Confucian, but not confused

Chinese-heritage students say stress or sloth, not cultural mores, spurs plagiarism. Jack Grove writes

July 19, 2012

Cheating by Chinese students is more likely to be caused by laziness, stress or pressure to succeed than a cultural misunderstanding of plagiarism, a study has claimed.

Previous research has contended that Chinese students often copy work because they come from a "Confucian heritage culture", which values rote learning and repetition of texts, rather than originality of thought.

Penalising them was therefore misguided because they did not fully understand plagiarism or academic integrity, it has been argued.

But Raymond Singh, assistant director of student conduct at Singapore Management University, believes the impact of Confucian learning has been overstated.

In a paper given at the International Plagiarism Conference, held in Newcastle between 16 and 18 July, Mr Singh points to a study of 15 students from a "Confucian heritage culture" at his institution.

Asked about their understanding of plagiarism and academic probity, none was confused about the nature of plagiarism.

Nor did they suggest that "plagiarism [was] occurring as a consequence of conceptual misunderstanding or a lack of knowledge in basic citation formats", Mr Singh adds.

He says explanations offered by study participants as to why students might plagiarise "tended towards" reasons such as "laziness, stress and meeting performance standards".

In fact, the "focus group demonstrated a definition of plagiarism that is reasonably close to the Western tradition", Mr Singh adds.

The conference, which was organised by plagiarism detection firm iParadigms, also heard that web-based detection systems may not pick up all cases of cheating.

A team from Stockholm University inserted 167 plagiarised references from sites such as Wikipedia, totalling 68,000 words, into a selection of essays and then ran them through various detection systems.

Turnitin was the fastest and most effective, but identified only half the references, while two Swedish competitors spotted 38 per cent and 12 per cent of references.

Several conference participants called for greater education of undergraduates about plagiarism, with many stating that prevention was more important than concentrating on improved detection.

A study of first-year University of Birmingham medical students whose findings were presented at the conference indicated that 10 per cent had never heard of plagiarism before arriving at university, while 93 per cent had never heard the term "collusion" used in relation to academic study.

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