the prioritising of the educated person over vocational training. Does it really matter that an undergraduate uses more of a source text than a graduate should? It’s not the goal of undergraduate study to demonstrate a general knowledge in the field? The shared understanding of common, canonical texts is a feature of the Newmanian “gentleman”, and part of the classical education was the continuance of elite cultures through, partially, the ability to espouse the values found in these texts, overt verbatim. Pennycook (1996) relates his experience of a Chinese student who handed in a verbatim copy of a complete text. Pennycook spoke with the student who proceeded to recite the text verbally from memory. This Chinese student was playing out a very noble Confucian role, even though from the Western perspective, the student may have simply copied (and memorised) the text. The question arises of ownership of language and who has the right to make demands on the language use?
Hu (2015) presents a very short article in which a number of key questions relating to plagiarism are listed. Each item may be read in values terms. For example, Hu notes the “complexity of plagiarism as intertextual practice” (p. 100). The relationship between texts, especially multilingual ones, is complex. Only the brave or the foolish would be willing to state categorically rules on plagiarism. It is inevitable that there will be a variety of ethical responses to plagiarism within even a small body of professors.
Hu, G. (2015). Journal of Second Language Writing Research on plagiarism in second language writing: Where to from here? Journal of Second Language Writing, 2015, 100–102. doi:10.1016/j.jslw.2015.08.004
Park, C. (2003). In other (people’s) words: Plagiarism by university students – literature and lessons. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 28(5), 471 – 488. doi:10.1080/0260293032000120352
Pennycook, A. (1996). Borrowing Others’ Words: Text, Ownership, Memory, and Plagiarism. TESOL Quarterly, 30(2), 201–230.
Tran, T. T. (2013). Is the learning approach of students from the Confucian heritage culture problematic? Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 12(1), 57–65. doi:10.1007/s10671-012-9131-3
Trowler, P. R. (1998). Academics responding to change: New higher education frameworks and academic cultures. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press. doi:10.1016/j.jhsa.2014.04.015
Tweed, R. G., & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Learning considered within a cultural context. Confucian and Socratic approaches. The American Psychologist, 57(2), 89–99. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.57.2.89
Valiente, C. (2008). Are students using the “wrong” style of learning?: A multicultural scrutiny for helping teachers to appreciate differences. Active Learning in Higher Education, 9(1), 73–91. doi:10.1177/1469787407086746