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We’re used to thinking about plagiarism as a problem that begins and ends with our students, whether through a lack of effort, planning, time management or familiarity. But recent research suggests that instructors also can and do play a role in facilitating it, and that they can and should take concrete steps to reduce or even eliminate it from their classrooms.
Below is a short list of preventative strategies suggested by the literature that reframes the problem as an issue of course design rather than one of student behaviour.
1. Teach the skills/knowledge you expect your students to have/be familiar with. Allocate class time to talk about the subject; use hands-on, low-stakes activities (in-class and/or online) that give students opportunities to practice; and assign marked assignments on the issues involved. For example, teach students not just how to use citation style, but also how to effectively paraphrase, summarize and quote a text. Each of these is a skill that requires time and practice before it can be mastered.
For assignments, Indiana University has a great online tutorial and automated quiz that you could make students responsible for completing. Alternatively, you could make students responsible for providing photocopies of sourced items, with all paraphrased and quoted passages highlighted, or have them attach a short reflective piece in which they reflect on their use of their sources.
If you are a chair or director, it might be a good idea to discuss with instructors the possibility of establishing a framework that ensures that all students in year one of the program have this exposure. That way, instructors at the second year and beyond can legitimately be assured that students have been taught these skills and knowledge.
2. Employ scaffolding. Weeks in advance of the due date and always for marks, have students submit a paper proposal, a rough draft, or an essay outline document, and/or have them participate in an in-class peer review session that you structure. Alternatively, you could use a writing portfolio or ePortfolio in which students chronicle the paper’s development over time.
Whatever you do, make students responsible for responding to all feedback provided: assign a short reflective piece after they receive your/their peers’ feedback, itemizing the changes they intend to implement. Archive all such materials for later consultation.
3. Connect your students to existing resources. There are already many resources on this subject in place around campus (see the list of student resources below for more details). Draw your students’ attention to these resources by including contact information and links in your syllabus and/or assignment descriptions, and/or by inviting Writing Services into your classroom to talk to your students.
Consider, too, getting your class involved in the Centre for Student Academic Support’s incentive program. You could, for instance, make students responsible for completing their online academic integrity workshop and CSAS would track the workshop attendance and provide a report to you at the end of the semester.
4. Add specificity to your essay topics, and avoid recycling. Design your essay topics so that they assign precise topics or intersect with subjects that are more uniquely tied to the course content you have been teaching.
- For example, instead of, “Write a paper that examines representations of colonialism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” ask, “Focusing on the representations of the ‘pilgrims’, write a paper that considers Conrad’s attitudes towards colonization.” The more you add in terms of specificity, the less likely it is that students will be able to locate an existing paper on precisely the assigned topic.
Alternatively, assign a few sources that every paper on the subject should engage with; these should be few in number, seminal pieces on the subject, and widely available.
- For example, coming back again to Conrad, make students responsible for engaging, at minimum, with Chinua Achebe’s famous response to the novel or Ian Watt’s “Impressionism and Symbolism.” Again, the specific parameters for the essay will render paper mill essays useless.
Whatever you do, avoid recycling the same topics year over year, and avoid setting topics so broad that students are likely to be able to locate papers on the subject circulating online. Revising the topics identified above, for instance, need not be a laborious task:
- For the first example, keep the same broad focus (colonialism in Heart of Darkness) but change the angle (from the ‘pilgrims’ to, say, the image of ivory, or black/white imagery, or the figure of Kurtz).
- For the second example above, keep the same topic but adjust the source(s) your students must engage (say, something by Edward Said instead).
5. Practice what you preach. Follow standard citation practices when designing your lecture materials and any materials you circulate. When you draw on the ideas of scholars in your field in class, draw attention to those borrowings. Talk about how knowledge is constructed in your discipline and the crucial role that interaction between competing sources plays in that process.
Understanding the student perspective is critical in promoting integrity in the classroom. Your approach can prevent the five most commonly reported student excuses for misconduct. Some ways that you can promote a culture of academic integrity at Carleton include:
- Familiarizing yourself and your students with Carleton’s Academic Integrity Policy
- Talking about how you check for plagiarism and providing specific examples
- Discussing how citation shows respect for other scholars and the meaning it personally holds for you as a member of the scholarly community
- Being a good role model. Cite sources in your lectures and PowerPoint presentations
- Changing your assignment formats and topics each time you teach a course term
If academic misconduct does occur, try not to personalize an individual student’s cheating behaviour. Some students in your class may not understand specific citation techniques or examination practices because the rules for your discipline may be different than the ones they learned in high school or in their major discipline. A small number of students can also be the victims of another student’s deception or be caught in a situation where they fear of revealing a classmate’s academic misconduct.
“I didn’t know what academic misconduct was!”
- Go beyond a blurb in your course outline that few students actually read.
- Review correct methods for citation, paraphrasing, etc. Remain positive and non-threatening. Your goal is to teach correct methods, not scare them.
- Discuss moral/ethical issues in class.
- Stress importance of honesty to the intellectual community.
- Highlight legal issues (copyright/intellectual property rights)
- Give assignments to teach best-practices (i.e., a “safe place” to make a mistake with citations and learn from it before the “real-deal” assignment).
- Model good conduct in your lecture, cuLearn and other course materials.
“The prof gives assignments just to make us do work.”
- Be sure the assignment does have meaning. How does it achieve learning objectives for course? What new knowledge/skills/value does it promote? How does it link with other course activities? Does it have unique goals/outcomes?
- Tell students what they will get out of doing the assignment. Go beyond content.
- Ensure grade weighting reflects value of learning outcomes.
- Discuss consequences of missed learning opportunities. Stress your desire for their overall success in the course.
“I had no idea how to do what needed to be done to complete the assignment.”
- Assess students’ prior skills/knowledge and set realistic goals.
- Teach skills set required for assignment and/or provide support needed.
- Go over your assessment of required skills with students.
- Direct struggling students to appropriate resources (e.g., library, ITS, SACDS, etc.).
- Show how paper mill assignments fail to meet your expectations.
“There is too much work in this course. I had to copy to get the work done on time.”
- Estimate and be realistic about the amount of time they can devote to your course. Generally two hours outside class for every one hour in class.
- Determine length and duration of assignment to fit with weighting in course.
- Tell them how long assignment should take. Be aware that you may underestimate.
- Identify strugglers early. Direct them to appropriate support.
“I won’t get caught. If I do, the prof won’t be able to do anything about it!”
- Be consistent.
- Know and follow university policies and guidelines.
- Ensure TAs know their responsibilities and feel supported in reporting suspected cases.
Responding to Suspected Academic Misconduct
Academic misconduct allegations are serious and the student’s confidentiality is imperative. All suspected cases of student academic misconduct must be reported to the faculty dean. You may be tempted to handle the incident yourself, however, doing so only undermines the process.
Inform the student that you suspect they have engaged in academic dishonesty and that you have informed the dean’s office and instruct them to contact the University Ombuds Office. After forwarding the details of the suspected misconduct to the dean’s office, do not discuss the case with the student, colleagues or staff. However, it is reasonable to discuss the case with your teaching assistant if they are involved in marking.
Handling Misconduct During Tests and Exams
If you observe a violation of examination regulations or one is reported to you by other proctors and, in your opinion, there is sufficient evidence to lay a complaint against the student, follow these steps:
- Do not accuse the student or prevent them from finishing their exam.
- Keep any material confiscated from the student.
- If a proctor observed the violation, obtain a written report of the incident from him/her. The report should include: date, time, examination, room number and building, student’s name and I.D. number, seating position, a statement of what was observed and what was done.
- After the student has completed the examination, advise the student that they have committed an instructional offense and that you will be reporting the case to the dean for consideration.
- Inform the student to contact the University Ombuds Office for assistance.
- Write your own report of the incident.
- Forward all reports and supporting materials to the dean’s office as soon as possible.
One of the biggest concerns instructors face today is cheating during multiple-choice online quizzes. Although it’s impossible to guarantee 100 per cent protection from cheating, the information below provides a list of helpful strategies that can be implemented when using multiple-choice online quizzes in cuLearn.
- Set a time limit for the quiz, and limit the availability period of the quiz
- Use larger question banks
- Write questions that address higher order thinking skills (such as case studies) to force students to evaluate a situation or a problem, engaging them in critical thinking
- Create your own questions or modify the publisher’s test questions
- Create calculated questions
- Include only one question per page
- Randomize questions and answers
- Use quizzes as formative assessment, and award students a percentage that is not too high to prompt students to cheat, but high enough to motivate them to take the quiz
- Avoid using online multiple-choice quizzes for high-stake exams
- Add extra restrictions on attempts (require password, network address, browser security)
- If the quiz is used as a test or an exam, provide the feedback/marks only when the quiz is closed
- Have students agree to an honor statement reinforcing academic integrity
- Make students aware of cuLearn’s tracking and logging abilities
- Carleton University Academic Integrity Policy
- Academic Integrity Instructor’s Guide
- Centre for Student Academic Support’s incentive program
- Learning Support Services Academic Integrity Appointments
- Copyright at Carleton
- Carleton University Academic Integrity Policy
- Academic Integrity at Carleton
- Writing and Citing How-To Guides
- Writing Tutorial Service
- Centre for Student Academic Support Online Workshops and Videos
- Indiana University Online Tutorial and Quiz
- Ryerson University Academic Integrity Five-Episode Web Series
- Purdue Online Writing Lab
- Purdue Global Plagiarism Information
- University of Toronto: How Not to Plagiarize
- UBC Learning Commons: Avoid Plagiarism
- Carnegie Mellon University, Eberly Center: How to Prevent Plagiarism
- University of California, Berkley, Centre for Teaching and Learning: Academic Integrity through Course Design
- University of Surrey: Designing Out Plagiarism: A Brief Guide for Busy Academics
- York University: Designing Assignments that Foster Academic Integrity
- The Teaching Professor Blog
- Faculty Focus Blog
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