Faculty Perceptions of Source-based Writing Skills

In the spring of 2013, we conducted an all-faculty survey to gather information about international students’ writing practices. The survey examined text production from the perspective of appropriate academic conduct in the US university setting. The data gathered included faculty indications of the frequency of a range of behaviors from minor infractions (i.e. unintentionally incorrect source citation) to more serious cases of intentional plagiarism. Faculty also described their methods of dealing with these issues and the frequency that they reported cases of misconduct to the Office of Students Conduct.

In summary, faculty in nearly every division of the university reported seeing a range of inappropriate writing practices (many unintentional) in students’ academic papers from inadequate paraphrasing to lack of source attribution to copying other students’ work. However, these practices were  reported to be present in international students’ papers only slightly more frequently and severely than in domestic students’ papers. Details about which practices were most frequent will be shared with the instructors who teach WR115 and WR135 (now WR121 and WR122) for international students. The most important data for faculty to know is that  less than 10% of suspected cases were reported to the Office of Student Misconduct.

This lack of reporting may lead to several unwanted results: 1) the severity of the infractions may not be emphasized to the degree that will lead students to change their writing practices or learn how to change them, 2) it is impossible to track students who have inappropriate practices in more than one class, and this compounds the problem, 3) the university administration and faculty do not have an accurate estimation of the frequency or severity of inappropriate writing practices, and, thus, can make no informed decisions about how to improve the situation.

In conclusion, we highly recommend that faculty: 1) model for and instruct all students in the details of appropriate source use, 2) provide detailed writing instructions and assignments that are unique and don’t lend themselves to copying, 3) report all instances of inappropriate practices to the Office of Student Misconduct. Reporting does not mean the student will be penalized for a first offence, especially a relatively minor one, and faculty are always free to handle the situation themselves with the Office of Student Misconduct only tracking the occurrence to ensure that the student is not repeating the offence in other classes and that remediation is offered when needed so that the student can be successful.

For more details, contact Dr. Rob Troyer.