Developing a platform for a culture of honest inquiry and the academic construction of knowledge in first-year students

Robert Craig, David Dalton


Academic misconduct is a concern in tertiary institutes globally with some perceiving it as endemic. Amongst the issues raised by this practice are serious ethical considerations and impacts on learning. If students are not doing their own work, what is actually being learned? The reasons why students plagiarise are therefore a legitimate area of study and may not be as straightforward as they first appear. This research was conducted at the Petroleum Institute (PI), an engineering university and research institute in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The main objective of the research was to gather data which would highlight the perceptions first-year students have concerning the proportion and frequency of cheating among their peers. There was also interest in discovering what students considered to be the main reasons for such behaviour. Findings show that at the start of the undergraduate programme, three quarters to four fifths of the students viewed copying as serious or very serious. However, after only one semester this percentage had dropped considerably for some areas. Frequency of cheating also varied from the first to the second semester. The data established that there is a clear problem and indicates a need for change. In the context of the Communications Department, to which the researchers belong, courses were already in place within which issues of plagiarism and copying were minimal.

This paper presents the full findings of the investigation and describes an enquirybased approach adopted by the PI Communications Department in 2006 to lay the foundations for developing honest inquiry and the academic construction of knowledge. The approach aims to facilitate student engagement, ownership and buyin and has had a mitigating effect on copying and plagiarism. Recommendations are suggested for general changes across the curriculum, based on the experiences of the above mentioned programme.

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