University students’ and staff’s perceptions of third-party writing assistance and plagiarism : a mixed methods study : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English at Massey University, Manawatū, Aotearoa New Zealand

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Massey University
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Considering plagiarism as the by-product of undeveloped and inadequate composition skills, it seems reasonable for a student to seek assistance to improve their writing. But when does writing assistance stop constituting help and start constituting plagiarism? Little research, especially in Aotearoa New Zealand, investigates perceptions about situations where students use assistance during the process of composing their assessments. This thesis uncovers the intricacies of perceived [un]acceptability of third-party writing assistance scenarios through an examination of what undergraduate students and teaching staff in Aotearoa New Zealand believe about instances of collaborating, editing, repurposing, and ghostwriting. The study uses a convergent mixed methods design comprised of a primary qualitative track and a supplementary quantitative track. Both approaches use an original set of fictional, yet realistic, scenarios of writing assistance that vary in amount, scope, and quality. Thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with students and descriptive statistics and quantitative content analysis of an anonymous online survey of staff provide insight into both groups’ beliefs. Themes of labour and learning included situational features participants identified as why writing assistance was acceptable or unacceptable. All students and most staff viewed scenarios where a student subverted the labour of writing, like obtaining an assessment composed by someone else, as unacceptable. Participants in both groups considered scenarios that involved collaborating acceptable when situations included an explanatory discussion, which they perceived as active and engaged learning. Between these scenarios, though, existed a distinct lack of certainty regarding the boundaries of acceptability and plagiarism—especially when it came to instances involving editorial interventions, repurposing of text, and technology-based phrasing tools. Contributions from the findings include confirming earlier reports of students’ limited conceptions of plagiarism; illuminating an added complication in determining acceptability based on how a student operationalises assistance; and enhancing our understanding of when writing assistance constitutes plagiarism. The unique implementation of embedding scenarios into qualitative interviews contributes a fresh approach to academic integrity research. And the bespoke set of scenarios offers potential utility as a learning support tool. Implications include refocusing acceptability onto how assistance is utilised; considering cognitive offloading in response to efficiency motives; integrating direct, sustained dialogue about writing assistance into instruction; and requiring transparent declarations of use in assessments.
Academic writing, English language, Rhetoric, Study and teaching (Higher), New Zealand, College teachers, Undergraduates, Attitudes, Plagiarism