Minimising the risk of academic misconduct

Reasons why students might commit academic misconduct

There are many reasons students might commit academic misconduct:

  • They may not have understood the instructions for an assessment task
  • Sometimes students manage their time poorly, and copy material from another source to meet a deadline
  • They may plagiarise because they lack confidence in their own use of language.
  • If they have plagiarised before, and their use of it has not been questioned, they may be under the impression that the usage is generally condoned in an academic setting.
  • If previous cheating activity by them or their peers has gone unreported, they may assume that there are no measures in place to detect academic misconduct.
  • They may be unaware of referencing conventions, or lack experience in referencing.
  • They may be uncertain about whether or how much they can collaborate with fellow students when preparing assessment tasks
  • They may assume it is their responsibility to cover for a group member who has not performed their fair share of a task
  • They may think the online service is authorised to help them prepare assessment tasks, rather than being a contract cheating site

You can reduce the temptation for students to plagiarise, cheat or collude by taking action during the design of both subject learning activities and assessment tasks.

Model good practice

It seems obvious, but make sure that you are referencing your sources using the same referencing style that your students need to use in their assessment tasks in all your teaching materials.

Check that you include proper in-text references for quotes or paraphrases in your ppt presentations, and include a properly formatted reference list at the end.

Don’t forget to pay attention to captioning with proper in-text references any images that you might use in your ppt.

Assessment design

It is particularly important that assessment tasks be designed to minimise the potential for academic misconduct by students.

When you design assessment tasks:

  • Make sure that the subject outline provides clear instructions for each assessment tasks, and that tutors understand them and are ready to respond to students’ questions in class
  • Change the assessment topic or task from year to year (or from session to session).
  • Modify the assignment task to focus on very specific factors (eg local, recent, personal). This is particularly useful as a way of preventing students from using a contract cheating site or recycling previous work.
  • Construct scaffolded or a linked series of assessment tasks, so that each task sets up the student for the next task
  • Avoid scheduling high-stakes large assessment tasks at the end of session, when students will be under more pressure
  • Require a draft to be submitted, with your or peer feedback on the draft to be incorporated and acknowledged in the final version.
  • For group assignments:
    • require individual students to complete a log book to record group meetings and contributions.
  • Regularly Google your subject code and assessment tasks topic to check if subject material is being shared without authorisation, or are the target of contract cheating sites.

Teaching and learning activities

It is important to give the students opportunities in class to develop the skills needed to perform the assessment tasks with integrity. Not only do your students gain confidence, but you can be assured that you have instructed students on the right behaviour, so if you come across a case of academic misconduct it is more obviously deliberate.

  • Provide clear guidelines on referencing, including the referencing system the students are expected to use
  • Make sure that the students know the difference between quoting, paraphrasing and summarising, and model these in class time with subject-specific sources
  • Ask the students to construct discipline-specific examples of acceptable forms of quotes, paraphrases and summaries, by drawing on your subject readings
  • Get students to peer review good and bad practice in assessment tasks, but using models drawn from previous students’ common issues
  • Openly discuss the temptations for academic misconduct, and indicate that you are aware of contract cheating sites, essay mills and online paraphrasing tools
  • Clarify your expectations about how much students should discuss and work together on particular assessment tasks

Conversations with students

To further drive home the point, on the first day of class open the floor to a brief discussion, making sure to touch on why academic integrity is important to you, and why it should be important to them.

Explaining academic integrity as both an institutional and personal value, and providing a deterrent for inappropriate behaviour, is an effective strategy for preventing problems at the outset.

Starting the conversation with students about working with academic integrity in your discipline is often hard. It involves terms such as integrity, misconduct, referencing, conventions, plagiarism, academic practices, citations and evidence based learning, all considered basic concepts that successful students in any field of study need to understand. The challenge is that each community of practice or discipline has its own norms and expectations.