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As educators, we may find ourselves wondering why some students find academic writing difficult, why referencing seems complicated, or why getting an in-text citation right seems so challenging. Sometimes, the answer is straightforward: it is because the student did not get the training in academic writing, citations, referencing, paraphrasing, and so on before they joined higher education.
A few years ago, while discussing tertiary education with colleagues, I realised there may be a gap between how students prepare for university when they are in schools and what universities expect when students join in terms of academic writing.
After connecting with a few students, I was amazed to find out that while some of the high schoolers were very proficient in academic writing, others hadn’t even heard of in-text citations! And while some schools were doing an excellent job of teaching students writing, citations, etc., others were simply expecting students to copy and paste the URLs of sources, if that. Upon speaking to some students who attended universities internationally, I was further surprised to learn that some institutions—even in the western world—did not have a preparatory course or training for newcomers. These schools didn’t teach incoming students academic writing, nor inform them of misconduct behaviours, but were quick to penalize students for their misconduct in the very first semesters.
In these instances, students seemed to be disadvantaged at both ends.
With this in mind, I conceptualized a preparedness module that teaches middle and high school students the basics of academic integrity and the main tenets of academic writing. My goal was to get them thinking about why integrity is important, not just for the school or university, but for their own learning and success in the long run.
The first time we offered the module in 2019, there was no remote teaching, no lockdown, no COVID-19. My colleagues and I at the University of Wollongong in Dubai were able to deliver the sessions face-to-face and we found that students received our curriculum with enthusiasm and zeal.
This year, however, we ran the module as an e-Camp through the Centre for Academic Integrity in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and in collaboration with the University of Wollongong in Dubai. Called "Ignite Integrity," we crafted a three-day virtual camp that engaged over 50 middle and high school students ranging from grades 6 to 12 who joined remotely from a variety of schools and countries. The camp was hosted by the Centre’s Student Board Members Serene John, Sruthi Ramdas, Sarah Wilson, and Rukaiya Shabbir, who received extensive training from the Centre. Ms Ajrina Hysaj, Instructor at UOWD College, ran the module on academic writing.
For the first two days, students participated in hands-on, practical activities that supported the virtual lessons taught by instructors. From a thorough introduction to academic integrity and its importance and impact on students’ career paths to workshops on citation and referencing, the students engaged with each session wholeheartedly.
On the last day, the students participated in a writing contest where Turnitin supported the session with a live webinar on how text-matching software works educatively. Students then submitted their written work via Turnitin and took part in a competition led by judges: Ms. Ajrina Hysaj and Dr. Sreejith Balasubramanian, Founding Board Member of the Centre and Chair of Research Committee at Middlesex University Dubai Campus. This thoughtful exercise allowed students to apply what they had learned directly and see how originality tools like Turnitin help to support the integrity of student work.
Four winners were announced for the writing competition and they received gift vouchers for their pieces. The e-Camp ended with a pledging ceremony where all campers were awarded the Integrity Ambassador e-Badges and e-Certificates, celebrating the hard work and the dedication to integrity of all.
Overall, our e-Camp team felt exhilarated by the campers’ engagement and proud of the extremely positive feedback from the session attendees. Not only do we plan to host this camp again in the years to come, but we also hope that these meaningful sessions help students to think beyond the classroom in order to prepare for the future.
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Wednesday 15 July 2020
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