How do we ensure teachers are giving students the same messages about academic integrity?

As students move through different units of study with different lecturers, they can experience quite varied approaches to academic integrity. This can include different penalties for plagiarism which may result in very different consequences and outcomes. In an analogy to the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, Donald McCabe suggests that we all need to be on the same page, promoting a similar view when it comes to plagiarism and academic integrity. We need to ensure all our students are supported and receive equitable treatment – a responsibility that we all share.

Here we look at our journey at Curtin College, from recognising the gaps and inconsistencies in practice, process and understanding, the steps taken and the results, observations and questions which still remain.

First, taking stock

When we began to look at the evidence back in 2009, it was clear that a significant number of teaching staff were not participating in the process of plagiarism reporting and intervention as it is existed then.

  • Only 10 of our approximately 80 units of study reported plagiarism incidents.
  • Four Communication units accounted for more than half of the reported plagiarism.
  • A number of the units not reporting were units with quite a strong language emphasis (and would be expected to have some degree of plagiarism).
  • The plagiarism policy was publicised at the start of each study period and referred to at staff meetings, but there was no clear process to ensure its principles were actually practised.

The conclusion was that the absence of data from the majority of units did not necessarily reflect an absence of plagiarism in those units. Rather, it probably suggested a lack of consistency in monitoring and reporting of plagiarism across different areas of study and individual teaching staff. The high level of reporting in Communication Skills units was seen to reflect the high level of attention and engagement in relation to academic integrity, rather than an indication of unusually high instances of plagiarism in these units.

Getting proactive

After trying more of the same with limited success, from 2011 we shifted to a more proactive approach to plagiarism and academic integrity with teaching staff. At the same time there were parallel changes in the approach being taken with the students.

  • The ‘Plagiarism Policy’ became the ‘Academic Integrity Policy’
  • A hands-on Professional Development session was devoted to establishing a common understanding of responsibilities and processes which incorporated lecturer input into the redesign of Plagiarism Reporting Forms. Workshop resources included a presentation, plus slides on student quiz questions and case studies to discuss.
  • Plagiarism FAQs for teaching staff were developed
  • Time was allocated for a dedicated staff member to provide ongoing access and support for staff in relation to plagiarism and academic integrity
  • An Academic Integrity Quiz was incorporated into our staff induction process (now located on Moodle in the teacher support area, the Teaching Hub). Explore the new 10-question Academic Integrity Quiz:

Seeing positive results

The number of units reporting plagiarism reports more than doubled between 2009-2013, to approximately one-third of units consistently submitting reports of plagiarism. Far from seeing this as an indication of increased plagiarism at the college, we interpret it as an indication of increased engagement and intervention by teaching staff – a view that is reinforced by our interactions and communication with staff.

Some units have reached a stage of decreasing levels of plagiarism due to improved intervention and management. We have continued to revise and refine the processes related to the management of plagiarism. Working directly with staff has resulted in changes to practices which have had positive results in preventing and managing plagiarism in some units. All teaching staff have now completed the Staff Academic Integrity Quiz, a requirement for all new teaching staff.

It may seem that in seeking more staff engagement, measured by the number of reports and number of units reporting, we are actually promoting plagiarism – drumming up business. Not so! Parallel to the work being done to encourage staff engagement in the academic integrity process, there has been significant work aimed at student engagement in the academic integrity process and in plagiarism prevention and intervention.

Where to now?

We have seen significant improvements in staff engagement in the academic integrity process which seem to reflect and reinforce the actions and interventions we have implemented. However, there are remaining issues: there are still units which have a strong language component that are not reporting plagiarism, some staff still seem to think they can deal with plagiarism their way or not at all, and there are staff who still seem largely unaware of the academic integrity policy. We recognise that this is essentially a process of continuous improvement. We need to provide careful and consistent communication to staff about access to documents, the management of plagiarism and academic integrity and, importantly, the support available. We continue to work and improve and live in hope that forms will be completed correctly and we will not hear the words ‘what policy?‘ or ‘there’s a form?’