Academic dishonesty describes a range of undesirable student behaviors including cheating and plagiarism. As instructors these types of behaviors can threaten many of our educational goals for students, but there are steps we can take to preserve the academic integrity of our courses.
Students describe a variety of reasons for academically dishonest behavior:
- Competition with other students
- Lack of time or organization
- Perception that “everyone’s doing it”
- “Sink or Swim” environment
- Mixed messages from instructors and peers
- Disengagement with the goal of their program of study
The most basic step in ensuring academic integrity is to be sure you are familiar with the Institute’s policy and take steps to communicate those policies to your students.
Don’t assume your students have “heard it all before.” As instructors we sometimes oversimplify things – we say “just don’t do it” when we could be more clear about what behavior is unacceptable and what constitutes academic dishonesty. In many fields important connections can be made between academic integrity and professional ethics.
In classes that alternate between group work and individual work it may be unclear when (or why) collaboration on some activities is inappropriate. In un-proctored settings, such as online or take home exams, be explicit about use of outside resources – i.e. is the assessment open book or not.
As with any course policies the amount of time you spend discussing it sends a message to students about the degree to which it is important to you.
The ideal projects are “realistic, original, and meaningful” - they require students to do original work that can’t be lifted from else where, they feel realistic and authentic in connections to what students will do professionally, and ultimately feel meaningful to students in terms of their education. When possible craft assignments that require original problem solving. These ideal projects will promote academic integrity by being of a nature that requires students to engage in original and authentic work that can’t be plagiarized, recycled, etc. Meaningful projects will resonate with students – the value will be clear to them – which contributes to academic integrity.
Designing assignments that meet these lofty goals is far from easy, but it is something to strive for in the design of your courses, both for the sake of engaging and motivating students, as well as the added benefit of minimizing academic dishonesty.
In addition to conceptualizing ideal projects, the structure of projects and papers can also contribute to academic integrity. Breaking down larger projects into pieces entails assigning individual deadlines to specific steps of a projects (topic selection, locating sources, draft, final paper etc.) When possible this is a good practice for any high stakes assignment: it improves the general quality of student work by encouraging them to work in stages, it allows for the possibility of peer or instructor feedback throughout the process rather than after completion, and it removes a variety of options or incentives for a student to engage in academically dishonest behavior. In large classes these need not necessarily be hand graded by the instructor; consider peer review or simply checking off that materials have been received etc.
Exams and quizzes can be one of the more challenging aspects of your course to revise because it can feel like investing work simply to mitigate cheating rather than directly improving the quality of the course for all students.
In planning quizzes and exams that will maintain academic integrity it can be important to consider what role quizzes and exams play in a course. Some courses rely on large high stakes exams; when possible it can be preferable to minimize the role of such high stakes exams. The added pressure from high stakes activities can contribute to poor student performance as well as potentially academically dishonest student behavior. If you do make use of high stakes exams consider how students are prepared for them, i.e. do students have access to a practice exam or past exams that can prepare them for high stakes assessments?
Respondus LockDown Browser
Learn how to use Respondus LockDown Browser to control student access to online quizzes in D2L at the MGH Institute D2L Help Site
Learn how to use TurnItIn to evaluate the originality of student assignment submissions at the MGH Institute D2L Help Site
Learn how to create and manage online quizzes in D2L at the MGH Institute D2L Help Site
Academic dishonesty is not a new problem, but the digital age has certainly complicated it and made plagiarism easier than ever. This guide will explore some of the attitudes and circumstances that lead students into plagiarizing sources as well as recommend actions to combat and prevent it.
Having a handle on the elements and attitudes that may lead to plagiarism can help us identify preventive measures.
Establish Clear Expectations
Let students know how you define academic integrity and what that looks like for your assignments in particular, using specific examples of the type of behaviors you hope to see. For students who are confused about what may constitute plagiarism, this can be a real eye opener.
Consider adding a statement about academic integrity or plagiarism to your syllabus.
The time you take and the manner in which you talk about academic integrity sets a tone and lets students know that you value the scholarly process, their work, and academic integrity. You may even consider leading an open discussion on the topic so that you can rectify and misconceptions or questions that may linger.
View an example of a letter Bill Taylor, a political science professor, gives his students at the beginning of his courses.
Design Assignments with Plagiarism Prevention in Mind
Scaffold student literature searches by inviting a librarian to provide instruction. Depending on your preferences, instruction could be as easy as including an online tutorial about database searching or a full in-person session that includes how literature searches fit into the scholarly process and an introduction to citing.
Ask students to turn in a list or an annotated bibliography of their sources before the final written assignment is due.
Require students to turn in one or two drafts along the way. Drafts are a perfect opportunity to introduce peer editing.
Use Turn-It-In, the plagiarism detection application in D2L. You can either recommend that students run their papers through themselves before submitting them, or professors can let students know they’ll be using it on all submitted work.
The disorganized student’s best friend, also not such a bad pal for the students who aren’t up to speed with the mechanics of citing. Encourage your students to learn and use it by inserting links and tutorials into your course in D2L or by inviting a librarian in for an in-class session.
- Ensure students are introduced to the Academic Integrity Policy early on, perhaps in orientation. Ideally the introduction would be accompanied by a discussion.
- Include an academic integrity statement on every syllabus.
- Examine program curricula to ensure a place for academic integrity and to pinpoint the courses where it will be discussed
- Provide resources for students to help them avoid common traps like time mismanagement, disorganization, and ignorance. Then, more importantly, encourage them to exploit those resources.
Do you suspect one of your students of plagiarism? You’ll want to find evidence before confronting the student. Having samples of the students past writing can be helpful, but it is even better if you can find the plagiarised source.
- Google - type a suspect phrase into Google. Since many students get their sources here, it’s often very revealing.
- TurnItIn - try running the student’s paper through this online plagiarism detection application
- Library Databases - some library databases allow you to search the full-text of articles. Ask the Institute Librarian for assistance if you’d like.
The Institute’s procedure for initiating disciplinary action in cases of academic dishonesty and other misconduct can be found in the student handbook.
Hamilton, M., & Richardson, J. (2007). An academic integrity approach to learning and assessment design. Journal of Learning Design, 2(1), 37-51.
International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University