Academic writing and student diversity report

Thanks to Barbara Humphries who provided a report on the meeting held at LSE about the joint LSE / Lancaster project on academic writing while I was enjoying Istanbul. Tomorrow I will be at the UK Serials Group event talking about LASSIE.

Barbara reports:
“I attended a presentation about the “International students: supporting writing and tackling plagiarism project” yesterday afternoon. This project, funded by HEFCE, has been carried out by Edgar Whitley (Information Systems and Innovations Group) and Anja Timm (University of Lancaster). They went to Greece, China and India to look at how students in higher education studied before they come to LSE. They then followed their progress as students here. Yesterday they showed us a video about the Greek higher education system. It was fascinating – students go through their entire courses as undergraduates using only two textbooks written by their lecturers. Assessment is by exam only – there are no essays written. The students developed good memory skills but were completely lacking in information skills – many had never been to the Library – their textbooks are supplied to them free of charge with their course. Many did not know what a journal was. We later watched some interviews with Chinese students on their essay writing and the importance of citing and referencing. They did not see this as very important.

The conclusions that Edgar and Anja have come to are that students do not come to the LSE or other UK universities with the aim of wilfully cheating – why pay £18,000 for a course if you are going to cheat? The problem lies with their lack of information skills which means they do not see plagiarism as a problem.

The second session of the afternoon discussed the role of university support services such as Student Support, the Language Centre, CLT and Library staff in helping to overcome these difficulties for overseas students. I told them briefly about the training in information skills that Library staff are providing at inductions, Library training courses and on our web site. I took along some print outs from the Library web site to illustrate these. I made the point that it is better when information skills are endorsed and promoted by academic staff as in departmental inductions. This was regarded as important. Contributions were made in the meeting about the need for Endnote to be integrated as part of an academic information skills programme. One course tutor said the students found Google easier to use than having to get to grips with searching several different databases subscribed to by the Library. The new interface for the electronic library should make life easier for them.
Finally Edgar spoke about the limitations of plagiarism software which the School uses. Not all cases are identified. In the cases that were picked up academic staff had to decide whether this was wilful plagiarism or not – to punish or not? They think that prevention is better than cure and that information skills training at an early stage could eliminate a lot of problems with plagiarism amongst international students.”

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