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Ryerson University journalism instructor Alex Gillis writes about catching a few of his students fabricating sources and plagiarizing assignments in an article for Concordia University’s Centre for Teaching and Learning Services. Though he’d selectively fact-checked assignments, Gillis says it took one student reporting another student’s misconduct for him to find out about the fabricators. “[Their] discipline involved difficult meetings, failed assignments, and three students dropping out,” he says.
For many students, the belief outside of the classroom is that cheating is something you can get away with, or that has insignificant consequences. “Each year, my students watch at least one superstar, professional journalist evade punishment after a spectacular case of fabrication or plagiarism,” says Gillis. Yet at the university level, schools are now putting in stricter policies about academic misconduct, and students may face severe consequences. If one of Gillis’ students cheats on an assignment, they receive an automatic zero; if he finds serious fabrications, they could fail the entire course.
Students cheat for a variety of reasons, according to Ryerson University’s Academic Integrity web site. One reason is that “overloaded and stressed students may be inclined to take shortcuts.”
Here’s how you can avoid the situations that lead to cheating and other violations of academic integrity.
Know the Rules
To start, be sure you know what exactly is considered cheating. Most students understand that they shouldn’t copy or obtain the answers to an exam in advance. But some are a little fuzzy on the finer points. Make sure to read through your school’s academic integrity policy, because not knowing the rules is not an acceptable excuse.
In a recent Student Health 101 survey, 24 percent of respondents believed that posting or using test information on a web site or Facebook was not a form of cheating, and 42 percent didn’t think collaborating on a take-home quiz or exam was either. Yet both of these are breaches of academic integrity that could get you a zero for the work, an F for the class, or even suspended from school.
Your school and professors probably made a point of explaining academic integrity policies the moment you stepped into the classroom. As policies can vary based on the department, it’s important to ask questions to be sure you understand them. It’s ultimately up to you to understand, and abide by, the rules. If you are unsure of your school’s academic integrity policy, your student handbook (which is often available online) is a good place to look.
Take a quiz to see how much you know about cheating
Think you know the rules?Take one of these quizzes to test your academic integrity smarts:
Do You Copy?
Academic integrity isn’t just about cheating. It’s also about respect for other people’s work and ideas, whether it’s your fellow students’ or the words and ideas expressed in material you access for research. In fact, reusing even your own work from a different class, without your professor’s explicit permission, is considered plagiarism.
There are many resources out there to help you understand proper citation. When you’ve been reading a lot about a topic and aren’t organized, it can be difficult to figure out what are your notes, and what you’ve written verbatim from a source. The University of Toronto’s Writing Centres suggest taking careful notes as you work, keeping track of original sources. In the age of the internet, a suspicious professor need only type a phrase into a search engine to recognize plagiarism.
If you are unclear on proper citation conventions or how to document sources and ideas in your work, visit your school’s writing lab, speak with a peer tutor, or consult your instructors.
Time management skills can help ensure that you stay on top of your assignments and class work, reducing the pressure that sometimes leads students to cheat.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed or panicked, it might be tempting to copy text or make up research. Keep track of deadlines for assignments so you’re not tempted to cheat when one sneaks up on you.
More online help
If you do find yourself in trouble, either because you’re feeling a time crunch or are struggling with course material, ask for help. If you are utterly overwhelmed, let your professors know as soon as possible. They may be more sympathetic earlier in the process, rather than if you make an eleventh-hour plea for extra time.
Avoid temptation. The University of Saskatchewan’s Regulations on Student Academic Misconduct says that in many cases, misconduct occurs as a result of a student’s “misunderstanding or carelessness.” Cheating on exams can be a crime of opportunity. That is, students find themselves in a situation where the answers are very available.
In a 2002 survey of cheating on Canadian campuses, Julia Christensen Hughes, Director of the University of Guelph’s Teaching Support Services, and Donald McCabe, the founding president of Duke’s Center for Academic Integrity, found that faculty and students had a difference in opinion on what constitutes cheating. “[One such] example is getting questions and answers in advance of writing an exam. When faculty use the same exam from semester to semester, and believe they have controlled access, some students inevitably manage to get hold of old copies. Is this cheating or a sensible approach to studying?”
More about how to avoid temptations
- Check your school’s exam policies to know what materials you are allowed to bring into an exam room.
- Turn off your cellphone and put it away during exams.
- Wear a watch if you need to keep track of the time and can’t see a clock.
This puts the focus on getting higher grades by any means possible, rather than on the process of learning. This can affect you later on, if you are expected to build upon the knowledge from another course, and didn’t learn the material the first time around.
In reality, cheating harms everyone. It can skew curved grading, make professors and other students distrustful, and wear down the culture of integrity on campus.
See Something, Say Something
If you become aware of another student cheating in some way, don’t ignore it. Find a way to alert your instructor or a dean. You don’t have to identify the other student by name, and you often can be anonymous, too.
Many schools have a mechanism for submitting concerns about academic integrity to an honour board or ombudsperson. By making people aware that someone is being dishonest, they can look for signs and usually figure out who it is.
Although it might be tempting to confront the person, there’s no need to speak to your peer directly. In fact, it may not be the best option. If you do, try and be helpful. Suggest other choices that are available, or inform them of resources, such as the writing centre, that could help.
- You might be surprised what constitutes cheating. Learn about its many forms.
- Review your school’s honour code or academic integrity guidelines.
- Learn how to document properly. Visit your school’s writing lab, a peer tutor, or consult your instructors or an online resource.
- Plan ahead and speak with professors if you’re having trouble with material.
- Notify a professor, advisor, or other trusted resource if you see or hear about a classmate cheating or plagiarizing.
Get help or find out more
Concordia University, Citation and Style Guides
Queen’s University, How to Cite Sources: Citations and Style Guides
Simon Fraser University Library, Plagiarism Tutorial
University of Alberta, Guide to Plagiarism
University of Guelph, Test Your Understanding of Plagiarism