|dc.description.abstract||In this thesis, I report on a doctoral study that examined undergraduate university students’ understandings of plagiarism. The thesis addresses a gap in the existing plagiarism research since much of the literature on students’ understandings of plagiarism to date has focused on institutional or staff reports. Although there is a growing body of research reporting on students’ perspectives of plagiarism, there is a paucity of in-depth qualitative studies in this area. The theoretical framework for this study was informed by social constructionist, poststructuralist, and academic literacies perspectives. These informed my research methodology, including my close attention to students’ articulated understandings of plagiarism in relation to broader institutional discourses. Methodologically, the study involved interviews with 21 students drawn from first year lectures at the University of Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand. The students represented a variety of age ranges and levels of university study. The interviews focused on the students’ understandings of plagiarism, as well as their views on learning, assessment, and what constitutes a university education. I used discourse analysis to ‘read’ the students’ responses alongside the plagiarism discourses that appeared in University policy.
The thesis findings identify four main discourses that emerged in the students’ comments about plagiarism: ethico-legal discourses, where students used language reflecting a view of plagiarism as a moral or legal issue; fairness discourses, where students positioned plagiarism policy and practices as either fair or not fair; confusion discourses, where students expressed confusion about plagiarism policy and/or practices; and learning discourses, where students spoke about plagiarism as either inhibiting learning or indicating that students had not learned. These discourses were reflective of University policy that positioned plagiarism as a form of dishonesty irrespective of whether or not it was intentional. When asked to reflect on learning, assessment, and the purpose of a university education, most of the students drew heavily on employment discourses where they described universities as places in which to prepare for future employment. From an employment viewpoint, plagiarism policy and practices seemed irrelevant to most students.
The findings of this research challenge the way in which plagiarism is framed at the University of Otago. Currently, plagiarism is conceptualised as a textual feature within the finished product of a student’s assignment, and both intentional and unintentional plagiarism are treated as academic dishonesty. I argue that in order to support students’ learning, unintentional plagiarism should be positioned within academic writing. Furthermore, students’ writing should be viewed as a process rather than as a product, and students should be scaffolded in their development as academic writers. I further argue that, because of the dominant ethico-legal discourses surrounding the term ‘plagiarism’, we instead use the term ‘matching text’. This would remove the implication of dishonesty, and allow for an educative response to incidences of unintentional plagiarism.||