After a previous EU Erasmus + collaboration, Roehampton’s LTEU was approached by Ilia State University (ISU), Tblisi, Georgia to participate in the Erasmus + Capacity Building in Higher Education Integrity project. At the time, LTEU lacked the capacity to take this on and so the director of Roehampton’s School of Education and I were approached, and gladly agreed that we would contribute to the project as one of the four European partner institutions, alongside Dublin City University, the University of Uppsala and the University of Vienna.
Whilst the project, and thus my contribution, is not yet complete, the majority of my and the University’s active contribution to the project took place in the first year, and this is the basis of my case study here. The four European partners are working alongside 12 Georgian higher education institutions plus the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science and Georgia’s National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement, to promote the principles of academic integrity across Georgian higher education. I am honoured to be able to contribute to strategic level policy and implementation across a whole country, with a strong sense of my individual contribution to the project being valued by Georgian and European colleagues, and a consequent direct impact on the quality of learning and teaching across Georgia.
The project has six key objectives:
- Plagiarism prevention and detection, including use of software, with an anticipated 60,000 users
- a PR Campaign to promote academic integrity and explain the nature and risk of plagiarism
- to train academic staff across Georgian HEI, particularly in providing effective feedback to students that focuses on student performance against the principles of academic integrity.
- to develop student services
- to provide an overview of academic writing curricula and support Georgian HEIs in revising or implementing courses of this nature
- to develop university policies to promote academic integrity and address academic misconduct.
I contribute directly or indirectly to all these objectives, but have taken the lead on guiding the development and review of academic writing curricula for Georgian universities. Initial scoping work by ISU indicated that plagiarism is an endemic problem across much of Georgian higher education, with many students having limited understanding of what plagiarism is, and many admitting in anonymous surveys to having presented the words or ideas of others in their own work without giving due credit. It has been suggested that Georgian academics, beginning their own career during the Soviet era themselves, have a different view of academic integrity than that of Western academia, in part through a tradition of respect for authority rather than an emphasis on original thought (cf Chuah 2010). As Georgian higher education continues to modernise and adopt Western European norms for practice, promotion of academic integrity and a rapid reduction in instances of plagiarism has been identified as a national priority.
On academic writing
For the initial meeting in February 2018 hosted by the University of Vienna, I was asked to introduce the topic of academic writing and referencing. I did a short review of readily available literature in advance of this, as well as meeting with a colleague from LTEU to explore the resources available at Roehampton. From my reading, and reflection on my students’ own submissions, I wanted to place the emphasis in academic writing on clarity, precision and support rather than external conformity to standards.
I was eager to bring something original to this meeting, rather than just drawing on the work of others. I undertook a short survey of my own postgraduate students experience of academic writing, beginning with the open question, ‘what do you think ’academic writing’ means? One student put it well:
“Academic writing means researching a topic in depth using scholarly articles and reputable sources, then writing an essay or article based upon the research, using appropriate references and citations.”
Another emphasised the need to conform to the domain:
“Writing in a formal way with correct referencing that would be acceptable in academic circles and would inform others about your subject.”
This aspect was seen negatively by a minority:
“Being pretentious with your work to stop the masses from being able to academically write.”
Further use of this survey instrument with subsequent groups indicate that a view like this, whilst the exception, is not entirely unusual, and it does give pause for reflection on whether we place too much emphasis on writing in a particular way over the clear, precise expression of well-supported ideas. Another student remarked:
“Scary - never had any lessons on how to write academically or at masters level”
Whilst support is available, perhaps there is a need for the explicit teaching of academic writing to be included in or alongside modules, as in many US universities and as the Integrity project is advocating in Georgia.
I am active across a range of social media, including Twitter. I used this to gather further views on ‘what does academic writing mean to you’. This highly unscientific sample produced some illuminating responses, with a number of responses highlighting how academic writing means conformity to the norms of the academic domain. I was impressed by Brighton University’s Keith Turvey’s response, in which he explained that he preferred the term ‘academic voice’, defining this as
‘the voice you hear when you read someone’s piece… is this voice informed, confident, open to the possibility of different interpretations of the evidence?’.
A fellow teacher-turned-lecturer, Emma Goto of the University of Winchester, put it well:
“When I first moved from school to university, I thought I would never fit in. Teachers make complex concepts easy to understand but academics make simple ideas seem really complex. Nowadays, I think really fantastic academic express ideas so that a range of audiences understand”
I’ve subsequently shared this with my own students, who agree entirely with Emma’s sentiments here. Whilst I cannot aspire to the role of a ‘fantastic academic’, I do my best to express even complex ideas in a way that my audience, whoever they are, understand.
My research in advance of this initial Integrity meeting also included an analysis of the tools used to support academic writing by my own students. Most had made use of the spelling and grammar correcting tools available in word processors; many had benefitted from reviewing example essays for the assignment; about three quarters had discussed drafts with others, including other students, although only half had done so with academic staff. I was interested to see how few had made use of digital technologies beyond the word processor: less than half had submitted drafts to Turnitin for originality checking; around a quarter had used collaborative editing software; the University’s RefWorks bibliography management software was used by less than a fifth, with even smaller numbers of students using dictation tools or mindmapping software. Although training in these tools is available to students, I suspect these would be used more widely if some input on their use was included within modules or at programme level.
I also undertook a comparison of document characteristics between low and high scoring PGCE assignments at M-level. Across almost all of the metrics I investigated (including Turnitin similarity scores, document length, lexical diversity, paragraph complexity, sentence complexity, vocabulary complexity, reading age, passive voice, grammar and spelling errors) there was no significant difference between papers awarded a distinction at M level and those that failed at M level. There was, however, a marked difference in the number of references, and in the proportion of references taken from peer-reviewed academic journals. I concluded, unsurprisingly, that the quality of students’ assignments was directly linked to the extent and quality of their reading in preparation for an assignment. If this conclusion is generally valid, then it would be to ineffective to think of teaching academic writing in isolation from teaching academic reading.
I presented the findings of this informal research to the Integrity project participants at the Vienna meeting. I discussed to the rationales universities might use for expecting an academic style, such as
- legitimate peripheral participation in the ‘craft’ of the academic, (Lave and Wenger 1991),
- some form of apprenticeship into academia (perhaps more relevant at doctoral level than for most undergrauate programmes),
- Papert’s notion of constructionist learning through making (Papert and Harel 1991), and
- the role that academic writing, and academic skills more broadly, can play in the development of ‘21st century skills’ (see, e.g., (Fadel 2008)).
I discussed the use in UK universities of agreed standards within domains, demonstrating how these formed the basis of assessment criteria. I discussed the extensive support the University provides to students for academic writing, giving some examples of the resources and activities we make available to students. Having engaged with these for the Integrity project, I now make a point of enthusiastically recommending these to my students on both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Whilst our focus was on academic writing, I wanted to illustrate the value of other modes of assessment, many of which may be less susceptible to plagiarism, to Georgian colleagues and gave examples of project work, blog portfolios, presentations and video essays from my own modules. We discussed referencing conventions and I concluded with some thoughts on plagiarism, drawing on University guidance and HEA literature such as (Pomorina and Ryan 2014).
Academic writing curricula
In advance of the next meeting in Kutaisi, May 2018, I had gathered a set of academic writing curricula from the Georgian HEI partners, and undertook a qualitative analysis of these using the NVivo analysis software to identify common characteristics and themes. Although my analysis wasn’t complete by the time of the meeting, I was able to present a report on the work in progress. The syllabi I analysed had were selected by the Georgian partner HEI, but didn’t always use ‘academic writing’ as the course title - many had combined academic writing with elements such as research methods, or ‘principles of scientific research’. The broad areas across the syllabi covered included values, reading, writing, speaking and research methods. It was interesting to explore academic values with Georgian colleagues: responses to the online survey during the session included ‘love of learning’, ‘self-disciplined’ and ‘open-minded’: I would hope my Roehampton colleagues would give similar responses to such a question. We considered briefly how such values might be taught in a university. The syllabus sections focussed specifically on writing addressed elements such as forms, standards, style, structure, argument and strategies and tools. The focus in some syllabi on strategies for academic writing was particularly interesting, typically scaffolding the process of writing an academic paper from choice of topic to final publication or submission. I concluded with a brief analysis of the activities in which students would engage during these academic writing (or related) courses.
At this meeting I also spoke about students’ perception of academic writing curricula as an enabler of success in other assignments or exams, and current debates on the extent to which skills are transferable, addressing the extent to which academic writing can be taught in isolation to academic content (see, e.g. Christodoulou (2014)). I provided further input on how assessment of academic writing could be conducted, within and beyond academic writing courses.
This meeting also included some time set aside for ‘training of trainers’. Georgian HEIs had provided a list of topics to the European partners on which they would like training. I felt we should honour their requests, and volunteered to run workshops on a diverse range of the topics they had requested, filling many of the gaps left by the other European partners. Thus, I provided focussed training on the use of Moodle’s social constructionist underpinnings (Forment 2007) and tools such as forums, wikis and the oft overlooked workshop module; an overview of Roehampton’s approach to evaluating and improving lectures, modules and programmes, drawing in part on recordings of my own lectures and students’ and external examiners’ feedback on my modules; and provision of faculty and student services at Roehampton. I really appreciated the opportunity to hear from Dublin City, Uppsala and Vienna colleagues on an equally diverse collection of topics, and felt that my own understanding of higher education in other parts of Europe was enhanced through participation in this meeting.
Roehampton were not scheduled to attend the Integrity meeting in Uppsala at the end of August, but the Roehampton team were eager to continue our participation, as we felt we were learning much ourselves through our involvement in these workshops. The Uppsala meeting provided some useful insights into faculty development in relation to promoting academic integrity and supporting academic writing at both Uppsala and Vienna universities. Uppsala university’s presentations were particularly interesting: the idea of the ‘academic writing triangle’, encompassing purpose, structure, research, referencing and grammar, provided a useful framework for analysing academic writing curricula, as did the idea of the different knowledge domains (discourse community, genre, rhetoric, subject matter and writing process) on which the academic writer must draw, and the need for the constructive alignment of outcomes, activities and assessment.
My review of the Georgian academic writing curricula was complete in time for the Uppsala gathering, so I was able to lead a workshop on the last day, drawing on the analysis, to support Georgian colleagues in developing or revising their curricula. We worked together to consider what a framework for such curricula might look like, identifying common characteristics but without being overly prescriptive as it was important to recognise each university’s autonomy in these matters. Mirroring the ‘academic writing triangle’, I proposed a ‘course design triangle’, beginning with rationales, through aims and objectives, assessment, sessions and activities, based, at least in part, on instructional design theory [see, e.g., (Eberly Center 2016)]. In planning this workshop, I was keen to maximise the time for Georgian partners to work together across institutions. I included group activities on identifying audience, prioritising objectives, establishing academic values, aligning objectives to assessment strategies, course structure and aligning objectives with activities. I concluded with my analysis of the common texts used across Georgian academic writing curricula to support academic writing.
After this meeting I circulated a document to Georgian partners providing advice on developing or reviewing their academic writing curricula, drawing on the ideas presented in this workshop, participants’ responses and my analysis of their existing curricula.
In September 2018, the Integrity partners met again in Zugdidi for a management meeting to review the project’s progress and prepare the interim report for the European Commission. I provided an overview of Roehampton’s contribution to the project to date. In listening to Georgian partners’ presentations it was great to hear how many had already begun, and in some cases completed, reviews and revisions to their academic writing curricula based on the interim findings I had presented in Kutaisi and the framework session in Uppsala. It was evident that the Georgian partners were placing a high priority on the teaching of academic writing as a means to improving students’ outcome and experience, and to promote academic integrity in their universities. I feel proud that my contribution to this process was of value to them, and that my work has had impact across a number of institutions at national scale.
In December 2018 we were pleased to host colleagues from ISU’s international team at Roehampton for a series of discussions around academic integrity and the induction and development of academic staff.
Policies and procedures
In January 2019 I attended a further Integrity meeting in Telavi to support Georgian partners in the development of policies and procedures to promote academic integrity and address plagiarism and other academic misconduct. The European partners each presented on their own policies and procedures. I began by outlining the overall national framework for UK universities in this area, drawing on the framework of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (2018). I emphasised the support and guidance available for students at Roehampton, and the positive promotion of academic values. I discussed the challenges posed by contract cheating ((Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education 2017) and the proactive steps taken by the University to prevent this. I discussed Roehampton’s student contract, our definition of academic misconduct and the various offences which fall under this heading including collusion and failure to comply with ethical requirements. I outlined the University’s structured approach to dealing with alleged misconduct, and the range of penalties which might be applied for first and subsequent offences. Georgian partners seemed particularly impressed by our proportionate approach, and in subsequent workshop sessions on developing their own procedures a number of partners seemed interested in implementing a similar approach themselves.
I look forward to continuing this project as our attention turns to PR activities that might promote academic integrity, but feel that my contribution, on behalf of Roehampton, over the first phase of the project has already had a demonstrable impact on higher education in Georgia, and that I have learnt much about supporting academic writing and promoting academic values, through my reading and research, and through collaboration with the European and Georgian partners in the project.
The project has impacted on my and my colleagues teaching here too. Whilst we don’t include academic writing modules in our programmes, I have become conscious of the need to provide better support for our students in this area. I now discuss academic writing, and include some exercises on this, in introductory material for modules with written assignments, draw on some of what I have learnt through my involvement in this project in providing tutorial support to my students, ensure students are aware of Roehampton’s extensive support for academic writing and its policies in relation to academic misconduct, and draw on my developing understanding of academic writing and values in providing feedback to students on their assignments. I shared some of my initial research on academic writing in a very well received workshop at the LTEU Festival of Teaching and Learning in April 2018.
Christodoulou, Daisy. 2014. Seven myths about education. Abingdon: Routledge.
Chuah, Swee-Hoon. 2010. “Teaching East-Asian Students: Some Observations, the Economics Network.”
Fadel, Charles. 2008. “21st Century Skills: How can you prepare students for the new Global Economy?” Paris: OECD/CERI
Forment, Marc Alier. 2007. “A Social Constructionist Approach to Learning Communities: Moodle.” In Open Source for Knowledge and Learning Management: Strategies Beyond Tools, edited by Mltads Lytras and Ambjörn Naeve, 369–81. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Publishing
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Papert, Seymour, and Idit Harel. 1991. “Situating onstructionism” 36:1–11.
Pomorina, Inna, and Janette Ryan. 2014. “Addressing Plagiarism,” 9.
Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2017. “How to Address Contract Cheating, the Use of Third-Party Services and Essay Mills.” Gloucester: QAA.
Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2018. “UK Quality Code for Higher Education: advice and guidance assessment.” Gloucester: QAA.
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