Preventing Academic Irresponsibility

The two most common allegations of academic irresponsibility are inappropriate collaboration and plagiarism.

Here are some ways faculty members can help prevent these from happening in their classes.

Preventing Inappropriate Collaboration

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.

See a sample syllabus statement

Preventing and Detecting Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a particularly thorny problem on college campuses. Part of the problem is that students in high schools here and abroad do not learn in detail what plagiarism is and are not held to the same standards that are generally applied at the college level.

Some of them bring with them practices such as paraphrasing or patchwriting (piecing together ideas and parts of sentences from many different sources without citing) that were not scrutinized in the same way they are at Bucknell.

Others find themselves racing against deadlines and take the easy way out in order to get a paper in on time. Most do not see plagiarism as an ethical issue in the same way that faculty do.

Educating Students

Educating our students about plagiarism is the best way to prevent it.

All first-year students must take an interactive online academic responsibility orientation before they arrive on campus, but these are lessons that must be taught more than once in order for the students to internalize them.

Describing the different forms of plagiarism is a good start. Having students study and analyze examples of plagiarized text is even better. If we do a thorough job educating our students, the number of cases involving plagiarism will drop significantly. It will become less likely that a student who commits plagiarism will do so out of ignorance or carelessness.

At Bucknell, we subscribe to the TurnItIn anti-plagiarism service that allows us to check student essays for originality. TurnItIn is integrated with Moodle and has both a “before-the-fact” and “after-the-fact” mechanism for checking student essays for originality.

Before the Fact

If you want to discourage students from submitting work that has been copied from other sources without proper citation or credit, you can create a “TurnItin Assignment” in your Moodle course.

Students submit their essays, and these submissions are checked against a database of publicly available sources, other work submitted by Bucknell students and essays submitted by students at other universities that license TurnItIn.

TurnItIn produces an “originality score” that indicates what percentage of the submitted document appears to copy language from other sources. Because sentences that students intentionally quote (and attribute correctly) can appear to be matches, a matching score in the low teens is not necessarily problematic. Originality scores that are higher could warrant closer analysis.

TurnItIn provides specific comparisons between the language in the student essay and the language in the pre-existing source, allowing faculty members to determine whether inappropriate copying has occurred.

After the Fact

We recommend the “before-the-fact” approach, but faculty members who don’t want all student submissions checked for originality can use an “after-the-fact” approach, submitting an individual student essay that arouses suspicion to TurnItIn.

Faculty members will need an electronic copy of the essay, preferably a Word document or a .pdf file with a text layer added. To submit an individual student essay or essays, faculty members need to create a TurnItIn assignment in a Moodle course, hide the assignment from students, and then submit the suspicious student essay(s) to TurnItIn via the hidden assignment.

The submissions will generate an originality report within 30 minutes after the essay is submitted, which the faculty member can review.

Online Resources at Bucknell

The Bucknell Writing Center offers resources to help students as they complete writing assignments.