Teaching information literacy skills and academic integrity concepts to first-year undergraduate students is no small feat. Yusuke Fitzgibbons (Ishimura), lecturer in the Department of Environmental Studies at Tokyo City University, recognizes the challenges of laying the groundwork for a successful career in writing and communication. It can especially be tough in an academic community that does not typically emphasize the importance of originality starting in early grades.
“Although it depends on high schools’ curriculum, I feel that many students still do not have extensive experience in writing essays with external sources. Students tend to memorize ‘facts’ instead of synthesizing and analyzing information. This is often associated with Japanese educational practice, which focuses on entrance exams. Preparation for entrance exams has a higher priority than other academic skills. This is why many Japanese undergraduate students unintentionally plagiarize when they write essays in universities.”
Fitzgibbons, a native to Japan, wrote his undergraduate thesis at a Japanese university in English, which exposed him to many of the nuances of accurate citation. He later acquired his Master’s degree at Dalhousie University and Ph.D. at McGill University in Canada and while there, feels that he was introduced to a broader context of academic integrity.
“Although I developed a basic understanding of the concept as an undergraduate,” he says, “I more extensively developed my understanding in graduate school in Canada. In particular, my specialization in Library and Information Science, [as] academic integrity is a core concept for future information professionals.” Fitzgibbons has worked as an educator in the Library and Information Science programs in both Canada and Australia, which meant he was in the position to promote the importance of the concept. Because a student’s proficiency in information literacy can lead to confidence in research, citations, and writing overall, there is real formative value in teaching both explicitly and side by side.
Once he returned to Tokyo, he brought with him a deeper appreciation of the importance of integrity. One of his research areas continues to be the information literacy skills of international students in English speaking countries. Fitzgibbons has found that when the academic expectations and practices are different from students’ home countries, students tend to have difficulties in adjusting to the practice in English speaking countries. “Some educators assume that students know the concept of academic integrity. However, it is important for educators to teach students it thoroughly,” he says.
“...[The] educator’s role is to first understand where the students are coming from and not assume that they have ever learned about academic integrity. It’s a difficult concept for all students to understand… so a proactive approach is needed to explain what ‘plagiarism’ actually is. It’s also important to provide them with opportunities for practice and trial and error.”
Fitzgibbons hopes that by modeling integrity in his work, cultivating it in his students, and expressing its importance to his peers, he can champion its growth in his classroom and his home culture. He maintains that students, whether domestic or abroad, need guidance and meaningful experiences in order to mature, just like he did. “Academic integrity is not an easy concept for students to master,” he concludes. “Students need practice and simply punishing students for plagiarism will not solve the issues many academics are struggling with.”
With advocates like Yusuke Fitzgibbons leading the way, the education landscape will surely feel a shift in the way information literacy and academic integrity are taught in the coming years.