International students studying in the United States or other Western countries often come from cultures where academic integrity is understood differently.
Thus, they may not be familiar with Western expectations when it comes to expectations in American universities for integrating source material using proper citations and formatting styles. It can be difficult to determine whether or not cases of plagiarism among English Language Learners are attempts at cheating or a simply a matter of misunderstanding. Hopefully, if students are familiarized with concept of plagiarism as it is understood in American classrooms, incidents of misunderstanding will occur less often.
Make Your Students Familiar with Plagiarism
Make It Fun
Using a guessing game is a fun way to help students begin to grasp the idea of plagiarism. Give students a list of common scenarios and behaviors that students engage in that may or may not be classified as cheating or plagiarism. Have students work in groups to decide whether or not each scenario is “acceptable”, “plagiarism”, “cheating”, or “a bad habit”. Other ways to approach this would be to create a chart that students are asked to use to classify each scenario or behavior, or by designing a matching worksheet or game.
Read and Write about Plagiarism
Students who are learning about plagiarism are ideally doing so at a time in their studies when they will begin to integrate sources into their writing. Even if students are already familiar with the concept, it should be reinforced and discussed in depth when beginning to work with sources in writing. It is possible to select articles and readings that address plagiarism as a topic, and to create prompts that ask students to consider the issue. Using readings and writing assignments to explore the problem of plagiarism gives students a chance to engage with the topic, and ideally, to apply what they have learned to their own academic experiences. Another added benefit of having students study and write about the topic in-depth? It also seems that students are likely to plagiarize on an essay that is about plagiarism!
Introduce It alongside Paraphrasing, Quoting, and Summarizing
It helps students to better understand what they SHOULD NOT do (plagiarize) if they better understand what they SHOULD do (cite sources responsibly). Therefore, it is useful to introduce the concept of academic integrity when students are learning to use paraphrasing, quoting, and summarizing to integrate sources into their writing. Arming students with an understanding of these concepts at the same time that they are learning how to deal with sources will reinforce the importance of proper attribution and the use of citation, and will hopefully provide a clearer sense of Western expectations of how to use others’ ideas in writing responsibly.
Invite Students to Share about Their Own Cultures
Conventions associated with using others’ ideas are often linked to culture. Some ESL students may come from academic systems in which incorporating others ideas into one’s own writing is actually seen as a way of honoring great thinkers, scientists, and writers. Students may benefit from a discussion of the differences among cultures with regards to definitions and standards of academic integrity. Other practices should not be labeled as wrong or inferior, but rather noted as different than what is expected in most Western systems. Offering students a chance to compare and contrast the expectations will help them to digest rules about source attribution that may be new to them.
Plagiarism is considered a serious offense in Western institutions of higher learning, and English as a Second Language who plan to pursue academic course work internationally need to be made aware of the challenges associated with maintaining academic integrity early on in their studies.
We can help ESL students to be better prepared by arming them with in-depth knowledge about why we utilize citation in writing and how to do so properly.