Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Nick Fox, 15-7-08

Nick is the director of teaching in ScHARR, and has led on the development of plagiarism resources for postgraduate students. These resources are enormously rich and well-structured, and provide students not with a bare argument that "plagiarism is unacceptable", but a much more substantial set of materials, including discussions of why plagiarism is unacceptable, what it might look like, and what to do about it. Nick's written about the resources for the Case Studies Wiki, and you can get more detail there; he's also working on a publication that explains his method in more depth, and explores some of the more fundamental questions that it raises.

Nick's straightforward and persuasive argument was that academics need to accept their measure of responsibility for student learning about plagiarism, and not assume that students will simply pick up good writing and referencing habits as they go on. Students are entering an academic culture that will be, to a greater or less extent, unfamiliar, and are bringing in skills and experiences that may not entirely fit with what is expected of them. Nick talked about, and TASH has borrowed, academic literacy, a general sense of knowing what is important in academic life and why; it is only through this deeper engagement with students that plagiarism will be ended, because otherwise we are treating the symptom (poor referencing) rather than the disease (lack of clarity around the academic writing process, and indeed in some areas of what is expected from university study per se).

This deeper engagement with students throws up many questions for academics about what their assumptions, roles, responsibilities, and own writing practices are, and starts to chisel away at some of the binary divisions sometimes found between active producers of knowledge (typically academics) and passive consumers (typically students). It would be ideal if TASH could provide one space for these discussions and explorations; I think the project team were already clear on the need for spaces for students to discuss issues around their shifting understanding of academic life and indeed their own identities, and one thing I've taken from the conversation with Nick is the importance of a similar space for academic staff. To be sure, we need to start explaining the rules of the game to students; but it might be that until we explain them, we won't recognise some of their tensions and ambiguities. This process of exploration and explanation is an essential part of becoming truly student-centred, and perhaps even experiencing some of the ambiguity and identity-shift that we aim, explicitly or otherwise, to encourage in students.

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