Second Language Students and Academic Writing: Plagiarism, Pedagogy and Politics

Year: 2017

Author: Luck, Jo

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

It is well known that Second Language English students are more likely to plagiarise than domestic students (Divan, Bowman, & Seabourne, 2015). In many cases the plagiarism is unintentional. COIT20249 Professional Skills in Information and Communication Technology is a compulsory unit in the Masters suite of courses at Central Queensland University that teaches communication skills to a cohort of predominantly International students. This paper describes the effectiveness of an intervention program where Academic Learning support staff delivered an embedded academic writing program.
For students who actively engaged with the embedded academic writing program there was a demonstrable improvement in the standard of academic writing and they were less likely to plagiarise unintentionally. The main assessment is the creation of a written report. An authentic task where students have to use references to develop an argument about a particular technology. The embedded academic writing program was designed to step students through the various skills necessary to write the report: analytical (to deconstruct the assessment problem); research (finding and evaluating references); academic writing; using references to support claims; paraphrasing; and compiling a reference list. Students were provided with informal feedback during the hands-on activities by both the academic learning support staff and the COIT20249 lecturer.
Assessment tasks were scaffolded to test the development of the writing skills and prepare the students for writing the report (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976). The formative assessments provided opportunities for individual written feedback that could be used to inform the improvement of the report writing. A key innovation in this approach was the use of specialised academic support staff teaching to teach academic writing skills within the COIT20249 unit. The objective being to link academic writing skills to the Information and Communication discipline area. The pedagogical design of the program was informed by linking theory and practice. All activities within the program were designed to support the writing of the assessment tasks and were delivered by experts in helping improve students' written communication skills.
The lessons learnt from creating this embedded academic writing program can be applied to other discipline areas. Because the teaching of writing skills was linked directly to the assessments in COIT20249 students could easily relate their newly acquired literacy skills to the authentic assessment tasks. Students got to know the Academic Learning Support staff and were more likely to seek their help with writing assessment tasks than they were prior to the introduction of the embedded academic writing program. Students' academic writing skills improved and teaching staff learnt new skills such as improving the way they provide feedback to students on their written assessments.