Who cares about “referencing”?

Why do we teach our students how to reference? Mendeley, EndNote, Refworks, etc. all do it for you. In my experience the emphasis for students in higher education is almost always on what the citation looks like and not on the work the citation does. When it comes to learning about referencing for students, the focus is almost always on:

  1. Plagiarism: If you don’t reference, you’re stealing.
  2. Format: If it doesn’t conform to [insert style guide], it’s wrong.

This is problematic. The first point begins with the assumption that our students are cheats and frauds. I prefer not to go into the relationship with that as a starting frame of reference. The second point is irrelevant because style guides explain exactly how to format the citation and software formats it for us.

What matters is that students understand the underlying rationale of attribution and of building on the ideas of others. I’m way more interested in talking about ideas with my students, than on where the comma goes. Instead of talking about the importance of referencing maybe we should aim to instil in students a love of ideas. Sometimes those ideas originated from someone else (citation required) and sometimes those ideas are your own. What does the world look like when we use ideas – some our own and some from others – to think differently? That seems like a more interesting conversation to have.

How do students perceive academic literacy?

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

Narrative means towards literacy understandings: exploring transformations within literacies and migrating identities

Last week I attended a short seminar by Dr. Catherine Hutchings from UCT, who presented some of the results of her PhD study looking at academic literacy and student identity. Here are some notes I took during the seminar.

How do students develop new means of constructing identity as they move from high school into higher education?

Repositioning identities → have personal / social / professional identities outside university, but on moving into HE can feel lost and disorientated. Participants in this study had broken formal educational journeys, no writing background. They had established social and professional identities but lowly academic identities

Their education history was transmissive, rather than constructive

Journals can be a pedagogic method, but became data capture owing to richness of reflections. The journal started as an access route into academic spaces, incorporating their experiences, attempting to promote the development of reflective and critical thinking

Students were afraid of writing

Narratives: the stories we tell about our lives changes our perspectives on them

Referencing, language, technology, the library are “pillars of the great hall of alienation”. They serve as barriers to the transition into HE

How does “agency” become apparent? How is it evident? Referencing, use of authority, engagement with readings, argument…but before HE, agency is not directly evident…it is not voiced

Through using the voice of others, we come to know our own voices

Can take a lot of discussion before students see referencing as an asset

  • Old voices – wisdom of other
  • Odd voices – referencing
  • Own voices – thinking about ideas

Transition, move through, deconstruction, renegotiation, reconstruction

Referencing as feeling of alienation, of not belonging

Plagiarism as a “trapping stone”, already sets them up as outcasts / criminals. Knowledge is “owned” and “guarded”, and doesn’t belong to students

Students used “referencing” and “plagiarism” interchangeably

Few understand the purpose of referencing, nor do they understand it’s language. They often lacked the vocabulary to paraphrase

“Seeing is not knowing”…just because it’s been shown to them doesn’t mean they understand it

“Plagiarism was the only out for me at the time”…a sense of being overwhelmed and not able to cope

Loss of identity in the transformation to HE. The “good learner” in HE is expected to sound like the authoritative voice. Previous identity and experience is often not valued

Students memorise content as a successful strategy in school, then they come here and are punished when they reproduce content

“I felt like a puppet on a string”

“Any sense of self is shackled or constrained”

Referencing is about judgement i.e. it helps the marker determine how much of the students’ work is their own. It can instil fear

Students don’t always understand the purpose of referencing, only that there is a punishment. A sense of belonging comes with understanding, not with doing

Referencing can be thought of as a conversation, not as a list of points from the viewpoint of others. “Must my voice be unique?” “What is my own voice in this conversation?”

“Referencing sets the writer free in using other peoples ideas”

Professional development in HE, finding a voice, can alienate people when they return to their social and professional lives

Referencing as structure and referencing as being voices in a conversation