My thoughts on the quip, “do your research” (Guest post: Astrid Kendrick)

April 23, 2021

I don’t normally have guest posts on my blog, but after reading this piece posted by my friend and colleague, Astrid Kendrick, PhD, a fellow faculty member at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, I reached out to her to see if she would allow me to amplify her message by sharing it on my blog. Here is Dr. Kendrick’s post, shared with her permission.

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My thoughts on the quip, “do your research”

Astrid Kendrick,EdD

Astrid Kendrick, EdDFacebook Status Update originally posted on April 22, 2021

I have the good fortune to be a funded (meaning paid) researcher over the past couple of years, which means I actually do my own research. It’s actually quite complicated, so here’s a brief (okay, lengthy) summary of how I “do my own research”.

Firstly, and most importantly, I have to do a comprehensive literature review on my research subject. This involves reading a ton of primary sources (e.g., peer-reviewed research articles, philosophical books). Normally, I don’t read secondary sources (e.g., news articles, websites) as those authors are only reporting on what they think primary researchers have said. If I do read about a study from a secondary source, I seek out the primary source and read that too. Often, the secondary reporting misses out on or misrepresents crucial details from the primary source.

This stage takes about 6-8 months and involves reading, understanding, and processing a lot of information. If you look at a citation page for any one of my papers, you’ll see that I usually cite about 20-50 sources. I have usually read twice the number of articles or books that I cite to figure out which actually relate to my research subject. Reading everything includes reading critique of the field to limit my bias.

Once I have read all the things – yes, all of them, including new stuff that’s published while I’m reading the old stuff – then I can apply for ethics approval to do a research study. Getting ethics takes 1-4 months, depending on how busy all my colleagues in that department are. I have to prove, as a part of this process, that my research will do no harm, I will mitigate all risks to human participants, and that I actually have read all the things about my topic. Without ethics approval, my research can’t go forward.

Once everything is read and ethics is approved, then I can do unique research, which necessitates keeping an open and flexible mind about my research subject, finding suitable participants, and collecting related policy or other documents, a stage known as collecting data. This part takes 4-5 months. In the case of my current podcasting study, data collection will take a year and for my compassion fatigue study, data collection has taken nearly 16 months.

Once the data is collected (usually by a research assistant which is why funding is great), I have to read, understand, and connect all of it (interviews, surveys, documents) and determine if what my participants have said or written lines up with all the reading I’ve already done. Not only do I have to know enough about the field to recognize when my findings reinforce already known information, but I also need enough knowledge to recognize unique or ground-breaking findings.

I then get to write about what my specific study has to say in relation to the rest of the known field, and decide if my findings are worth publishing. If I think so (in consultation with my research partners and collaborators), then I submit my writing for publication.

Being published in a quality peer-reviewed journal can take 1-2 years. The journal editors and other scholars in the field read through how my research study was constructed, how I collected ethical data, and they (also having read all the things on the topic) decide if indeed, my findings were either unique or further knowledge in the field. Normally, 2-3 reviewers read and decide if my article is well articulated, my study is valid, and then they force me to re-write it a couple more times so that it fits the standards of the publication journal.

Even those short Conversation Canada articles I’ve written are editorially reviewed and take about 1-2 months of re-writing after the initial submission to the editor. Sidebar: The Conversation only publishes articles by scholars speaking to their own unique research, so before my article is accepted, I have to demonstrate to their editors that I am writing about unique research and not simply writing an opinion.

So, “doing my research” is an exceptionally time-consuming process and tends to last several years. It rarely involves using Google, although I admit that Google Scholar can be helpful in finding newer open access articles not available through my university library.

Therefore, if you ask me about my topics of research (currently compassion fatigue, burnout, emotional labour, preservice teacher education, literacy instruction, and podcasting), you can be pretty certain that I know a lot about them, and you can trust my responses. You can even trust that if I say, “you need to read these 10 articles and three books”, it’s because I’ve read everything else, and those readings are the significant ones in the field. I’m actually saving you time from reading the hundreds of other articles that I’ve read on the subject that were irrelevant, difficult to read, or have similar findings.

If you ask me for my opinion on a hundred other topics, you’re getting just that. I’ve probably read some secondary sources on the topic, and likely even talked to some of my expert colleagues on their research and read the 10 articles they recommended, but my depth of knowledge is not the same as what I know about my research topics. I have not “done my research”, I have simply constructed an informed opinion that I’m willing to change based on new information from expert sources.

Thanks for reading, and to Sarah for posting, because now my husband, John doesn’t have to listen to my “What doing real research means!” rants on our daily walks anymore.

Follow Astrid Kendrick on Twitter.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.

Follow me on Twitter.


Virtual book launch! Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Higher Education

April 13, 2021

Come and join us for the virtual book launch of Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Academic Integrity was recently published by ABC Clio (March, 2021).

The launch is co-hosted by the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning and Libraries and Cultural Resources at the University of Calgary. Best of all, two students are going to be moderating the discussion. Of course, I’ll be there to do a reading, answer questions and engage with participants.

This is a live event and it won’t be recorded, so come and join us in real time for an interactive discussion:

Friday, May 7, 2021

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. Mountain time (i.e., Calgary time – Please convert to your local time zone).

The virtual launch will take place via Zoom. A link will be sent to registered participants on the day of the event.

Register here.

Hope you can join us. This event is free of charge and open to the public, so feel free to share.

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Share or Tweet this: Virtual book launch! Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Higher Education https://drsaraheaton.wordpress.com/2021/04/13/virtual-book-launch-plagiarism-in-higher-education-tackling-tough-topics-in-higher-education/

This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.

Follow me on Twitter.


Analysis of Plagiarism in the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum

April 3, 2021

Since the draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum was released by Adrianna LaGrange last week it has been under scrutiny. One of the concerns is plagiarism. Teachers have been posting examples of alleged plagiarism on social media and sending them to me directly for analysis. To be honest, my inbox exploded last week and I can hardly keep up. I lost track of all the messages I received via e-mail and social media, but I estimate that at least 100 examples have been sent to me, some of which are duplicates. In this post, I offer my analysis of a few of these examples.

In the interest of full transparency, I am not, nor have I ever been, a teacher in the K-12 system. My teaching career has been in higher education. I earned a PhD in educational leadership and my research expertise is on academic misconduct including plagiarism and contract cheating. My peer-reviewed scholarly papers include this one in which I analyze definitions of plagiarism. I serve as the Editor-in-Chief of one of the most respected journals in the field, the International Journal for Educational Integrity, published by BMC Springer Nature. I also serve on a multi-country working group for educational policy focused on academic integrity, through the European Network for Academic Integrity. My latest book, released just last month, focuses specifically on plagiarism. And I am one of two Canadians to hold a seat on the 40-person global Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) Council. In other words, I am more than qualified to undertake an analysis of alleged plagiarism.

Definition of Plagiarism

As I have pointed out here and here, there are no absolute definitions of plagiarism. There is general consensus that plagiarism happens when someone uses the words or ideas of another without attribution. This can include copy-and-paste plagiarism (i.e., direct plagiarism), as well as the practice of re-arranging or swapping out words from the original text with synonyms (i.e., indirect plagiarism). Similarly, if an original text is paraphrased without attribution, that is also often considered plagiarism (i.e., also called indirect plagiarism).

Detecting and Declaring Plagiarism

There is no single way to detect plagiarism or declare definitively that it has occurred. There are text-matching software products (e.g., Turnitin) that can find exact matches between two texts quickly. Human detection can also be highly effective, particularly when the individual investigating the case(s) is qualified and experienced, as in my case. In my analysis, I have conducted a manual analysis of individual examples, unaided by any software.

Purpose of this Review

My goal with this review is (1) to determine if there is plagiarism in the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum from my perspective as an expert researcher on this topic; (2) to provide a base of evidence for further dialogue among Alberta citizens, including educators and policy makers; and (3) to offer recommendations and next steps.

My goal is not to critique the content of the draft curriculum. Others, such as Dr. Carla Peck, have already done an excellent job of that. In my inquiry, I focus specifically on the issue of plagiarism.

In the sections that follow, I offer my analysis of some examples from the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum. These examples are not exhaustive, and nor are they meant to be. My inbox has been filling up with examples teachers have sent to me over the past week. I simply do not have time to analyze all of these examples for plagiarism that have been sent to me from the draft AB Curriculum; there are too many. I have randomly selected some and analyze them in depth.

I conducted my analysis April 1 – 3, 2021. It is possible that some of the draft text may have changed during that time. It is easy to change digital text online. Some websites, such as Wikipedia, track every change that is made to text. In other cases, it can be difficult to track how digital text was changed on some websites unless captures of previous versions were taken using tools such as the Wayback Machine Internet Archive. Screen shots can help capture how a text looks on a website at a given moment in time, so I have included screen shots in my analysis, along with a date and timestamp to further validate the work.

I have verified and carefully reviewed each one. Below I offer specific and detailed analysis of individual cases.

Example #1: Draft Physical Education and Wellness Kindergarten to Grade 6 Curriculum

The first example is from the draft physical education curriculum. The specific passages in question, come from the text of the draft Grade 2 curriculum:

“Adventurous play can

  • promote independence and problem solving
  • provide direct experience of cause and effect
  • develop children’s coordination and bodily control
  • boost self confidence and emotional resilience
  • reduce stress
  • satisfy curiosity and a need for challenge” (p. 1-2)
Screenshot 01: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Physical Education, Grade Two. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/pde2 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:05.

Screenshot 01: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Physical Education, Grade Two. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/pde2 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:05.

Screenshot 01: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Physical Education, Grade Two. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/pde2 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:05.

Likely source text: North Vancouver Recreation Centre

The text of the draft curriculum bears a striking resemblance to this text from the North Vancouver Recreation Centre:

“Adventurous play is sometimes called risky play. It is defined as thrilling and challenging forms of play that involve a risk of physical injury. Each time a child has a minor accident, learning and adaptation happen. The benefits of adventurous play are numerous. Challenging play:

  • Promotes independence and problem-solving
  • Provides direct experience of cause and effect (natural consequences)
  • Develops coordination and bodily control
  • Boosts self-confidence and emotional resilience
  • Promotes self-regulation
  • Reduces stress and fears
  • Satisfies natural need for challenge and thrill”
Screenshot 02: North Vancouver Recreation Centre. https://www.nvrc.ca/notices-events-blog/active-living-blog/importance-adventurous-play. Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:11

Screenshot 02: North Vancouver Recreation Centre. https://www.nvrc.ca/notices-events-blog/active-living-blog/importance-adventurous-play. Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:11

Analysis: The two texts are remarkably similar. Although some words have been changed, the substance of the content is largely the same. Also, the items in the list are in pretty much the same order in both cases.

Conclusion: This content should have been attributed to the North Vancouver Recreation Centre. Without attribution, this would be classified as plagiarism.

Example #2: Draft Social Studies Kindergarten to Grade 6 Curriculum

Educators have e-mailed me with numerous concerns about plagiarism in the draft social studies curriculum. In this example, the text in question comes from the Grade 6 draft curriculum:

“The religious affiliation of most Albertans is Christian, and the largest denominations are Roman Catholic, United, Anglican, Lutheran, and Baptist churches.”

Canada and Alberta’s latest census data on Albertan and Canadian religious diversity” (p. 33).

Screenshot 03: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Social Studies, Grade Six. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/sss4 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:38

Screenshot 03: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Social Studies, Grade Six. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/sss4 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:38

The text of the draft curriculum is very similar to text that appears on the Wikipedia page for the Demographics of Alberta:

“Over 60 percent of Albertans identify as Christian, while almost 32 percent of residents identify with no religion. The largest denominations are the Roman CatholicUnitedAnglicanLutheran, and Baptist Churches.”

04 - Screen Shot 2021-04-03 at 8.26.32 AM

Screenshot 04: Wikipedia page, “Demographics of Alberta”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Alberta . Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:26

Analysis: The similarities between the two texts is obvious. What was not immediately obvious was whether the Wikipedia text had been changed recently to make it look as if plagiarism had occurred after the draft had been released. I took a look at the revision history of this Wikipedia page (which is openly available to everyone on the Internet).

Screenshot 05: Revision history for Wikipedia page “Demographics of Alberta”. Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:27

Screenshot 05: Revision history for Wikipedia page “Demographics of Alberta”. Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:27

It does not appear to me as though the page was maliciously modified after the draft curriculum was released. (Note: In this blog post from 2012, I state openly that I do not consider Wikipedia to be reliable source material for academic work. This would include curriculum development.)

Conclusion: Although this is a short passage, its similarity to the Wikipedia page is close enough that attribution should be provided. In cases such as Wikipedia, attribution should include a “retrieved from” date to indicate when the source material was consulted. Without attribution, this could be classified as plagiarism.

Example #3: Draft Social Studies Kindergarten to Grade 6 Curriculum

In this example, the text in question comes from the Grade 6 draft curriculum, under the knowledge section:

“A popular theory, proposed as a way of drawing a distinction between two different societies, the United States and Canada: It suggests that there is a difference between the Canadian mosaic, where ethnic groups have maintained their distinctiveness while functioning as part of the whole, and an American melting pot, where peoples of diverse origins have allegedly fused to make a new people.” (p. 32)

Screenshot 06: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Social Studies, Grade Six. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/sss4. Screenshot taken April 3 at 09:03

Screenshot 06: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Social Studies, Grade Six. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/sss4. Screenshot taken April 3 at 09:03

Original text: The text above is an exact duplication of text published in a 1976 article authored by Howard Palmer, published in the International Journal.

Screenshot 07: Palmer, H. (1976). International Journal. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1290345770?pq-origsite=gscholar&fromopenview=true&imgSeq=1# Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 09:08

Screenshot 07: Palmer, H. (1976). International Journal. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1290345770?pq-origsite=gscholar&fromopenview=true&imgSeq=1# Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 09:08

Conclusion: The original author’s words have been duplicated without attribution. This is an obvious case of word-for-word plagiarism.

Discussion

I have identified several different sources in my brief analysis. This indicates that content has been lifted or borrowed from multiple original sources, not just one or two. Others have commented that additional source material might have come from CoreKnowledge and specifically, the Core Knowledge Sequence.

The approach of taking bits and pieces of others’ content and stitching it together into an allegedly new document is called patchwriting, a term used extensively by plagiarism scholars such as Rebecca Moore Howard and Diane Pecorari. Patchwriting happens when writers lack the skills or confidence to paraphrase effectively and is widely regarded as an indication that the writer needs support.

This draft curriculum is a patchwork of material pulled from different sources. Plagiarism happens when source material is not attributed. A basic tenet of academic and research integrity is to give credit where it is due. In this draft curriculum, there is little to no indication of acknowledgement of those whose ideas and words contributed to its development. It appears as though the draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum is rife with plagiarism.

Critics will no doubt jump on the fact that I have analyzed only three examples in this article. Although that is true, I began this post by saying that Alberta teachers have e-mailed me dozens and dozens of passages from the new curriculum that they believe have been plagiarized from a variety of sources. It actually isn’t my job to detect plagiarism in the new curriculum; it is up to the Alberta government to do that. I have provided enough examples here to show that further investigation is warranted, as is further discussion. There is much more to analyze than I had the time to do in a few days. It was important to me to get this post published so as to inform an evidence-based dialogue.

Recommendations and Solutions

The solution for plagiarism is easy: Cite the original source material. Here are three easy steps to fix the plagiarism in the draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum:

Step 1: Identify content replicated or paraphrased from other sources. This will require a line-by-line review of the entire draft curriculum.

Step 2: Document where the original source material came from. Keep detailed notes of who wrote the content, as well as when and where it was published.

Step 3: Cite and reference all the sources consulted in the development of the curriculum. (If you need a refresher on the difference between citing and referencing, I explain it in this post.)  In the References below I have provided details of the original sources I consulted to conduct my analysis for this blog post. I have used APA formatting, but any format would be fine. The key is to publicly show what source material was consulted and give credit to the original authors. Give credit where it is due. In many cases, plagiarism is entirely preventable.

The draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum for English Language Arts and Literature states that:

“Ethical use of information includes

  • asking permission to use, share, or store information
  • acknowledging the ownership of information used to inform writing (citing)” (p. 42 and p. 63)

These are skills that the Alberta government wants children in Grades 4 (p. 42) and Grade 5 (p. and p. 63) to learn. Surely if we are asking children in grades 4 and 5 to demonstrate the skills of ethical use of information, we should expect the same of the adults who develop the curriculum.

Acknowledgements: I wish to acknowledge all those who sent me examples of problematic passages in the new draft curriculum via e-mail or social media. Some of you wish to remain anonymous, so I conclude with a general note of thanks to everyone who has contributed to this inquiry. I am sorry I do not have time to analyze all of your examples, but I appreciate you sending them to me.

References:

Demographics of Alberta. (n.d.). In Wikipedia.  Retrieved April 3, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Alberta

North Vancouver Recreation Centre. (2018). Importance of Adventurous Play. https://www.nvrc.ca/notices-events-blog/active-living-blog/importance-adventurous-play

Palmer, H. (1976). Mosaic versus melting pot?: immigration and ethnicity in Canada and the United States. International Journal, 31(3), 488. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1290345770?pq-origsite=gscholar&fromopenview=true&imgSeq=1#

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.

Follow me on Twitter.


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