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Queen's University
 

Academic Integrity @ Queen's

Cultural influences can affect academic integrity

Queen's Gazette, May 25, 2009

BY JIM LEE

One of the many benefits of attending university is the opportunity to meet and interact with persons from diverse countries and cultures.

Students and other visitors from Canada and abroad bring a valuable multicultural and international dimension to our campus - one that is increasingly important as societal expectations demand that our university graduates have the ability and experience to deal with global and cross-cultural issues. Having this wonderful blend of people on campus is enriching and rewarding and also brings some specific challenges. Differences in cultural norms and behaviours can lead to additional complexities with respect to academic integrity (AI) for students and their instructors. Moreover, these cultural issues exist in all aspects of university life - internally and externally, and at home and abroad - as highlighted in the following examples, taken from actual studies presented at some recent conferences.

At North American universities, several cultural factors associated with our own society may induce students to cheat. Numerous AI studies conducted in the U.S. and Canada point to significantly higher instances of cheating when students are pressured to succeed in order to be more competitive for jobs or graduate school, and when students (often noted to be from affluent families) have a sense of entitlement. For example, "I tried hard, so I deserve a good grade" is a phenomenon that has been increasingly reported in the news.

Local subcultures can also strongly influence students. Students are more likely to cheat on campuses where cheating is the norm, where students believe that faculty members do not support institutional AI policies, in certain academic programs (particularly in business and engineering) or where students are members of a fraternity or sorority.

One study in the United Arab Emirates provided some insight on the AI challenges faced by one prestigious university in that society. There was a growing concern at this institution that student cheating was a significant problem. An AI survey showed that a significant percentage of students did not believe that any of the following actions were considered to be serious cheating – working with others when asked for individual work, getting questions/answers from someone who has already taken a test, receiving unauthorized help on an assignment, copying another student’s homework, copying another student on a test, or helping someone else cheat on a test.

The AI survey results clearly suggested that there might be strong cultural influences that affect student behaviour – notably, that some Arab societies have a strong tradition of helping one another. In particular, there is a strong loyalty to the collective group, such that all members are expected to help another member of the community. To address the issue, the university adopted an honour code, analogous to those that exist at many American universities, and built it around the ideals associated with the founder of the university – a revered national figure. The university has subsequently had great success through this approach in which AI expectations were clarified through a culturally relevant mentor.

Another study examined incidents of plagiarism by overseas Chinese students in tertiary education institutions in the UK, Australasia and North America. The study found that overseas Chinese students could inadvertently plagiarize for several reasons, including poor English-language writing skills, poorly developed criticalthinking skills, and a lack of knowledge and training about proper citation practices in academic work. However, one significant factor appeared to be the esteem to which teachers are held by their students in Chinese society, such that “copying” a teacher’s ideas could be viewed as a gesture of respect rather than an act of plagiarism.

Thus, it is not unreasonable to expect that students from our own, very multicultural nation might have different levels of knowledge about AI when they arrive at university, and this expectation may be even more pronounced with international students.

At Queen’s, we are proud to have many students who come from a diverse range of countries and cultural heritages, so it is particularly important that our students and instructors are aware of the additional cultural complexities that may exist. As an institution of higher learning, we have adopted a particular standard with respect to academic integrity and expect everyone to adhere to those same principles. Consequently, there is a strong impetus for all of our students to be educated in our AI standards and the concomitant expectations in academic and scholarly work. To this end, we are considering the implementation of a variety of educative programs, including an academic-integrity tutorial for all incoming students, which will help to promote and promulgate good AI practices today among our future leaders of tomorrow.

Jim Lee is the academic integrity advisor to the Vice-Principal (Academic) and acting associate dean (International) in the Faculty of Arts & Science.

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