Academic Honesty

In a study in 2011 by the Pew Research Center, “Most college presidents (55%) say that plagiarism in students’ papers has increased over the past 10 years. Among those who have seen an increase in plagiarism, 89% say computers and the internet have played a major role.” The report goes on to note, “These findings are similar across different types of colleges and universities, nonprofits and for-profits, four-year and two-year institutions, community colleges, liberal arts colleges and research universities as well as across the spectrum of admissions selectivity.”1

In a 2001 review of research in the field of academic dishonesty and cheating, McCabe, Treviño and Butterfield2 cite several studies concluding that “the degree to which students perceive that their peers engage in cheating behavior” shows “the most significant relation” with academic dishonesty (p 222). Students also act according to their perceptions of how likely faculty are to deal strictly with cheating. The authors stress the need for developing a “community ethic” to encourage students to adopt and maintain values of academic honesty.

Here are a few simple ideas faculty can incorporate into their online (and face-to-face) courses.

Check Student Understanding

We can’t assume that students understand the concepts of academic honesty, no matter how many other college-level classes they’ve completed. In addition to referring students to the GSC Library & Information Commons, we recommend at the start of every term asking students to complete an exercise such as a confidential questionnaire that presents realistic reference scenarios and asks them to determine the ethically correct action, providing feedback on their responses. A variety of links are provided to avoid students being given the same activity in every course.

Foster Student Discussion

Many faculty members start their course with a “meet and greet” discussion in an online forum. Take this opportunity to ask students to talk about their knowledge of academic honesty procedures, especially after they have completed one of the activities described above. Students will often comment on their surprise at some of the rules of correct citation or fair use. Be as encouraging and non-judgmental as possible while prompting students to consider the costs of academic dishonesty, especially in terms of learning opportunities lost. Here’s a good source of questions you might use as conversation starters in a forum:
Purdue Online Writing Lab: Safe Practices Exercise

Scaffold Assignments to Include Drafts

The temptation to “borrow” material becomes especially strong with students who have procrastinated in working on a major assignment, as the final deadline approaches. Many students are not yet experienced with the steps needed to plan and write an extensive assignment. By asking for topic statements, reference lists, outlines, and early drafts throughout the term, we support students in learning research and planning skills, encourage students to feel a sense of investment in their own work, and we also gain a better sense of each student’s individual writing style. All of these factors combine to make academic honesty issues less likely.

Other Considerations

  • Lead by Example: It’s tempting to “borrow” an image or cartoon from a web search, but this content is often copyrighted and should be used by permission and/or with appropriate citations. Including copyrighted content– with appropriate considerations– helps your students see how important this practice is. Check your own understanding of the rules of fair use. Explore the GSC Library: Copyright Basics or reach out to the GSC Librarian for assistance in obtaining copyright clearance for content you wish to use in your courses.



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