"Opening Doors Early to Academic Integrity" – aiding the transition to and managing expectations of academic practice at University

Judith Jurowska, John Thompson


The Geography Department at Durham University has long recognized that Freshers/newly arrived undergraduate students are suddenly asked to juggle a whole new skills set on arrival at University, often without the level of assistance they have previously experienced at school. As Smith states:

The first year is widely acknowledged as a critical period in determining a students? success at University. However, the period immediately prior to commencing University is also critical. (Smith, 2010, p. 1)

This pilot project was designed to help new undergraduate students understand the differences between studying at school and reading for a degree (this British-English term is useful in this context as it refers to a requirement for students to read widely and engage critically with their "major" discipline) and to becoming active participants in a community of practice while at university. Collaboration between the Geography Department, English Language Centre, Learning Technologies and University Library developed a set of discipline specific study skills exercises, based around the concept of Academic Integrity.

The study skills packages were launched within the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) on September 1, 2011 with an expectation that students would have completed the tasks by mid-October. Answers were collected using the test canvas and students received comprehensive online feedback after they submitted their responses. Postgraduate tutors and module convenors monitoring answers were able to identify areas of concern in terms of student comprehension, powers of analysis and identifying which students had not engaged with the tasks.

Using data from focus groups with tutors, student surveys and comparison of essay writing performance over past years, we were able to show that cases of recorded plagiarism had fallen to zero saving staff time on plagiarism panels, whilst there was a marked improvement of marks from 2:2 to 2:1 grades.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21913/IJEI.v8i2.806