Encouraging a Culture of Academic Honesty

Angel BrainI have received many notes and calls from faculty this term similar to the following:

“I have been having this ongoing issue with my students using the Internet or other resources and sometimes I suspect and other times I know they have cut an pasted info straight from the internet. They don’t seem to get that that’s not acceptable.”

This is an ongoing problem with college (and other) students. 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.

What are some tools we can use to help encourage this community ethic? 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 have completed or what pledges they may have signed. In addition to referring students to the GSC Library Research Toolkit, we recommend at the start of every term asking students to complete an exercise such as a confidential questionnaire that presents students with realistic scenarios of use of references and asks them to determine the ethically correct action, providing feedback on their responses. Many such questionnaires exist on the internet at public universities and other institutions of higher learning. A variety of links are provided to avoid students being given the same activity in every course.

Interactive Plagiarism Game at Lycoming College

Plagiarism Tutorial with Pretest and Posttest (University of Southern Mississippi)

Indiana University School of Education: How to Recognize Plagiarism

Wayne State University Plagiarism Quiz

IRIS: Plagiarism Quiz (Clark)

Goucher Plagierism by Paraphrase Risk Quiz

Is it Plagiarism? (University of Maine)

Identifying and Avoiding Plagiarism (Hong Kong University)

Information Literacy Tutorial

The Cite is Right (Rutgers)

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

Structure 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.

Build Constructive Relationships

Students are less likely to cheat if they have a positive relationship with their instructors. Be present in the course. Offer prompt, detailed and constructive feedback on assignments and student activities in the course. Avoid trivial or repetitive assignments, and emphasize assignments that allow students to relate course topics to their own experiences and needs. Help students to believe that their own work matters.

Lead by Example

Be scrupulous about your own use of copyrighted material in your course. It is often tempting to “borrow” an image or cartoon from a web search, but such content is 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 with these resources:

Know Your Copy Rights: Using Copyrighted Works in Academic Settings

GSC Library: Copyright Basics

Copyright Primer for Online Education (Washburn University) and Quizzes

The GSC Librarian can assist you in obtaining copyright clearance for content you wish to use in your courses.

Using “Plagiarism Detection” Software

Granite State College does not provide subscriptions to any online reference check services at this time. There are services you can subscribe to independently if you feel they will benefit your teaching, or if you wish to recommend them to your students so they can check their own work. One example of such a service is Grammarly, which can also be used by students to provide proofreading and a grammar and style check. This may be especially helpful for English as a Second Language students. (Note: Granite State College has no financial relationship with Grammarly or with any other assignment checking software, nor is this suggestion an official endorsement by the College.)

If you choose to use such services, let your students know in your syllabus and in an announcement at the beginning of each term that you may check their work using an online reference checker, and encourage them to use these tools themselves if they are unsure whether they have cited their references correctly. Be aware that these tools are not a guarantee against student plagiarism or cheating– students can become highly adept at obscuring copied material, and there are also online services available which sell custom-written essays. But in conjunction with the strategies above, these tools can be helpful in identifying cases in which students still fail to understand academic standards of citations and references. In particular, some tools, e.g. Grammarly, will offer students advice on how to properly cite material they have included in their work.

Reputable reference-checking services are not, in general, free. If selecting or recommending online reference checking services, be aware that some “free” sites and software collect and resell student work as “examples,” ultimately undermining the culture of academic honesty we are trying to build.


2012 University of Arizona Study finds 66% of students admit to having cheated

March 13, 2012: University of Florida students caught cheating on computer science projects

Massachusetts firm provides facial recognition biometrics technology to UK to prevent cheating


1 http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/08/28/the-digital-revolution-and-higher-education/


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