Negotiating boundaries

Student perceptions, academic integrity and the co-construction of academic literacies

Lesley Gourlay


Viewed within the context of an academic literacies approach to student writing, the issue of plagiarism may be seen to be rooted in questions of identity, and evolving individual practices and the construction of meaning and the complex development of the authorial self. Student writer identity is seen here as being formed in a ‘liminal’ space, a site of struggle and negotiation, where norms of participation are not always fully expressed or shared. Although this may have special salience for students from diverse cultural backgrounds, it could also be seen as part of a transition experience for the wider student body, as students explore the boundaries of acceptability and writer identity. This paper will describe a current study at Napier University, Edinburgh, which explores these issues, focusing on students’ previous learning experiences, their engagement with awareness-raising guidance and resources at the university, their level of confidence in their ability to avoid plagiarism, and their perceptions about what aspects of writing are most challenging. The study also looks into student perceptions of the overall culture of academic integrity in the institution, focusing on the prevalence of and motivations for plagiarism practices.

An online survey featuring a range of closed and open question types was administered to the whole Napier student body, and attracted over 600 responses. This has been followed by a series of semi-structured one-to-one interviews with students, (25 volunteers have been interviewed at the time of writing), focusing in more detail on students’ perception of what plagiarism actually means and where they personally see the limits of acceptable practice, coupled with their perceptions of their emergent identities as academic writers. This paper will provide analysis of this data set, further interpreted in the light of the literature, with a focus on implications for pedagogic practice, awareness-raising focus and institutional policy.

This paper was submitted to the International Integrity & Plagiarism Conference which ran between 2004-2014. The paper was peer reviewed by an independent editorial board and features in the conference proceedings.