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Academic Integrity, Remix Culture, Globalization: A Canadian Case Study of Student and Faculty Perceptions of Plagiarism

Abstract: This article presents the results of a case study at a Canadian university that used a combination of surveys and focus groups to explore faculty members' and students' perceptions of plagiarism. The research suggests that the globalization of education and remix culture have contributed to competing and contradictory understandings of plagiarism in contemporary western academic culture. The article argues that universities need to revisit their definitions of plagiarism and adjust their policies accordingly. It concludes that universities should decentralize educational efforts around plagiarism and make individual disciplines more accountable for the way they teach citation practices, appropriate source use, and rhetorical strategies for engaging in the scholarly conversation. Such an approach could make better use of Writing Centre faculty or WAC scholars who are uniquely positioned within the university to help establish discipline-specific definitions of "plagiarism" and support students as they learn to use sources effectively in their writing.[1]

A 2007 article in Maclean's magazine begins with the provocative statement, "With more than 50 per cent of students cheating, university degrees are losing their value" (Gulli, Kohler, & Patriquin, 2007). The most prevalent form of "cheating" to which the columnists refer is, of course, "plagiarism." After regaling the reader with a collection of data and opinions painting today's students as immoral deviants or criminals or both, the article concludes that, by allowing incidences of plagiarism to go unchecked, universities are compromising the public trust. One academic interviewed for the article goes so far as to suggest "employers [should] start thinking of suing universities . . . for producing a student who actually cheated his way through university." The popular media are not alone in their claim that one of the casualties of academic misconduct is the general sense of broken trust; students, faculty members, university administrators, potential employers, and the general public agree on very little when it comes to plagiarism, but all seem to share the sense that their trust in some aspect of university has been violated.

Canadian[2] faculty members' preoccupations with plagiarism are fueled in part by what Eodice (2008) refers to as the gotcha journalism of the mainstream media that relies on angry, self-righteous finger pointing for dramatic effect and ultimately punishes the alleged offender in the very act of publication. While the "gotcha journalists" are quick to pounce on apparent cases of blatant plagiarism, they seldom make an effort to clarify what we mean by plagiarism, and almost never provide "the historical contexts of authorship" (Eodice, 2008, p. 11) that may very well have contributed to the alleged offender's inappropriate source use. In recent years, the moral panic has extended beyond the undergraduate classroom to other domains of teaching and learning, with an accomplished history professor (Stephen Ambrose), a senior academic administrator (Philip Baker, the now former Dean of the University of Alberta's medical school), and even a senior administrator of a public school board (Chris Spence, the now former director of education for the Toronto District School Board) just a few of the high profile intellectuals recently accused of plagiarism and excoriated in the press with undisguised glee. The "current climate of hostility, paranoia, and self-righteous moral outrage surrounding any suggestion of plagiarism" (Horner, 2008, p. 173) has put many academics on the defensive, with some becoming self-appointed vigilantes on the hunt for academically offensive students, others trying valiantly to defend the honour of the university in the face of increased criticism from the public, and still others adopting a rather sanctimonious tone about both the students who cheat and the journalists who report on them.

All of this is not to deny, of course, that plagiarism is a serious problem requiring immediate attention. It is. Subtending the alarmist rhetoric are some alarming data. Indeed, the 2007 Maclean's article cited above is essentially a report on Christensen-Hughes and McCabe's detailed and well-documented study (2006) of academic integrity in Canadian universities, the publication of which has inspired some long-overdue discussion both inside and outside the academy. Many of their findings are quite provocative: 73% of students reported committing plagiarism[3] in high school; 53% admitted to the same offense as undergrads and 35% as graduate students (p. 6). Much has been written about these statistics, but a rather significant observation included in the final page of their study has not elicited much of a response in the published literature to date. Discussing the implications of their data, Christensen-Hughes and McCabe write,

A particularly important issue concerns beliefs about what constitutes academic misconduct. The present study found substantial differences in opinion between students and faculty for several behaviours, particularly those associated with unauthorized collaboration and falsification and fabrication behaviours. (p. 18)

In other words, the most comprehensive study of academic integrity in Canadian history reveals a lack of consensus among stakeholders with regards to what defines an academic offense generally, and plagiarism specifically. It is little wonder, then, that the discussion around strategies for preventing plagiarism have generated little in the way of solutions.

My research builds on this rather under-reported dimension of Christensen-Hughes and McCabe's work and suggests these different perceptions of plagiarism need to be understood as something more than a simple divide between students and faculty.

This paper seeks to identify and clarify the epistemological problem at the core of the ongoing discussion around plagiarism in post-secondary institutions. It does so through an analysis of two sets of empirical data—a survey of faculty members and a set of focus groups with students—collected at a mid-sized, primarily undergraduate university in eastern Canada. When read in the context of recent theoretical literature on plagiarism, our data suggest that the forces of globalization and contemporary "remix culture"[4] are complicating both students' and faculty members' understandings of "plagiarism," making it difficult for stakeholders to agree on the terms of the discussion let alone strategies for addressing the problem. Taken together, these two sets of data tell a provocative story about a fragmented community of students and faculty members struggling with competing, often contradictory understandings of a single set of conventions for appropriate source use; they tell a story about a loss of trust—students don't trust the faculty, faculty don't trust the students, and neither party trusts that the institution is equipped to remedy the problem.

Many faculty members are probably unaware of the fact that the concept of plagiarism is in flux, that the discourse of plagiarism circulates around what might best be called an aporia—the absence of a coherent, stable definition of plagiarism itself. Our approach here, therefore, is not on new or better techniques for preventing and detecting plagiarism, but rather on strategies for fixing a definition of the term "plagiarism," for setting limits to this aporia haunting the scholarly conversation. After all, it seems unlikely that we can detect and prevent something if we cannot agree on what that something is.

Complicating Factors: Remix Culture and Globalization

Two significant socio-cultural developments in the last decade have contributed in profound ways to the fragmentation of the notion of plagiarism in the academy. The first is the evolution of so-called remix culture where uncited intertextuality is an accepted and respected form of communication; remix culture uses sources in a very different way from traditional Western academic culture which puts a high premium on originality and has developed an elaborate set of rules for acknowledging other writers' original work. The second is, broadly speaking, the impact of globalization on the university; the forces of globalization are transforming student demographics, faculty demographics, educational technologies, and the basic processes by which intellectual capital is produced and shared. The discourses of globalization and remix culture are complicating, challenging, and in some cases undermining the concepts of originality, intellectual property, text, and author that are foundational to our understanding of the notion of plagiarism. To further confound the problem, many universities seem reluctant to address these changes, either through revisions to academic codes or with educational interventions.

Remix Culture

Lawrence Lessig (2008) has famously observed that university students today live in a remix culture where the lines between authors and their sources are conflated in sometimes accidental and other times deliberate ways. Students today have not only "seen the birth of collaborative and constructive spaces like YouTube, Facebook, and Wikis" but they have also "observed the rise and fall of peer-to-peer file sharing spaces like Napster and Kazaa, the emergence of torrenting, and the birth of a grass-roots, activist copyleft culture" (Rife, Westbrook, DeVoss, & Logie, 2010, p. 162).[5] So-called millennial students express originality or creativity through pastiche and collaboration, and they understand "authorship" as the process of mixing two or more existing (i.e., Internet) sources together—some obvious examples are uncited quotations or images on Facebook pages, mash-ups that combine a song with unrelated video footage, and cut-ups of literature. As Susan Blum (2009) notes, some millennials consider a collection of illegally downloaded songs on a mobile device to be an original composition, reflecting and constituting their identity, providing a measure of self-definition.[6] More importantly, the act of obfuscating the origin of a source creates pleasure for many millennials; when they share intertexts without identifying the sources, they connect and bond with each other in enhanced ways (Blum, 2009, p. 68). Conversely, many Western academics still associate originality or creativity with the solitary (Romantic) genius. In this model, the author writes something completely new to advance the body of knowledge in a given discipline and follows an established set of conventions when citing other (original) sources.

Blum (2009) argues that millennials celebrate unattributed citation in their daily (non-academic) lives in ways that many of their professors would find difficult to appreciate. Today's college students, she observes, "quote constantly in their ordinary lives and rarely have to cite their sources. They are more in tune with [Jonathan] Lethem's 'ecstasy of influence' than with [Harold] Bloom's 'anxiety of influence.' The ecstasy is magnified when the influence is shared. And when it is shared, there is no need to cite explicitly" (p. 58). In other words, the Enlightenment conceptions of "authorship, ownership, and originality, and the distinction between ideas and expression of ideas" (p. 58) are likely to seem quite foreign to millennials, and so the unexplained requirement to cite ones sources tends to alienate them from the entire process of knowledge production in the academy. This is not to say that different rules and conventions cannot or should not exist in different discursive communities. The point here is that people's understanding of the processes of producing and sharing knowledge are changing. To complicate matters more, this epistemological divide does not run along purely generational lines. Architectural design, a variety of web applications, and many research / writing projects undertaken in the Creative Commons embrace the same kind of uncited intertextuality that millennials use in their everyday lives, and these domains are by no means populated entirely by millennials. As Lunsford, Fishman, and Liew (2013) observe in their recent longitudinal study of students' attitudes towards writing and ideas about intellectual property,

On the one hand, schools, corporations, and other official institutions are committed to obeying IP [Intellectual Property] laws in conformity with the demands of the status quo; on the other hand, the creative energies of individuals and groups—and especially students—are part of various 'resistance movements' that have come to characterize the literacy practices of a vibrant counterpublic. In various ways and to varying degrees, many of our students operated in that liminal zone between conformity and resistance, as they negotiated the shifting boundaries of IP through their own creative and collaborative endeavors in and beyond the classroom. (p. 488)

In other words, many of the discursive communities to which students belong embrace a fundamentally disparate epistemology—or at least a different ideology of intertextuality—than that formally embraced by their universities. Those same universities, however, rarely discuss the nature of these differences and how or why they relate to official policies on plagiarism.

One of the best examples of what happens to the traditional author in remix culture is Wikipedia, the collectively written on-line encyclopedia that accepts ongoing emendations by a potentially infinite number of contributors. As Blum observes, Wikipedia "takes to its logical conclusion the general unconcern among the young about tracing individual contribution to a written product" (p. 70). Indeed, Wikipedia (and any kind of wiki) charts new territory for the relationship between "self" and "text" by suggesting that a single published text never stops changing and evolving, is always being written and re-written by multiple authors over an indefinite period of time. Of course, the influence of Wikipedia on academic writing is undeniable. Despite frequent injunctions from faculty and librarians to avoid it, Wikipedia is often students' first source for information, causing no end of frustration, consternation, and, in some cases, unmitigated despair in the legions of instructors who see the online encyclopedia as an inaccurate, biased resource wholly unsuitable for any kind of academic work.

In their 2007 study of the differences between remix culture and academia, Johnson-Eilola and Selber suggest plagiarism has become a problem in universities in large part because of the priority Western academics place on the distinction between original and borrowed work and the privilege they accord the former over the latter. They further observe that this binary (with original assuming the position of dominance over borrowed) does not exist to the same degree in remix culture. For example, the notion of the Romantic[7] genius who produces a completely original text in isolation from the world is alive and well in the academy, particularly (one suspects) among faculty and TAs who do a lot of writing and assess a lot of writing, but are not writing instructors. Most writing instructors would likely subscribe to the view of writing as a collaborative process—a perspective informed by more than thirty years of Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) research[8] that has thoroughly debunked the solitary genius view of authorship and overwhelmingly demonstrated the efficacy of pedagogies that focus on writing as a collaborative and social activity.

But, irrespective of what the prevailing wisdom and evidence-based scholarship around writing pedagogy suggest, many faculty members at Canadian universities still approach student writing (at least when assigning a traditional research paper) with the presumption that it is the final product of the student's original, unique voice. In Johnson-Eilola and Selber's words, they persist in grading the student essay as if "the ghost of the authorial, creative genius remains standing between the lines, propping up what is an increasingly unrealistic artifact in our postmodern age" (p. 378-9). As Rebecca Moore Howard (1999) and others have argued in their research into so-called "patchwriting" plagiarism,[9] students learn to write by imitating and copying language from source texts, but are inspired to obscure or hide the origin of these words because they are not valued in the same way or to the same degree as their own.

If we accept this critique of contemporary grading practices, then it follows that academic writing instruction needs to abandon its pre-occupation with "originality" and redefine writing in terms that resonate with students, inspiring them rather than terrifying them. We need to convince students that writing is a social practice or activity undertaken as a necessary stage in the process of knowledge production, not an isolated artifact generated by spontaneous, deep emotions or profound thoughts lurking in the depths of our individual (Romantic) souls. Or, as Ede and Lunsford have famously argued, writing instructors need to embrace "a pedagogy of collaboration, one that would view writing as always shared and social; writers as constantly building and negotiating meaning with and among others; and evaluation as based at least in part on a 'range of selves' and on communal efforts" (1992, p. 702).

Thus, Johnson-Eilola and Selber (2007) argue for understanding writing as a kind of "assemblage" or "a text built primarily and explicitly from existing texts in order to solve a . . . problem in a new context" (p. 381). A pedagogy predicated on writing as assemblage would involve teaching and assessing writing as a manifestly social rather than purely individual practice and would require instructors and students alike to acknowledge the wide variety of ways that a piece of writing connects to (and includes) other existing texts. Like Howard's study of IText (2007) and Chandrasoma, Thompson and Pennycook's theory of transgressive and nontransgressive intertextuality (2004), Johnson-Eilola and Selber's redefinition of writing as assemblage is informed by postmodern theories of language; and, like these other scholars, they are not arguing that because all language is intertextual, there is no point in differentiating among authors. Instead, the notion of writing as assemblage emphasizes the constructed nature of all writing and so shifts the attention of writers and readers alike away from their original voices and towards the variety of sources necessarily embedded in any piece of writing. This epistemological shift repositions the writer in a more fluid, contingent environment and assigns more importance to textual connections than to a writer's "original" words. Most importantly, the notion of writing as assemblage provides a particularly strong theoretical[10] foundation for a pedagogy that sees plagiarism as an activity related to the writers' literacy in a specific discipline, rather than as a crime to be punished, a ethical shortcoming to be addressed, or a disease to be cured.

This discussion of the evolving concepts of "author" and "text" owes much, of course, to the insights of postmodern literary theory. The "death of the author" announced by Barthes in the late 1960s[11] helped popularize the notion that texts derive their meanings from their relations to other texts rather than from their authors per se. This death of the author results in the liberation of the intertextual reader who understands, along with Julia Kristeva (1986), that "any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations [and] is the absorption and transformation of another [text]" (p. 37). This argument seems so obvious now, so much a part of contemporary popular culture, as to hardly warrant mentioning. In the 45 odd years since the publication of Kristeva's "Word, Dialogue, and Novel," there have been countless academic studies celebrating the implicit (i.e., un-cited) forms of "intertextuality" in a wide variety of domains in contemporary society. This kind of intertextuality is only a problem, it seems, in specific discursive communities, such as the academy, that are deeply indebted to the traditional notion of "the author" and so have created elaborate citation systems for differentiating between the "original" words of an author and the words or ideas that author has "imitated": the convention of publish-or-perish, the notion of intellectual property, and Romantic conceptions of genius have conspired to create an intellectual environment obsessed with the concept of "originality" as it relates to a single author. To put this more bluntly, the rules governing citation in the academy are inspired by a set of ideals[12] that are increasingly foreign and irrelevant to our students and many people who share information outside the classroom.


Acting in concert with remix culture, the forces of globalization have further problematized the traditional (i.e., Western) notions of authorship and originality that have, until relatively recently,[13] provided a reasonably stable foundation for our understanding of the concept of plagiarism. For the purposes of this paper, we will take globalization to mean "the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole" (Robertson, 1992, p. 8), and argue that, in an academic context, the phrase "compression of the world" refers to the process by which students from different cultures around the world come together in a single university classroom to acquire, produce, and disseminate knowledge. More generally, we understand the "globalization of education" to refer to the ways in which post-secondary education is being transformed by neoliberalism from a public good into a set of increasingly private products and services that individuals can purchase (and then trade or sell). In this view, globalization pressures universities and colleges to serve the needs of homo economicus, that self-interested actor who wants to maximize his utility as a consumer and his profit as a producer.[14]

The forces of globalization have brought many English Language Learners (ELL[15] students) into the Canadian university classroom and so into the discussion surrounding plagiarism. As Lise Buranen (1999) explains, "I have heard it said by other writing and ESL instructors and by speakers at conferences and seminars that students from other cultures view plagiarism in a different way than students from Western cultures do" (p. 66); she goes on to note that this difference in perception is purported to be especially common in Asian cultures where students see copying from sources "as a way of acknowledging one's respect for the received wisdom of their ancestors" (p. 66) and so are "taught to copy directly from other texts with no attribution" (p. 66). Buranen tries to debunk this argument with data collected from ELL students at California State University, Los Angeles that indicate little or no connection between students' cultural background and their conceptions of plagiarism. Claims about what students from Asia or the Middle East believe about plagiarism are, in Buranen's view, little more than urban myths giving expression to essentialist, stereotypical thinking.[16]

A number of recent scholars[17] have, however, probed the apparent connection between cultural background and plagiarism without either resorting to naïve stereotypes or essentializing difference. Abasi and Graves (2008), for example, convincingly demonstrate that ELL writing is, at least in part, an intertextual response to the institutional discourse on plagiarism; they conclude that discursive practices around plagiarism (i.e., academic codes, tip sheets from writing centres,[18] statements in course syllabi, and other documents that stress the need to avoid plagiarism without providing much information on how to achieve this goal) are preventing international graduate students in Canada from learning "the epistemological assumptions or the rhetorical purposes of successful writing in academia" (Abasi & Graves, 2008, p. 230). This discourse mystifies the act of writing and compromises "professors' efforts to socialize the students into privileged literary practices" (p. 230). Pecorari's 2003 study of 17 ELL graduate students concludes that while many of these students did plagiarize, their actions were "caused not by the intention to deceive but by the need for further growth as a writer" (p. 338). Angelil-Carter (2000) and Matalene (1985) present similar arguments about undergraduates who are learning the basics of writing, but prevented from developing their skills by well-intentioned but ill-conceived plagiarism policies.

Flowerdew and Li (2007) make the different but related point that ELL graduate students understand textual plagiarism as an acceptable and necessary strategy for success in scientific writing. Indeed, the students in their study point to the very formulaic nature of science writing in the typical "Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion" (IMRAD) paper, and argue that the formal conventions of this genre make it "acceptable to copy whole sentences" if those words "refer to ideas that are common knowledge within the discipline" (p. 168) or if they summarize a method that "is likely to be the same or very similar to what has been done before within the same research group" (p. 168). One of the more remarkable findings of this study is that ELLs seem to approach the act of writing presuming a clear distinction between "form" and "content," whereby the "form" (e.g., language) of the paper need not be original—as the necessarily formulaic nature of much scientific writing attests—but the "content" (e.g., data or work) does. These epistemological assumptions lead the students to believe textual plagiarism is a legitimate practice because the "content" (data and work) being reported is original and their own. Such assumptions are, of course, completely misguided. As Tharon Howard notes in his seminal discussion of American copyright law, "Who 'Owns' Electronic Texts" (1996), expressions of ideas can be considered intellectual property while "authors cannot expect to have or maintain a monopoly on truth" (p. 188). In other words, it is precisely the "form" (or language used to express the research results) that is important, that must be the students' own work, in order for them to get credit for producing their own intellectual property.

While these kinds of studies make some connections between ELL students and plagiarism, they do not suggest anything like a causal relationship between students' cultural backgrounds and the likelihood they will plagiarize. The research does, however, establish a solid connection between literacy and plagiarism. Observing that ELL students "writing in English have, manifestly, difficulties that [native English speaking students] do not" (p. 19), Pecorari concludes that while ELLs are not necessarily more likely than their native English-speaking peers to plagiarize, there are "differences between the two groups [in terms of] quantitative features such as the length of borrowed strings and qualitative features such as the linguistic dexterity with which borrowed chunks are merged" (Pecorari, 2008, p. 21). In other words, their weak writing and reading skills often lead ELLs to commit the form of textual (i.e., unintentional) plagiarism often referred to as patchwriting.

Rebecca Moore Howard has famously, if controversially, argued that "patchwriting is not always a form of academic dishonesty . . . . Often it is a form of writing that learners employ when they are unfamiliar with the words and ideas about which they are writing. In this situation, patchwriting can actually help the learner begin to understand the unfamiliar material" (1995, p. 799). In other words, patchwriting can be understood as a developmental stage of writing through which students pass when developing their own style or voice. This analysis lead Howard to propose an institutional policy on plagiarism[19] that takes an educational rather than purely punitive approach to patchwriting: "because patchwriting often results from a student's unfamiliarity with the words and ideas of a source text, instruction in the material discussed in the source and a request for subsequent revision of the paper is . . . frequently the appropriate response" (p. 799). This argument has been confirmed in the more recent Citation Project[20] where, after conducting detailed analyses of hundreds of student essays, Jamieson and Howard conclude that patchwriting and other forms of textual plagiarism seem to be symptoms of students' general lack of comprehension of source material. As they note in a recent interview, "plagiarism will inevitably occur if students can neither read complex sources critically nor conduct authentic researched inquiry. . . our research reveals that they do not, and raises the question of whether that is a matter of students' choice, or a matter of their being unable to" (Jamieson & Howard, 2011). The question of intentionality (i.e., whether students choose to plagiarize or make an innocent mistake when integrating sources) is a complicated one requiring a rather different kind of research than that conducted here; as Diane Pecorari (2003) correctly notes, it is virtually impossible to prove or disprove intentionality, as the only genuine proof exists in the perpetrator's mind.

The questions around the conscious choices students make when writing become ever more complex in a globalized university where cultural difference and diverse learning traditions make it difficult to presume all students, teaching assistants, and faculty members share a common understanding of what constitutes inappropriate source use. And, as Pecorari (2003) observes, even when we supply ELLs with the "missing declarative knowledge" regarding appropriate source use, they often still produce patchwriting when they construct essays and so commit a kind of textual plagiarism. Most observers agree that patchwriting is a much more common phenomenon than most university statistics indicate, and that it is being done by students who are genuinely interested in learning. Add the confusion generated by remix culture and postmodern theories of language or storytelling, and we enter into a kind of theatre of the absurd, with all the communication problems that implies. We cannot, however, be content to wait for Godot to provide us with an answer to this dilemma. Many of the students in our globalized universities need to be taught how to use sources appropriately, and this teaching needs to take remix culture as a point of (counter) reference; these same students require ongoing pedagogical support as they learn to avoid textual plagiarism while pursuing the various other objectives in the learning process.

A Case Study

Our research project began with two primary goals in mind: 1) to identify, define, and categorize the various perceptions of plagiarism held by different stakeholders; and 2) to identify the discursive and other contextual factors that contribute to the disparate understandings of plagiarism on campus. Initially inspired by a series of informal conversations in hallways with colleagues frustrated by the rising numbers of plagiarism cases in their classes, this research took formal shape with a presentation and workshop conducted at a local teaching symposium in 2008. Participants at this session were a mix of administrators and faculty from a variety of disciplines, and our discussion quickly revealed that most of us had rather different understandings of (or approaches to) plagiarism inspired by our respective pedagogies, workloads, and other professional concerns. What began as a discussion about strategies for preventing and detecting plagiarism in the classroom shifted to an animated debate about the very meaning of the term "plagiarism." And so, the focus of this research became the catachrestical signifier plagiarism itself, rather than the policies and procedures surrounding it; it became an attempt to better understand the epistemological problem at the centre of the discussion around plagiarism by collecting information on our stakeholders' perceptions of the issue.

Between 2008 and 2010, we conducted two surveys of faculty members and five focus groups with students at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), one of the suburban campuses of the University of Toronto. As of 2012, UTM has approximately 12,500 undergraduate students, 500 graduate students, and 770 faculty and staff.[21] While most of the teaching done at UTM is at the undergraduate level, many faculty members are also appointed as graduate faculty to departments at the University's St. George campus (located 33km east of the Mississauga campus in downtown Toronto).

Faculty Surveys

Between 2008 and 2009, we sent separate but identical surveys (i.e., e-mail invitations to complete an online survey) to two groups of faculty: the first group to complete the survey was from departments in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and the second group was from the Sciences.[22] The survey (Appendix A) was distributed separately to the two groups in order to determine whether faculty from different disciplines perceive plagiarism in distinctively different ways. There were 41 participants (46% of faculty) from the Humanities and Social Sciences, and 33 participants (28% of faculty)[23] from the Sciences. The surveys were conducted with the approval of the University's Research Ethics Board and all data were collected through a commercial survey instrument, SurveyMonkey, that ensured all respondents remained anonymous and all data were encrypted and secure.

The faculty surveys used a 5-point likert scale asking respondents whether they strongly agreed, agreed, neither agreed nor disagreed, disagreed, or strongly disagreed with a statement about plagiarism. All Humanities and Social Sciences faculty (HSS faculty) survey results are presented in Appendix C and all Science faculty (S faculty) survey results are presented in Appendix D.

Figure 1 demonstrates that faculty members from across the disciplines were generally in agreement or strong agreement that "Plagiarism is a problem in my class" (57.6% in the Sciences and 58.7% the Humanities and Social Sciences).

Figure 1: Faculty Survey Results, Question 1

Figure 1.

There was a similar consensus across disciplinary boundaries in response to the statement "Plagiarism is a growing problem in my class" with 36.4% of Science faculty (S faculty) and 39% of Humanities and Social Sciences faculty (HSS faculty) agreeing or strongly agreeing (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Faculty Survey Results, Question 2

Figure 2.

But when it came to statements about preventing plagiarism or educating students about plagiarism, there was a dramatic split between the two groups. For example, only 45.5% of S faculty agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "I dedicate significant time in class to informing students about plagiarism and teaching students strategies for preventing plagiarism"; this contrasts quite starkly with the 78% of HSS faculty who agreed or strongly agreed with the same claim (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Faculty Survey Results, Question 6

Figure 3.

These results suggest S faculty do not spend as much time educating students about plagiarism as do their HSS colleagues. There could be many reasons for this: S faculty may not perceive plagiarism to be as significant a problem as HSS faculty; or they may feel more strongly that plagiarism prevention is simply not part of their job; or they may feel more pressure to dedicate as much class time as possible to covering course content.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the two groups of faculty members was in their responses to the statement "I think new technologies such as the Internet contribute to the problem of plagiarism in my classroom": just 45.5% of S faculty agreed or strongly agreed with this assertion, while an overwhelming 95.1% of HSS faculty concurred (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Faculty Survey Results, Question 10

Figure 4.

These numbers clearly indicate a kind of conceptual divide among the disciplines where one group of faculty members has a different, perhaps mutually exclusive, understanding of plagiarism from another group working at the same institution and subject to the same Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters. It would seem there are two very different kinds of instructors—those who see a causal relationship between the Internet and plagiarism, and those who do not.[24]

There was a similar lack of consensus in the responses to the statement "My course uses software (e.g., Turnitin.com) to prevent and detect plagiarism": only 27.3% of S faculty, in contrast to 48.8% of HSS faculty, agreed or strongly agreed with this assertion (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Faculty Survey Results, Question 9

Figure 5.

This disparity is, of course, consistent with the responses to the statement regarding technology and plagiarism more generally. Faculty members from the Sciences appear less likely than their colleagues in other disciplines to either blame technology as a source of plagiarism or rely on it to prevent the problem. These survey results may suggest that scientists are generally unconvinced that plagiarism is an effect of the Internet's pervasive presence and, therefore, are disinclined to use a service such as Turnitin.com[25] which is widely perceived to be a tool that catches (and so prevents) Internet plagiarism rather than plagiarism of other sources.[26]

Collaboration among students is often a permitted, recommended, or required activity in a course and, as we all know, students do not always share their work in ways that conform to an instructor's expectations or guidelines. The fact that collaborative course work is probably more commonly assigned in science laboratories than in a humanities classroom[27] may explain why 42.5% of S faculty but only 19.5% of HSS faculty agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "students working in groups are more likely to commit plagiarism than students working alone" (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Faculty Survey Results, Question 11

Figure 6.

This statistic may simply suggest that when more group work is assigned there is more potential for abuse; on the other hand, it may reflect a perception in the sciences that, as Flowerdew and Li (2007) report, originality of content (data and results) is more important than originality of form (writing), and that plagiarism of content is more likely in the context of group work. Whatever the reason for these responses, we can safely conclude that this is yet another example of how faculty perceptions of plagiarism vary dramatically across the disciplines.

Statements exploring the relationship between the globalization of education and plagiarism elicited some interesting and revealing responses. More HSS faculty than S faculty "agreed or strongly agreed" with all of the survey's claims addressing the perceived correlation between international students' language skills or cultural values and plagiarism (Figure 7, Figure 8, and Figure 9). For example, HSS faculty felt much more strongly about the purported connection between international students and plagiarism than did their colleagues in the Sciences; almost half of HSS faculty (48.8%) agreed or strongly agreed with the claim that "students from other cultures view plagiarism in a different way than students from western cultures do", while a mere 30.2% of S faculty responded in a similarly affirmative manner. In response to a second question addressing this issue, 14.6% of HSS faculty and 6% of S faculty agreed or strongly agreed that "The mix of cultures in my classroom contributes to the problem of plagiarism"; while both of these numbers are low, it is significant that more than twice the number of HSS faculty agreed with this claim. Finally, only 3% of S faculty agreed or strongly agreed that "internet plagiarism grows as foreign student numbers rise," while 14% of HSS faculty responded affirmatively to the same statement.

Figure 7: Faculty Survey Results, Question 13

Figure 7.

Figure 8: Faculty Survey Results, Question 14

Figure 8.

Figure 9: Faculty Survey Results, Question 15

Figure 9.

As with the previous question regarding Turnitin.com, S faculty seem generally more reluctant than their peers in other disciplines to make claims about any kind of correlation between technology and student behaviour.

Taken together, the responses to these questions about international students and cultural diversity in the classroom demonstrate that HSS faculty are significantly more likely than S faculty to identify a connection between the forces of globalization and plagiarism. This may, in turn, suggest something more than different approaches to pedagogy—this may be evidence of distinctive beliefs about how knowledge is produced. S faculty seem more likely to resist the suggestion that knowledge of discipline-specific subject matter is constituted in part by discursive forces outside the classroom while HSS faculty seem to embrace this principle. This epistemological disparity is exaggerated by globalization—i.e., that set of forces helping to bring students from non-western cultures into Canadian university classrooms—and manifests itself in the different perceptions of plagiarism we see in this survey.

The responses to the final four questions in the survey (Figure 10, Figure 11, Figure 12, and Figure 13) offer some interesting insights to faculty perceptions about the relationship between the globalization of education (i.e., the impact of neoliberalism on the way post-secondary educational institutions operate) and plagiarism. Virtually the same number (48.5% of S faculty and 48.8% of HSS faculty) of respondents from both groups agreed or strongly agreed "that the globalization of education has transformed students from participants in education to consumers of educational products." However, only 60% of S faculty as compared to 78% of HSS faculty agreed or strongly agreed that "Students who approach education as 'consumers' are more likely to plagiarize than students who approach education as participants in a process."

Figure 10: Faculty Survey Results, Question 16

Figure 10.

Figure 11: Faculty Survey Results, Question 17

Figure 11.

These data indicate that while roughly half of all faculty members across the curriculum believed that globalization was transforming the very nature of the educational experience for our students, HSS faculty were more likely than their colleagues in the Sciences to connect that transformation to the propensity a student has to plagiarize. As with earlier questions, scientists seemed less convinced than HSS faculty about the constitutive power of external forces such as globalization and technology.

Finally, the survey results demonstrate that roughly the same number of respondents (51.6% of S faculty and 48.8% of HSS faculty) from across the disciplines agreed or strongly agreed that "commercial imperatives" rather than "intellectual values" were dominant in the university; a similar proportion (54.5% of S faculty and 58.6% of HSS faculty) also agreed or strongly agreed that plagiarism will become more of a problem as this trend towards the corporatization of education continues.

Figure 12: Faculty Survey Results, Question 19

Figure 12.

Figure 13: Faculty Survey Results, Question 18

Figure 13.

This final set of data contrasts sharply with responses to the statement "plagiarism is a growing problem" (Figure 2) to which only 36.4% of S faculty and 39% of HSS faculty agreed or strongly agreed. In other words, a significantly higher number of faculty members (irrespective of their discipline) believed plagiarism would be a worse problem when they considered it in the context of the globalization of education. This is a particularly important finding, given that the majority of faculty at the university agree or strongly agree that globalization is having a very real effect on the post-secondary educational system.

These data demonstrate that while faculty members across the disciplines generally agreed plagiarism was a problem, there were fundamental differences in how they understood plagiarism, both in terms of its causes and its effects. HSS faculty seemed more concerned than S faculty about an apparent causal relationship between technology and plagiarism; they also appeared more anxious about the correlation between globalization and the increased incidences of plagiarism in the university; and they seemed more likely to agree with generalizations about the connection between international students and plagiarism. In general, HSS faculty were more likely than their colleagues in the sciences to see plagiarism as a growing problem and, therefore, more inclined to orient their pedagogy accordingly. These data seem, then, to confirm the hypothesis that faculty from different disciplines have rather different understandings of plagiarism and that these disparities are at least in part a function of how different people understand the impact of technology and the forces of globalization on knowledge production.

Student Focus Groups

Five different focus groups with a total of 23 participants were held in February 2010.[28] The focus group questions (Appendix B) were written by faculty and vetted by the Dean's Academic Integrity Committee, while the preamble and supplementary prompts were written by undergraduate student researchers. The research team obtained approval for conducting the focus groups from the University's Ethics Review Board, and required all participants to read and sign "informed consent" forms. No incentives or rewards were given to students for their participation.

All of the focus groups were conducted by two senior undergraduate students (with no faculty members present)[29] as part of their course work for a 3rd year research course entitled "Preventing Plagiarism and Promoting Academic Integrity: Strategies for Engaging Students in the Scholarly Conversation."[30] The student researchers received training on qualitative methods from the course instructor and followed methods and strategies outlined in Krueger and Casey (2009). All recruitment was randomized and conducted by the student researchers themselves; no attempt was made to select participants or create groups based on students' disciplines, year-of-study, academic performance, or other demographic criteria. Participants were attracted and invited using in-class presentations, social media, academic society email lists, and posters. Faculty members had no influence on the recruitment process, other than by enforcing randomization as a governing principle. In an attempt to protect the identity of the participants, the locations of the focus group sessions were not made public.

The focus group questions (Appendix B) appear rather different from those in the faculty survey (Appendix A), because we were interested in developing a better understanding not just of students' understanding of the definition of plagiarism, but also of their perceptions of its prevalence, its causes and effects, and the roles different stakeholders could or should play in promoting academic integrity on campus. We collected this information not only because it would contribute directly to our attempt to set limits on the aporia at the centre of the conversation around plagiarism, but also because it would help us better communicate and enforce policies and procedures around plagiarism once a consensus understanding of the term was established.

Four themes emerged in the focus groups. The first and most dominant was the apparent lack of definition regarding plagiarism: participants complained that their professors either failed to provide a clear definition of plagiarism, or, worse, offered definitions that were inconsistent from one class to the next. The second was the lack of education surrounding the issue of plagiarism: students claimed they wanted to be taught about plagiarism, not just threatened with punishments for committing the offense. The third was the persistent confusion around discipline-specific understandings of plagiarism: this theme was closely related to, or even extended from, the first two, and typically emerged when students observed that rules and conventions for citing sources were fundamentally different from department to department. Sometimes this was seen as a problem of definition, other times as evidence that more education was required, and occasionally as a fact that simply needed to be accepted. The fourth and final theme was the double-standard students saw whereby faculty seemed to be held to a different set of rules than students when it came to their professional practice in the classroom. This last concern was less prevalent than the first three, but is of vital importance because of how deeply it cuts to the epistemological heart of this discussion.

Lack of Definition

The aporia at the heart of the conversation around plagiarism is, it seems, of equal importance to both faculty and students. Like their professors, student focus group participants frequently returned to the question of definition, regardless of what aspect of plagiarism was under discussion. For example, a student commenting on the strategies the university uses to "support and encourage" academic integrity quickly digressed into a reflection on what plagiarism means: "It says on the syllabus, like, plagiarism, make sure you don't do it. But then at the same time . . . they're not exactly telling you what it is . . . they just tell you 'oh, uh, a lot of people copy and paste [using] Google, and I have Google too'. But at the same time, that's not what plagiarism is. It is a lot more than just copying and pasting. . . . professors don't really explain to us about plagiarism" [emphasis added]. This student knows that plagiarism is more than the single example provided by her professor, but does not—or perhaps cannot—provide positive examples or features to support her point because plagiarism has never been defined for her. She has been told to follow a rule, but not given the information she needs to do so. And so, the confusion not only persists, but grows.[31]

Many members of the focus groups agreed that their professors had, in their eyes, failed to provide the definition to which their plagiarism policies referred. This complaint typically emerged in response to the question "How do you think the university can support and encourage the positive examples [of practices that uphold academic integrity] you identified?" but it arose at numerous other points in the sessions as well. Indeed, the students agreed that, in lieu of a comprehensive definition of plagiarism, their professors would usually post a collection of links to external sources on a course web site, include references to the academic code in the course syllabi, or provide vague statements about the severity of penalties for plagiarizing when introducing an assignment. One student who noted that faculty members "should talk about plagiarism in place of giving students Internet links" nicely captured the opinion of his peers. Students want a clear definition that is not only elaborated upon and discussed in class, but also explicitly endorsed by the instructor. They consider instruction in how to avoid plagiarism and use sources properly an important part of their education. A collection of generic resources (many external to the university) does not help the students understand the relationship between plagiarism and the writing process.

Some students were extremely critical of the university's apparent lack of clear policy and definition around the issue of plagiarism. Responding to the question about what the university could do to "support and encourage" academic integrity, one student refused to provide any pragmatic suggestions, insisting instead that the problem required a more philosophical approach: "We need a common definition and a common commitment to making acting with integrity the norm and making not acting with integrity something everybody recognizes is wrong and is free to say so." Another student enthusiastically agreed, and responded by observing that "Everybody talks about it [plagiarism], but I don't think we know what we mean." From here, the discussion digressed into an animated, perhaps even cathartic, exchange of anecdotes about the wide variety of different syllabus statements and verbal definitions of plagiarism each of the students had encountered over the course of his or her degree. As one student rather bluntly put it, "Understand that we get mixed messages. What the university says it values [i.e., high standards of academic integrity] and what it really does [i.e., provides inconsistent definitions of plagiarism] is not always the same thing."

Lack of Education

The second theme to emerge in the focus group discussions was the demand for more education about plagiarism. While many students' claims regarding "education" were made in the context of their argument that the "definition" of plagiarism needed clarification, a significant number of students made the point that the institution had simply failed its pedagogical mission by not ensuring all students had the information they needed about plagiarism. The point was frequently made, for example, that professors were more likely to threaten students about the severity of the penalties for plagiarism than spend time educating their minions on strategies for preventing it in their writing. In the words of one participant, the threat of "getting expelled doesn't teach me how not to plagiarize." Another student made a similar point, but with somewhat less melodrama: "They tell you 'don't plagiarize', but don't show you how not to plagiarize." This simple observation prompted a chorus of spirited responses, each of which offered an illustrative anecdote or other evidence in support of the claim. Some wanted their professors to distinguish between the legal and pedagogical consequences of plagiarism, a sentiment nicely summarized by the student who argued that "profs need to stress . . . how plagiarizing is harmful for you, as opposed to saying 'oh yeah, it's really bad and you shouldn't do it.'" Others suggested that their ability to learn was compromised or inhibited by the frequent injunctions not to plagiarize: "They say, hey, there's this sheet [saying] 'Don't Plagiarize', but then it's like OK, how am I going to write this [essay] without plagiarizing?" The most incisive, damning criticism of the university's apparent reluctance to educate students as a means of preventing plagiarism came from a senior student who insisted instructors "should treat 'not plagiarizing' as, like, a practice rather than just a, like, a policy or like a consequence of doing something wrong. Be like, OK, this is how not to plagiarize, so students can understand how not to plagiarize rather than knowing consequences for plagiarism." This comment is particularly interesting insofar as it uses language that explicitly differentiates between the instructors' activities (the "practice") and the rules and regulations (the "policy") that inform them. Despite the wide variety of positions students took on this issue, all of them made it clear that they wanted and needed more knowledge about plagiarism. It must be noted, as well, that most students seemed to believe it was someone else's responsibility to teach them about plagiarism; indeed, not a single student suggested it was the students' responsibility to teach themselves about plagiarism or academic integrity.

Discipline-Specific Understandings

Many students expressed the belief that different departments had their own definitions or understandings of plagiarism. While the more senior students were sympathetic to the need for discipline-specific approaches to research and writing, even they were typically critical of the university for professing to have one academic code when their experience clearly demonstrated that different departments had qualitatively distinct understandings of plagiarism. The participants remarked repeatedly, and with some frustration, that each department at the university required them to follow a different citation style with its own conventions governing appropriate source use; they surmised from this that each department had a somewhat different understanding of how to use sources, how to quote or paraphrase, and, therefore, of what constituted plagiarism.

The challenges students experience when developing and practicing discipline-specific approaches to writing were made abundantly clear by a second-year student who observed that "whatever field you're in is slightly different . . . if you're in a humanities class and you're stealing someone else's idea, there's a huge academic dishonesty there. But, if you're in something like math, I think . . . the standard of academic dishonesty would have to be somewhat different . . . how can you plagiarize a math proof?" To their credit, other students (who presumably had more familiarity with math) challenged this claim and insisted that it was not only possible to plagiarize in mathematical and computational science classes, but also common practice to do so.

The most remarkable feature of these kinds of debates was the kind of misinformation students had about the standards, conventions, and rules governing research and writing in the disciplines. For example, after boldly announcing he was a Philosophy major, one student insisted that in "philosophy, our profs just don't care. You just cite in some way and just need to be consistent throughout your paper . . . . But I know outside of philosophy, that wouldn't fly for a lot of things. Like, I don't know [how to cite properly]. I just know kind of like the mishmash or, my style. Like, I use end notes and footnotes and I don't know if that's the 'proper' style." Clearly, this student has a deep misunderstanding of the conventions guiding appropriate source use in his discipline. And while he, like all students, must take some responsibility for learning these discipline-specific conventions, it is incumbent on educators to ensure that instruction on using sources properly is integrated into the curriculum. This student's "mishmash" style of citation is the inevitable result of a curriculum that provides no mandatory formal instruction in "avoiding plagiarism" while preaching the benefits of discipline-specific writing. A lack of formal instruction in writing and researching in Philosophy combined with an awareness that each discipline does things differently simply confirms for him that the "mishmash" style is appropriate. Worse, he is led to believe that he need not learn a formal citation style until or unless he is writing an essay in a different discipline. One wonders how long it will be before this student is charged with some form of textual plagiarism by a future Philosophy instructor for doing precisely what has worked for him in the past.

The Double Standard

The fourth and final theme running through the focus groups was the accusation that TAs and faculty members were held to a different standard of academic integrity than students. This point was primarily made by senior students responding to a question about what the university could do to discourage plagiarism or other academic offenses. For example, speaking with a sense of anger and bitterness that was uncharacteristic of the collegial tone that dominated most of the sessions, one student observed that the university needed to "Make sure all the profs and TAs understand what they are supposed to and that they do it—all of them. If they can get away with it [plagiarism], not doing what they ought to, we should too." Another agreed, adding that the university must "Make academic integrity the norm for everybody, not just the students." When other participants or the moderator prompted these students for details, they pointed to lectures that reproduce arguments from assigned or recommended readings without acknowledging the source or, more commonly, PowerPoint slides that include quotations, images, movies, or sound files without acknowledging the source. As one particularly indignant student noted, "Professors [should] do what they tell you to do. It's really wrong when the prof plagiarizes from articles you were assigned to read. It's like they think you're stupid and didn't do the reading. If they don't follow the rules, why should we? Somebody ought to police their PowerPoints." At a later point in the session, this same student sarcastically commented that students who edit each other's work are accused of plagiarism, but "When profs edit [each other's work], it's peer review." These are not, of course, clear examples of a double-standard or of faculty members committing academic offenses with impunity; instead, what these students are pointing to is a simple failure on the part of many faculty members to model best practices in the classroom, to make the rules and conventions governing the scholarly conversation transparent. So, rather than rebut these accusations or point the finger at colleagues who do not cite all their sources in lecture, we should be clarifying our definition of plagiarism and explain that this definition depends in part on context: who speaks, where one speaks, and to whom one is speaking.


The four themes that emerged in the student focus groups can be understood as natural responses to (or expressions of) the impact of globalization and remix culture on the academy. It is little wonder that students educated in the globalized classroom and surrounded by remix culture find the institutional definition of plagiarism elusive or even contradictory; it makes sense that these students would request more education on the issue of plagiarism, particularly when the academy introduces the rules around appropriate source use in a discipline-specific manner. As the world rapidly changes, the university's plagiarism policies remain untouched[32] and its strategies for preventing and punishing academic offenses persist largely unchanged. We should not be surprised then at the general sense of confusion and frustration articulated in the focus groups. What seems more remarkable, in fact, is that students have not expressed more anger or attempted to challenge the legitimacy of plagiarism policies in a more organized, concerted manner.

The focus group participants described university plagiarism policies and practices as foreign, arcane, and difficult to understand; more importantly, they saw the entire discussion around plagiarism as almost entirely detached from their experiences of writing in and out of the classroom. To these students, the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters is an annoying artifact of a bygone (pre-globalization, pre-remix) age that still exerts pressure upon them today. Indeed, the rules governing appropriate source use must seem about as relevant as those governing music or video downloads on the Internet: it's illegal, but everyone is doing it. Or, perhaps a better analogy is a jay-walking law when a busy street has been taken over by pedestrians exiting a major concert or sporting event: the context has changed, but the rule of law technically remains the same, enforced arbitrarily when it suits the enforcer. In such a scenario, a double-standard becomes obvious; some jaywalkers may get arrested, but others may not. To some students, faculty who lecture and present PowerPoint slides without citing their sources are breaking the rules around plagiarism, but are not arrested for doing so. It is as if they are jay-walking with impunity while the students are forced to take the long route and cross the street at the lights.

Both the student focus groups and faculty surveys make it abundantly clear that nobody on campus seems to be trying all that hard to establish a consensus understanding of plagiarism, not only between faculty members and students but also among the members of those two groups. The focus group data suggest that millenials' perceptions of how intertextuality operates, their understanding of what constitutes "originality" and "authorship", and the way they acknowledge sources in remix culture are all dramatically at odds with the principles and conventions guiding appropriate source use in the academy. The data also indicate that students are frustrated by the university's apparent refusal to help them translate remix culture literacies into academic literacies. Moreover, many of the ELL students in our classes (attending Canadian universities in ever-increasing numbers as a result of the globalization of education) appear to receive little or no formal instruction in the conventions of academic writing and so try to teach themselves these conventions by imitating the writing in their sources. The result of this methodology is often a kind of patchwriting that many academics consider a form of plagiarism.

The data from our focus groups and surveys must be read in terms of each other and with an awareness of the growing impact of globalization and remix culture on the university if we are to fully appreciate the complicating, counter-productive, and even potentially destructive effects of the aporia at the heart of the discourses surrounding plagiarism. The first and most obvious conclusion we can draw from these data is that both faculty members and students agree that the aporia exists; they both acknowledge that plagiarism is understood in different ways by different people for different reasons. Where they disagree, of course, is on the rationale for these different understandings and, most importantly, what this means in terms of their respective responsibilities—is the faculty member, the student, the administration, or some combination of these parties responsible for ensuring the student knows what plagiarism means?

While students insist the university needs to dedicate more time and resources to educating students about plagiarism, faculty members either argue that they already do this, or that somebody else needs to step in to provide this kind of support. While students accuse instructors of abdicating their responsibilities by not "teaching" students how not to plagiarize, instructors typically respond in one of the following ways: that "skills instruction" is not their responsibility; that students should have this knowledge prior to taking university courses; that students should learn about appropriate source use through independent study; or that students should have the opportunity to learn about plagiarism from other co-curricular academic activities on campus. Most instructors at Canadian universities would probably agree that the time and resources they have to effectively deliver their courses are either stretched to the limit or insufficient, so their reluctance to assume additional responsibility for instructing students in appropriate source use is understandable. And so, we find ourselves in a kind of stalemate where students and faculty identify similar challenges (multiple definitions of plagiarism, discipline-specific understandings of plagiarism, context-dependent understandings of plagiarism, a need for more education), but disagree on the appropriate strategies for overcoming them.

An obvious way out of this stalemate is to revisit the definition of plagiarism in our universities' policies around academic integrity. The data presented above confirms the wisdom of Rebecca Howard's call for the decriminalization of "patchwriting" (1999), which would be a relatively simple first step towards clarifying our definition and opening up a clear space for rigorous, focused educational interventions in all first-year courses. Plagiarism has become a catachresis referring to a wide variety of academic sins, and it has become more catachrestical in the context of remix culture and globalization. Clearly, we need to make this term more meaningful by delimiting its scope.

A second, equally important, recommendation to emerge from this study is to decentralize the educational efforts around plagiarism. We need to make individual disciplines more accountable for the way they teach citation practices, source-use, and rhetorical strategies for engaging in the scholarly conversation. Our singular definition is at odds with the emphasis in most Canadian post-secondary undergraduate institutions on discipline-specific knowledge production. The responsibility for defining plagiarism and instructing students in how to avoid it should be shifted from central university administrations to WAC scholars, Writing Centre faculty, or disciplinary instructors who specialize in writing or skills instruction. Active teachers and researchers in individual departments need to take ownership of this issue, develop department-wide standards and resources, and make "plagiarism" a meaningful part of the classroom discussion.

Appendix A: Faculty Survey

Email Invitation to Participate in Survey

Dear UTM Faculty Member:

The Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre (RGASC) is conducting research into the relationship between globalization and plagiarism in higher education. Part of this research involves a survey of UTM faculty members' perceptions of and attitudes towards plagiarism. This survey is being sent to you and your colleagues in the following departments: [insert names]

The survey comprises 19 questions and will take less than 5 minutes to complete. Please consider following the link below to the secure website where the survey is hosted.

Please note that by completing the survey you are providing your consent to participate in our research. Absolutely no personal information is being collected and your answers will remain completely anonymous.

The results of this stage of our research will be presented at [insert name of conference and / or journal]. All faculty members at UTM (including respondents) will be notified by email when the research results will be available for public viewing on the RGASC website.

To complete the survey, please go to [insert link]

You will be required to enter a password to access the survey. The password is "cheat".

We hope that you take a few minutes of your time to complete this survey and make our research into this important issue possible. Thanks in advance,

Survey Questions

Plagiarism in the University Classroom:
Problems of Knowledge Production in the Age of Globalization

A Survey Conducted by the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre, UTM

For the purposes of this survey, globalization should be understood to mean the following: "the flow of technology, goods and services, knowledge, people, values, and ideas across borders."

  1. Plagiarism is a problem in my class.
  2. Plagiarism is a growing problem in my class.
  3. The problem of plagiarism is largely exaggerated.
  4. The university wastes too much time and energy in pursuing and prosecuting plagiarism.
  5. I waste too much time and energy pursuing and prosecuting plagiarism.
  6. I dedicate significant time in class informing students about plagiarism and teaching students strategies for preventing plagiarism.
  7. My course materials (syllabus, handouts, course website) include advice on how to avoid committing plagiarism.
  8. I am more concerned with the plagiarism of words and numbers (phrases, entire passages, formulas, solutions, graphics, etc.) than with the plagiarism of ideas.
  9. My course uses software (such as Turnitin.com) to prevent and detect plagiarism.
  10. I think new technologies such as the Internet contribute to the problem of plagiarism in my classroom.
  11. I believe that students working in groups are more likely to commit plagiarism than students working alone.
  12. I believe that the weak language skills of international students contribute to the problem of plagiarism.
  13. I agree that "students from other cultures view plagiarism in a different way than students from western cultures do" (Buranen 66).
  14. The mix of cultures in my classroom contributes to the problem of plagiarism.
  15. I agree that "internet plagiarism grows as foreign student numbers rise" (Jopson & Burke 27).
  16. I believe that the globalization of education has transformed students from participants in education to consumers of educational products.
  17. Students who approach education as "consumers" are more likely to plagiarize than students who approach education as "participants" in a process.
  18. I believe plagiarism will become more of a problem as universities are "increasingly defined in the language of corporate culture" (Giroux 68).
  19. I believe that commercial imperatives rather than intellectual values are paramount in the academy today.

Works Cited

Buranen, Lise. "But I Wasn't Cheating: Plagiarism and the Cross-Cultural Mythology." Perspectives on Plagiarism and Intellectual Property in a Postmodern World. Eds. Lise Buranen and Alice Roy. Albany: SUNY Press, 1999. 63-74. Print.

Giroux, Henri. "Higher Education Under Siege: Implications for Public Intellectuals." The NEA Higher Education Journal (Fall 2006): 63-78. Print.

Jopson, Debra, and Kelly Burke. "Campus Critical." The Sydney Morning Herald 7 May  2005: 27. Factiva Database. Web. 17 Aug. 2005.


Appendix B: Focus Group Script and Questions

On behalf of myself and my co-investigator, I would like to welcome you all to this focus group. You will be asked a series of prepared questions with ample room for discussion in between questions where you can contribute your opinion, the end purpose being to develop an understanding of UTM students' perception of plagiarism. A tape recorder will be used in conjunction with electronic transcription to record your responses. Individual privacy will be protected through the use of pseudonyms in place of names. The focus group will last about one hour. I will moderate to ensure that appropriate time is spent on each issue or question.

  1. Please write down your definition of "academic integrity".  Be brief –jot notes are fine.
  2. Given your definition, can you give me some examples of practices that uphold your understanding of academic integrity and some that don't?
  3. How do you think the university can support and encourage the positive examples you identified?
  4. What can the University do to discourage the negative examples you identified?
  5. Would you say that the practices you have identified are a significant problem at UTM?
  6. What do you think causes people to act with integrity in academic matters and what causes them not to?
  7. What impact has the issue of academic integrity had on your education?
  8. What role can students play to encourage an environment at UTM in which acting with academic integrity is the norm?
  9. Please write down what your definition of academic integrity is now.  Has it changed?  If so, how?  Be brief- jot notes are fine.

Appendix C: Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Faculty Survey Results


Question 1


Question 2


Question 3


Question 4


Question 5


Question 6


Question 7


Question 8


Question 9


Question 10


Question 11


Question 12


Question 13


Question 14


Question 15


Question 16


Question 17


Question 18


Appendix D: Science (S) Faculty Survey Results


Question 1


Question 2


Question 3


Question 4


Question 5


Question 6


Question 7


Question 8


Question 9


Question 10


Question 11


Question 12


Question 13


Question 14


Question 15


Question 16


Question 17


Question 18



Abasi, Ali, & Graves, Barbara. (2008). Academic literacy and plagiarism: Conversations with international graduate students and disciplinary professors. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 7, 221-233.

Angelil-Carter, Shelley. (2000). Stolen language? Plagiarism in writing. London: Longman.

Barthes, Roland. (1977). The death of the author. In Stephen Heath (Ed. and Trans.), Image, music, text. (pp. 142-148). New York: Hill and Wang.

Blum, Denise, & Ullman, Char. (Eds.). (2012). Globalization and education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 25(4).

Blum, Susan. (2009). My word! Plagiarism and college culture. New York, NY: Cornell University Press.

Bouman, Kurt. (2009). Raising questions about plagiarism. In Shanti Bruce & Ben  Rafoth (Eds.), ESL writers: A guide for writing center tutors. (pp. 161-175). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Brown, Renee, Fallon, Brian, Lott, Jessica, Matthews, Elizabeth, & Mintie, Elizabeth. (2007). Taking on Turnitin: Tutors advocating change. Writing Center Journal, 27(1), 7-8.

Buranen, Lise. (1999). "But I wasn't cheating": Plagiarism and cross-cultural mythology. In Lise Buranen & Alice Roy (Eds.), Perspectives on plagiarism and intellectual property in a postmodern world. (pp. 63-74). New York, NY: State University of  New York Press.

Chandrasoma, Ranamukalage, Thompson Celia, & Pennycook, Alistair. (2004). Beyond plagiarism: Transgressive and nontransgressive intertextuality. Language, Identity and Education, 3(3), 171-193.

Chen, Teresa, & Ku, Nai-Kuang Teresa. (2008). EFL students: Factors contributing to online plagiarism. In Tim Roberts (Ed.). Student plagiarism in an online world: Problems and solutions. (pp. 77-91). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

Christensen-Hughes, Julia, & McCabe, Donald. (2006). Academic misconduct within higher education in Canada. The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 36(2), 1-21.

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[1] This article would not have been possible without the contributions of a number of different people. Most importantly, I would like to thank Cleo Boyd, the former Director of the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre. Cleo provided important feedback on early drafts of the Faculty Survey and helped me interpret some of the survey and focus group responses. She also co-presented early findings of this research at a University of Toronto Teaching and Learning Symposium and a Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education conference. I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of Marzena Museliak and Indraneel Karnik, two undergraduate students who did fantastic work collecting, transcribing, and helping to interpret the student focus group data. Rebecca Moore Howard, Andrea Lunsford, and Shanti Bruce reviewed earlier drafts of this article. The feedback and advice offered by these three scholars improved the quality of this article immeasurably. Finally, I would like to thank the faculty and students at the University of Toronto Mississauga for their enthusiastic participation in this study.

[2] It is important, I think, to make a distinction here between Canadian and American universities. The moral panic and climate of hostility common in many Canadian universities may have dissipated somewhat in the United States, perhaps because American universities with strong writing and rhetoric programs have succeeded in educating more faculty about the issues around plagiarism, remix culture, and academic writing.

[3] Christensen-Hughes and McCabe define "plagiarism" as "serious cheating on written work, including lifting passages from secondary sources or from the Internet without footnoting, and handing work completed by others in to instructors" (p. 8).

[4] By "remix culture," we are referring to Lawrence Lessig's (2008) argument that digital technologies today allow for a more reciprocal, democratic relationship between producers and consumers of culture. In a remix culture, literacy is defined as the knowledge and ability to manipulate multi-media technologies; users of multi-media technologies quote (e.g., remix) from a variety of unacknowledged sources to create something new.

[5] Of course, students entering university in 2014 were only 5 years old when peer-to-peer file sharing services such as Napster were closed down, so the details of this reference may seem a bit out of date. The point here, however, is that millenials have never known anything other than so-called remix culture.

[6] Chapter 2 of Susan Blum's My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture offers a number of other examples of the ways millennials use pastiche and collaboration as "creative" techniques of self-expression. Millennials see the process of assembling a new text from old texts as original creative work, and so do not intuitively or easily accept the difference between originality and imitation.

[7] This reverence for originality was popularized by the Romantics and has exercised tremendous influence in the academy ever since. Romantic scholars as diverse as Friedrich Schlegel, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Immanuel Kant, and Edward Young are famous for extolling the many virtues of originality and maligning that which is imitation. As Thomas McFarland argues in "The Originality Paradox" (1974), this privileging of the original emerged during the Romantic period precisely because intellectuals were becoming increasingly aware of the twin threats of mass production of manufactured goods (brought about by the industrial revolution) and mass culture (enabled by an increased capacity for producing and distributing cultural artifacts). For a different but related argument on the connection between the Romantic principles of original genius, the cultural celebration of intellectual property, and the profits to be made from the printing press, see Rebecca Moore Howard's "Understanding 'Internet Plagiarism'" (2007). Howard's bibliography on "Creativity, Genius, Imagination, Originality" (see http://www.rebeccamoorehoward.com/ and follow the links to Bibliographies) offers a wealth of information on the historic relationship between originality and plagiarism.

[8] The most compelling argument for an approach to writing instruction that acknowledges the collaborative nature of writing and debunks the myth of the solitary genius as author has been provided by Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford in a series of articles published in the 1980s and 1990s. See, in particular, Ede and Lunsford (1983, 1985, 1986, and 1992). Other WAC scholarship that undermines the solitary genius model of authorship includes the work of Charles Bazerman (on social theories of genre, particularly as these relate to science writing) and John Bean (on genre and discourse-community theory as these inform approaches to integrating writing instruction across the curriculum).

[9] Howard's groundbreaking study of plagiarism in Standing in the Shadow of Giants (1999) brought the issue of patchwriting to the attention of many scholars in the WAC community. Patchwriting is discussed further in this article, below.

[10] Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, and Stuart Hall are all cited by Johnson-Eilola and Selber as theoretical influences.

[11] "The Death of the Author" was first published in 1967, but most readers will be familiar with it from its inclusion in Barthes' Image, Music, Text (1977).

[12] This is not a new argument; in fact, Peter Jaszri and Martha Woodmansee were arguing back in the early 1990s that the ideal of the "solitary genius as author" was inapposite to the actual, lived experience of writing and the rapidly changing understanding of what constitutes a "text." Their interdisciplinary research (1992, 1994) identified the many ways in which "authorship" is socially and culturally constructed, and suggested that current intellectual property and copyright laws needed to be changed accordingly.

[13] Although, even this supposed golden age of consensus regarding the meaning of the word "plagiarism" seems more mythical than real. Thomas Mallon's Stolen Words (1989) makes a strong case that disparate understandings of plagiarism have existed in both the literary and academic world for centuries.

[14] The risks and challenges associated with the globalization of education are explored from a variety of perspectives in a special issue (Volume 25, Issue 4) of the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education (Blum and Ullman, 2012).

[15] Buranen (1999) refers to non-native speakers of English (NNSEs); other scholars use language such as English as a Second Language (ESL) or English for Academic Purposes (EAP) to refer to the same demographic. For the purposes of consistency, I am using the phrase English Language Learners (ELLs)—most common at my home institution—throughout this paper to refer to post-secondary students who speak English as an additional language.

[16] The debate about the impact of cultural difference on students' understanding of plagiarism predates Buranen's (1999) eloquent analysis and continues today. A recent exchange in ELT Journal provides a good illustration of how divisive the issue remains. Colin Sowden declares, for example, that it "is certainly possible to identify values and practices among certain groups of multilingual students which contradict established notions of plagiarism in the West" (2005, p. 226), while Dilin Liu dismisses this argument by noting "the notion of plagiarism being a culture-specific concept is based largely on the dubious claim that plagiarism or copying others' writing is an acceptable practice in the Far East, especially China" (2005, p. 234). Liu goes on to problematize this claim in fairly convincing fashion. Phan Le Ha follows up on this exchange using personal experiences teaching English in Vietnam to categorically challenge the claim that "Asian culture contributes to the act of plagiarism" (2006, p. 76).

[17] Chen and Ku (2008) offer a comprehensive overview of this literature in their chapter investigating "English-as-a-Foreign-Language (EFL) students' experiences with online plagiarism and the factors associated with these practices among the students" (77). Diane Pecorari's Academic Writing and Plagiarism: A linguistic analysis (2008) book-length study of this issue is very well documented and builds on many earlier studies of apparent textual plagiarism among NNSEs.

[18] Kurt Bouman's "Raising Questions about Plagiarism" (2009) presents a clear overview of some of the ways cultural difference may contribute to student plagiarism and offers some excellent advice to Writing Center tutors who encounter apparent plagiarism in ELL student writing.

[19] She later goes on to argue "that patchwriting be removed entirely from the juridical category of plagiarism" (Howard, 2000, p. 475) and ultimately suggests that we "discard the term plagiarism altogether" (p. 475).

[20] The Citation Project's methodology, data, and results can be found at the project's website (http://site.citationproject.net/).

[21] The campus has grown significantly in the past 5 years. When the research began in 2008, UTM was home to 10,500 undergraduates, 400 graduate students, and 700 faculty and staff.

[22] The 5 departments that participated in Stage 1 of the survey were as follows: English and Drama; Philosophy; Geography; Political Science; and Communication, Culture, Information and Technology (CCIT). The participation rate of 46% was calculated by dividing the number of participants into the number of faculty members teaching on campus that term (rather than the number of faculty members with appointments to the Department). Stage 2 of the survey included the following 5 departments: Anthropology, Biology, Chemical and Physical Sciences, Math and Computational Sciences, and Psychology. As with Stage 1, the 28% completion rate was calculated presuming the total number of faculty to be those with teaching responsibilities on campus that term.

[23] The different participation rates (46% vs. 28%) are themselves significant, and anticipate some of the differences we see in survey in terms of how certain disciplines understand and respond to the perceived "problem" of plagiarism. Faculty members who perceive plagiarism as a problem seem to be more interested in the issue and therefore were more likely to complete the survey; those who do not see plagiarism as a problem were less likely to take the time to complete the survey.

[24] HSS faculty are probably more concerned about internet plagiarism because of the kinds of assignments they set, but I have no data to support this hypothesis. Future research should explore the relationship between assignment design and faculty perceptions of and approaches to plagiarism.

[25]While this paper is not focused on the many pedagogical and ethical problems associated with plagiarism detection services such as Turnitin.com, it is worthwhile reminding readers of the motion passed by the CCCC's IP Caucus regarding the negative effects of plagiarism detection services on students' sense of agency, the learning environment, and role of the instructor. The full text of the motion is as follows:

WHEREAS CCCC does not endorse the use of plagiarism detection services;

WHEREAS plagiarism detection services can compromise academic integrity by potentially undermining students' agency as writers, treating all students as always already plagiarists, creating a hostile learning environment, shifting the responsibility of identifying and interpreting source misuse from teachers to technology, and compelling students to agree to licensing agreements that threaten their privacy and rights to their own intellectual property;

WHEREAS plagiarism detection services potentially negatively change the role of the writing teacher; construct ill-conceived notions of originality and writing; disavow the complexities of writing in and with networked, digital technologies; and treat students as non-writers;

WHEREAS composition teacher-scholars can intervene and combat the potential negative influences of PDSs by educating colleagues about the realities of plagiarism and the troubling outcomes of using PDSs; advocating actively against the adoption of such services; modeling and sharing ideas for productive writing pedagogy; and conducting research into alternative pedagogical strategies to address plagiarism, including honor codes and process pedagogy;

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the Conference on College Composition and Communication commends institutions that offer sound pedagogical alternatives to PDS; encourages institutions that use PDS to implement practices in the best interests of their students, including notifying students at the beginning of the term that the service will be used, providing students with a non-coercive and convenient opt out process, and inviting students to submit drafts to the service before turning in final text. (Conference on College Composition and Communication, 2013)

[26] For an interesting discussion of how plagiarism detection software such as Turnitin.com works, see Marsh's "Turnitin.com and the Scriptural Enterprise of Plagiarism Detection" (2004); and for a provocative study of Turnitin.com's impact on student and faculty perceptions of plagiarism (and the role of Writing Centres in the campus conversation around plagiarism detection software), see Brown, Fallon, Lott, Matthews and Mintie's "Taking on Turnitin: Tutors Advocating Change" (2007).

[27] While group work is, of course, a component of many HSS courses at UTM, most essay assignments (where plagiarism is a concern) in those same courses require students to work independently.

[28] Recruitment was difficult for the student researchers. Often six or eight students promised to attend a session, but failed to appear. One focus group session had only two participants, and another had but three.

[29] We decided to let students rather than faculty members run the focus groups because we thought participants would feel less inhibited speaking to their peers.

[30] This course, ENG399Y, was part of the "Research Opportunities Program" (ROP) at UTM. Courses such as this include no classes or exams; instead, students get course credit by participating in faculty members' original research.

[31] Of course, this begs the question of what students are taught (and what faculty members assume students are taught) about plagiarism in secondary school before arriving at university. This would be a good area for future research.

[32] The University of Toronto's current Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters was drafted in 1995 and has never been revised.

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Complete APA Citation

Evans-Tokaryk, Tyler. (2014, November 24). Academic integrity, remix culture, globalization:A Canadian case study of student and faculty perceptions of plagiarism. Across the Disciplines, 11(2). Retrieved from https://wac.colostate.edu/atd/articles/evans-tokaryk2014.cfm