Tales of plagiarism, ghost-writing and contract cheating make great headlines, but can also be a serious issue where students are under pressure, over-stretched and can’t get the support they need to progress in their course. International students most often make the news, but academic integrity issues are also prevalent in those who’ve just finished high school and those coming back to education after a long break.
Play Again: Stepping back from the media hype, Niva Kaspi shared some key principles and approaches to academic integrity, including some common challenges and strategies around plagiarism. The session is summarised below.
- What is ‘academic misconduct’?
Common types of academic misconduct include outsourcing by purchasing work from a ghost-writing service, using online translating and paraphrasing sites, copying from the internet, copying other students’ work or extensive collaboration and re-writes from family and friends.
- Taking time to understand why misconduct happens
The issues around misconduct may affect any learner, regardless of whether they are international or domestic students. For example, a lack of awareness of plagiarism rules leave students simply not knowing that they are doing anything wrong.
Students who learn habitually through textbooks and rote learning or who have learned in a strong culture of memorising traditions may rely on these mechanisms in formal submissions. In a similar vein, collectivist cultural norms that value sharing can influence students who are driven to help their peers.
First-year students may also lack the confidence to state their own opinions or criticise experts. Confusingly, what is considered appropriate does change in different disciplines. An audience member pointed out how the School of Business and Law may encourage students to quote judges and highly expert professionals to the letter rather than expressing their own opinion.
For students studying in a second language, low language proficiency and developing academic language skills may mean they’re not yet confident to paraphrase as much as they need to.
Of course, time pressure, work and other commitments are common challenges for many students as they tackle their coursework.
- Understand the issues to design better interventions
We know some students are using essay-writing services and paraphrasing services. If a student is struggling with paraphrasing, we should be aware of the issue and work to develop that skill over time. That way, we can pinpoint and develop the range of relevant learning skills that prevent misconduct. We can design courses to ensure students have the opportunity to become skilled in reading, quoting, paraphrasing and referencing.
Small tweaks to assessments can make all the difference. For example, exams discourage assessment outsourcing and collusion by requiring students to learn content. Other strategies include changing assessments regularly, using recent events or readings in the assessment topic/materials, and encouraging critical application or personalised responses.
Scaffolding assessments (breaking them down so they can be tackled in stages) and allowing lecturers to monitor progress and offer feedback normalises a view of learning as a process rather than a performance for grades. This positive view of learning can be carried into other aspects of assessment through, for example, including marks for correct referencing and allowing students to use and resubmit work through similarity-checking software.
Given that students report being unaware of what level of collaboration is acceptable, a key preventative measure is to explain what constitutes appropriate collaboration. It doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the assessment writing services (both online and offline) and their mode of operation in order to talk with authority on the temptations and relevant strategies to avoid misconduct.
- Academic Integrity Principles in Practice: Professional and Academic Communication Unit
This unit has curriculum and assessments designed in ways that help to prevent misconduct. The key design principles behind the major essay assessment are outlined below:
- The essay question requires students to reflect on their own experience and compare their personal experience with research;
- All research material is pre-selected for the students, enabling purpose-built paraphrasing activities around set texts early in the unit;
- The assessment is broken up into two submission points. Students submit a draft in week 6 and a final in week 10, which are both graded;
- ‘Conduct’ criterion makes up one-fifth of the final mark. Good conduct is defined and rewarded partly around referencing practices;
- There are substantial misconduct penalties;
- Turnitin submissions and resubmissions are allowed until due date;
- Final submissions are compared with early, in-class written assessments.
Whilst it is too soon to say categorically what impact the design principles here are having on academic integrity, early feedback suggests it is working well.
- It’s about helping students learn better, not catching them out.
Four key messages you can share with students on academic misconduct, to support an ethos of learning, not checking:
- Take pride in citing your sources.
- Develop effective note-taking habits.
- Develop correct paraphrasing skills.
- Follow the referencing rules.
Niva Kaspi has more than 10 years’ experience lecturing for Edith Cowan College (ECC) in Professional Communication and Academic English, and is a member of the ECC English Language Proficiency and E-learning Committees. She has delivered staff training on Moodle, Turnitin, and Academic Integrity both at ECC and for Sri Lankan partner ACBT. She is currently a PhD Candidate with UWA.