More and more faculty members have seen the value of collaborative learning and have encouraged students to work together. Parallel to the rise in collaborative learning activities, we have encountered a rise in the number of academic misconduct cases where students are accused of improper collaboration.
The problem is that what is perfectly acceptable and even encouraged in one class is considered illegal in another class. And even within the same course, different levels of collaboration are permitted on different assignments. This is very confusing to students, so your expectations need to be made very explicit. Students who are accused of unauthorized collaboration often report that they got mixed or fuzzy messages – or no message at all – about the kinds and extent of collaboration that the faculty member authorized on a particular assignment. They say that they were encouraged all semester to work together and assumed that meant they could talk about ideas for papers and take-home exams. They have a hard time understanding where to draw the line between talking in general about concepts and talking in greater detail about what ideas to include in their paper and what examples to use to support them.
It’s a good idea to put a statement on your syllabus and on each assignment hand-out that makes explicit what kinds of collaboration you allow and what is not permitted and then to discuss it with the students to make sure they know the difference.
The Academic Responsibility > Policies and Procedures section of the Bucknell web site contains a section entitled "Solitary and Cooperative Learning" and one entitled "Appropriate Practices in Cooperative Learning" to which you may wish to refer.
There is also an excellent discussion of this issue on the UC-Davis web site: "Unauthorized Collaboration: What Students Need To Know"