Preventing Dishonesty in Written Assignments
Small changes to the learning environment have the potential to make a big impact1. Revamping an entire course all at once can be a daunting, if not impossible, task. A good place to start is to make bite size changes to a few assignments and other assessment opportunities.
- Talk about plagiarism in class. Students’ knowledge of plagiarism is inconsistent and they are frequently misinformed. Students’ understanding of what constitutes plagiarism varies, as do their reasons for doing it. Do not assume that your students understand how to summarize, paraphrase, and cite properly. Provide explicit instruction on quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing, as well as citation and referencing. Even senior students may not understand how to paraphrase or reference correctly.
- Acknowledge that integrating research and proper citation are skills that require practice and that some of these aspects are discipline specific. Writing in the humanities, for example, uses quotations frequently and fewer secondary sources. Social science research papers on the other hand, relies on summary and paraphrase.
- To help instructors prepare for these discussions, you may use and modify the Academic Integrity - Classroom Resource (.pptx), consisting of slides with questions, definitions and examples of types of academic dishonesty (e.g., plagiarism), and a list of University of Manitoba resources for students.
- Indicate clearly that all sources including lectures, presentations, print (including the textbook) and electronic texts must be cited. Encourage students to cite while they write using citation management software (e.g., Refworks, Zotero, Mendely) and to track their reference information, even it if is the source is inadequate. For example, although citing a Wikipedia source may not be ideal, not citing the source is plagiarism.
- Give clear guidelines for format and style and explain why and how they are used. To convince students about the appropriateness of using a citation style, it may be necessary to explain that using an established style provides uniformity within a document, making it easier to read, and allows the reader to identify and find the cited work. Students should never make up their own style.
- Provide bibliography and citation resources. Give students a list of useful websites and textbooks they should see out and/or handouts to help them learn the citing style appropriate for your assignments. In addition, you may want to arrange for a specialist from either the Student Advocacy Office or the Academic Learning Centre to speak on plagiarism and citing styles. Both offices offer workshops on Academic Integrity and Plagiarism. The Academic Learning Centre also offers free tutoring services to support students as they complete the assignments for your course.
- As part of your individual responsibility as a university teacher2, you must communicate your expectations with regards to group work and collaboration clearly. If you want students to collaborate3 (either formally as part of an assignment or informally), think about what you consider to be acceptable collaboration. Acceptable collaboration may vary from one assignment or course to the next, so indicating what you deem to be acceptable is important. Take some time to think about what is acceptable in each of the following areas:
- Joint research
- Peer editing
- Collaborating on the entire assignment
- Having each student complete a section of assignment
- Design plagiarism-proof assignments. Assign essay topics or other types of written assignments that are specific to your course and are timely in nature. This ensures that the assignments are more difficult to copy from previous students or from the Internet. Below are some additional ideas for plagiarism-proof assignments.
- Do not reuse the same assignment topics. Completely change the topics every term. If it is inappropriate to change the topic of the assignment, modify it so that the written response is not easily replicable. For example, insist that students include the current data or other types of information in their paper. Where possible, connect the topics to students’ experience and use Canadian or even Manitoba sources.
- Require students to turn in smaller elements of a whole paper. Elements like a prospectus, question, thesis summary, or an abstract of their draft require students to demonstrate familiarity with their paper and will help the instructor diagnose problems early4.
- Similar to the above idea, assign papers in stages: outline and explanation why they chose the topic, annotated bibliography, rough draft, and final paper with due dates for each stage distributed over the term4. In so doing, you also emphasize the value of starting on the assignment early and support students’ development of time-management skills.
- Assign an oral report on their paper. Students who can explain the concepts described in their papers and can discuss the sources they used are less likely to plagiarize.
- Design dialogic or dialectic assignments. In these types of assignments, students summarize an article or issue (usually one that is controversial) and then respond critically by presenting several viewpoints5. This type of assignment may help to avoid the “data dump” type of paper, which can lead to plagiarism and bad paraphrasing.
- Use in-class writing assignments that can serve as a bench marker. In class writing demonstrates knowledge with certain topics, which could be valuable in assessing students’ learning and writing.
- Require the reading and signing of academic integrity acknowledgement contracts that are assignment-specific. See the links that direct you to examples of such contracts.