Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Cultural Constructions of Plagiarism in Student Writing: Teachers' Perceptions and Responses

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Cultural Constructions of Plagiarism in Student Writing: Teachers' Perceptions and Responses

Article excerpt

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Introduction

Plagiarism, and ways to handle this kind of academic dishonesty, have concerned academics in Western societies for a long time. Nevertheless, not all societies may have the same viewpoint on plagiarism. The Western perspective that ideas can be the property of individuals may in fact seem strange to those who have different views about communal information or public discourse (Adiningrum & Kutieleh, 2011). For example, Pennycook (1996) and Sowden (2005) state that plagiarism is culturally conditioned and therefore is interpreted differently in diverse cultures. Pennycook ( 1996) suggests the complex nature of plagiarism, indicating that ideas of ownership, authorship, and intellectual property evolving in Western society contain distinctive cultural and historical elements. He questions whether people from other cultures should follow the same conventions. By the same token, Sowden (2005) indicates that cultural variance should be taken into account when examining plagiarism. As suggested by Macbeth (2006), "learning such [academic writing] conventions constitutes a curriculum in the use of cultural objects. And while there might be general agreement that all curricula are cultural, 'how' they are has not been so closely considered in the literature" (p. 180).

Just how well students are learning such conventions remains a topic of ongo- ing scholarly inquiry. In particular, student plagiarism has been reported in many studies in Asia (e.g., Gu & Brooks, 2008; Jia, 2008; Stapleton, 2012). These studies indicate that Chinese students are confused about plagiarism. A substantial and growing body of research has explored Chinese students' perceptions of plagia- rism in either the English language-speaking contexts or the home context (e.g., Gu & Brooks, 2008; Hu & Lei, 2012). While these studies seem to confirm the culturally dependent nature of how plagiarism is understood by students, there are opponents of this view.

Disagreeing with the conceptual arguments of Pennycook, Macbeth, and Sowden, there is a body of literature that either denies or minimizes the impact of cultural perceptions of plagiarism on teaching and learning (e.g., Liu, 2005; Martin, 2012; Weigle & Parker, 2012). For instance, Liu (2005) points out that in Chinese culture, "all the books state the need to credit the source of a citation" (p. 236). Since citation itself is no less emphasized in Chinese composition books than in English composition books, Liu's thinking goes, there would seem to be little need to study cultural differences in understandings of plagiarism. In Liu's (2005) opinion, plagiarism by Chinese students when writing in English can be primarily attributed to their lack of language proficiency, writing skills, and edu- cational training.

In response to such ongoing conceptual debates about plagiarism in Chinese language learning settings, this paper begins from the premise that conceptual- izing plagiarism in terms of students' language proficiency, writing skills, and educational training without taking into account teachers' cultural constructions of plagiarism is to miss a critically important dynamic in the discussion about plagiarism teaching and learning.

In spite of the overwhelming focus on Chinese students in conversations about plagiarism, little has been explored specifically as to how Chinese teachers perceive and deal with student plagiarism. Although some studies broadly focus on and encompass teacher perceptions (e.g., Borg, 2009; Crocker & Shaw, 2002), these studies still need to be more socially situated and centered on a specific context. The present study attempts to decrease this gap in the literature by examining the cultural nature of plagiarism from the perspective of university teachers, using how plagiarism is understood by Taiwanese teachers in Taiwan as a focal case to explore the broader issue of plagiarism in Chinese language learning settings. …

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