Addressing Academic Dishonesty

The Basics

As teachers, our first responsibility in addressing academic dishonesty is to share with students that we know that plagiarism is on the increase, and that we are working to prevent them from committing it. We can do this by including a statement on our syllabus that indicates that we follow the WCC Board policy on plagiarism, which states that “All forms of academic dishonesty including but not limited to collusion, fabrication, cheating, and plagiarism will call for discipline. ” Students should know that there are clear and direct consequences at WCC for academic dishonesty. We can also let them know on our syllabus that we routinely check student work for plagiarism, whether we have a “hunch” or not.

The Process

In order to make it clear to students what their consequences will be should I suspect plagiarism, I walk them through the WCC procedure for addressing academic dishonesty, which requires the following steps be taken:

  1. I must meet with the Student ASAP to discuss my concerns. If there are to be any consequences for the student, I must follow the remaining steps.
  2. Within three days of the first meeting with the student, I must notify the student and my dean in writing that I think I have found evidence of plagiarism in their work. I must make it clear to the student in writing that if they want counsel, they may call the Vice President of Student Affair’s office to request counsel. Also, I must include a copy of the Academic Dishonesty board policy from page 154 of the current Student Handbook with the written notice to the student. The board policy on Academic Dishonesty is also available on line, and printing that entire section off from the website will suffice.
  3. The student must respond to the plagiarism charge to my dean in writing within five days. If there is no communication to the dean, the matter is left in their hands. Within fifteen days of this time, the dean will investigate the charge and respond to the student and instructor directly.
  4. Should the student wish to appeal the decision of the dean, she may appeal to the office of the Vice President of Student Affairs.

Quality Control

Something I enjoy mentioning to students at the beginning of a course is that as an instructor who has visited several of the “term paper for sale” sites on the Internet, I am happy to report to students that the majority of the papers that are for sale are not very good – they are quotation heavy, rote, predictable, unoriginal and formulaic. In short , they have many of the qualities we are working to help students eliminate from their writing. I have found it is also valuable to discuss with students the concept of academic integrity and why it is a value we are working at WCC to encourage and support.

The Plagiarism Conversation at Other Institutes

Dr. Rosemary Rader has used the material listed at the University of Alberta link below to open discussions among faculty regarding plagiarism. The site includes some material compiled from other sources, but also clearly works to support and promote understanding among faculty. One important thing for us as faculty to understand, since many of our students work full time, raise families, and take 15 credits a term – is that given the pressures on them, it is understandable that some desperate (or lazy) students might find themselves in a moral grey zone regarding their coursework. The fewer opportunities for plagiarism we provide them, and the more clearly we work in our classrooms to discuss the issues involved with academic honesty and why it might matter, the better we serve them. The first page of the University of Alberta Library website states ” Faculty can influence students by talking about the importance of academic integrity at the beginning of the term, outlining expectations, treating students with respect, cultivating trust, and embracing the values of academic integrity themselves.” Creating an atmosphere where honesty is expected and practiced can only encourage our students to do their own work.

Demanding Original Work

In addition, we can design assignments that incorporate specific information we give our students, and we can work to change our assignments from term to term so that students don’t have the option of using work from former students in our classrooms. If we change our textbooks and classroom handouts periodically to ensure that the criteria in our assignments don’t stay static, we encourage students to do their own work. Insisting that students use sources from specific materials shared by your class, or that students choose topics that are uniquely appropriate for a particular term, can help students avoid the lure of open ended and vaguely proposed assignments, which are the type most likely to tempt students to steal the work of others.   Perhaps less obviously, if we create a climate in our classrooms where mistakes are tolerated and can become opportunities for learning, we foster a community of learners who will be more willing to take risks. Students don’t come to us already knowing how to produce documented work, we must create the space for them to learn how to do it. If we provide clear examples of what our expectations are, we help them to create that knowledge for themselves and make it their own. Another way we can work to avoid cheating and plagiarism in our classrooms is to ensure that a good portion of students’ work happens in the classroom. To work at improving our writing curriculum, the English department at WCC has recently changed the exit criteria for our writing classes 050, 091, 111 and 226 to include the following statement:

Students must be able to demonstrate ‘C’ level competency on in-class writing in order to be eligible to pass the course with a grade of C or better. In-class writing is writing that is written independently during class, under the observation of the instructor, and without the benefit of electronic or other means of tutorial intervention.

It is our hope that this change will make it clear to our students that to succeed academically they must be able to reliably produce their own work.

Proving the Case

There are several straightforward ways to check student work for plagiarism – typing in a verbatim phrase from a student paper to (usually 6 – 10 words will do) can quickly detect some instances of plagiarism. Another direct way to check is to ask the student to share their references or copy pages from their research to attach so that you can clearly see what and how they used the information they learned through their research. Making it clear to students that no more than 30% of their paper should include quoted or paraphrased information can also help to make sure that students take responsibility for doing their own work.  If you find yourself with evidence that suggests a student has either inadvertently or intentionally plagiarized, let them know that you need to discuss their research methods with them as soon as possible. I have found that letting students know why I want to meet with them, and beginning our in-person conversation by asking them if they have anything they would like to tell me, is a pretty effective method of calmly discussing the problem, and most often students confess.

Plagiarism Isn’t Just For Writing Anymore

It is important to remember to that plagiarism does not only concern written pieces. Using images from the internet or from other student’s work is plagiarizing. Presenting a powerpoint presentation someone else created as your own work is plagiarism. Taking work that someone else has done on a vehicle, machine, piece of music or any other sort of artifact and presenting as your own work, is plagiarism. It’s important to remember that one of the ways we can create a climate of academic honesty is to model it for our students by clearly indicating where we get our ideas as teachers, and if we are using assignments or lessons which others helped create, to make it clear who helped create the work.

Our Students Are Here to Learn, not to Cheat

Our students definitely need to know that they are capable of doing their own work. By creating an atmosphere that includes respect and trust in our classrooms, and communicating honestly with students about our concerns, we encourage them to see that they can exceed their expectations. Learning to correctly document research is a central part of being in the academic community- and communicating that as our goal for our students shows them that we are committed to their learning.

Online Resources:

Center for Academic Integrity – from Duke University

Avoiding Plagiarism – from Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL]

Plagiarism ( – a refreshing site from Utah Valley State College discussing plagiarism as an issue in our culture that requires thoughtful and calm discourse. Student friendly concepts as well as concrete suggestions for instructors. The first line reads: You may be surprised to learn that plagiarism (“stealing”)* is not a concrete issue but a complex and contentious practice that is perceived in a wide variety of ways. Intriguing ideas.

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