Plagiarism : A pilot focus group study

exploring wider perspectives of Asian University Students

Raymond Singh


Few words can inspire the same vitriol in scholars as plagiarism. It has been variedly conceived as a crime (Suntherland-Smith, 2005), a disease (Petress, 2003), a deception (Athanasou and Olasehinde, 2002) and a threat to general public (Marsden, Carrol and Neil, 2005). The study of plagiarism has thus spawned a vast and convoluted body of discussion and research. Much of the existing literature has singled out University students as a particular group of concern. As developing learners, they are often framed as culprits of plagiarism with a growing rate of offence (Carroll, 2005). This mindset is likely the foundation of studies that explore students’ reasons and methods for plagiarizing, and how Universities can use these results to formulate preventive, or judicial, strategies to curb the offence of plagiarism (Whitley, 1998; Park 2003; Devlin, 2003). However, Howard (1999) recognized that the course of mitigating plagiarism among students cannot be successful if their lived experiences are not accounted for. It has been explicitly found that students from different cultures behave differently in University, to the extent that stereotypes are engendered (Melles, 2003). One cultural group that has been examined intensively, are students from ‘Confucian heritage cultures’, a term first used by Biggs (1996) in a book by Watkins and Biggs (eds), which explores issues concerning Chinese learners. More specifically, it is noted that students from this culture do not readily view plagiaristic behaviors as improper. This paper explores a twist to this cultural construct. A focus group study involved 15 students, organized in groups of 2-5, who are from Asian societies that are identified as ‘Confucian heritage cultures’ (ibid) but matriculating in an Asian University that practices the open and facilitative pedagogy that is more typical of western institutions (Ramburuth and McCormick, 2001). The aim of the study is to explore the perspectives on plagiarism of University students who are within an Asian culture, but are undergoing an independent and discursive mode of education. An analysis of the results demonstrated good understanding of plagiarism by the students, while echoing disillusion and discontent about inconsistent standards of plagiarism imposed by instructors. Further analysis debates upon the quality of culture’s impact on the students’ views. Lastly, the paper suggests several strategies, which consider a circumstantial and customized approach to academic integrity, providing instructor support and increased student engagement, as means to create a student culture of moral academic awareness.

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.