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How do I support my students’ academic integrity?

Academic Integrity in Assessment

This resource is intended to assist you, as faculty, in supporting the development of academic integrity literacy in relation to your assessment practices. Developing an open dialogue and supportive approach to academic integrity in the UCD community fosters a sense of shared responsibility and values.  If we engage in conversions with our students and each other, we can begin to build a common sense of understanding.  This resource serves to assist you in navigating these complex and continually evolving challenges. It overviews the following themes: 

  • What is academic integrity? 
  • What drives breaches of academic integrity? 
  • Assessment design to support academic integrity
  • Detecting breaches of academic integrity 

Key Point

‘Academic integrity and ethical practice is a fundamental element of assessment and resonates with the aims and objectives of the UCD Strategy Rise to the Future and the national and international trends in the higher education landscape. 

(UCD Working Group on Academic Integrity, 2023-24)

What is Academic Integrity? 

One important approach to understanding academic integrity is the emphasis on the values that it embraces. For example, Academic Integrity has been described as  ‘a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to six fundamental values: 

  • honesty, 
  • trust, 
  • fairness, 
  • respect, 
  • responsibility, and 
  • courage. 

By embracing these fundamental values, instructors, students, staff, and administrators create effective scholarly communities where integrity is a touchstone.’ (ICAI, 2021, p4). Academic integrity in this context focuses on positive student and staff behaviours that enable an effective and honest engagement with learning and assessment, rather than the more negative behaviours that are emerging in higher education assessment practices, such as plagiarism and contract cheating. 

The National Academic Integrity Network (NAIN) has published the Academic Integrity: National Principles and Lexicon of Common Terms. The document serves as a great resource for building shared understanding of terminology. NAIN defines academic integrity as:

Compliance with ethical and professional principles, Standards, practices and a consistent system of values, that serves as guidance for making decisions and taking actions in education, research and scholarship. (p. 10).

Furthermore, academic misconduct is defined by NAIN as:

Behaviours perpetrated by individuals or institutions that transgress ethical standards held in common between other individuals and/ or groups in institutions of education, research or scholarship. (p. 9).

Although this webpage focuses on students’ academic integrity in their assessments, this area relates to all of us as we navigate how we approach ethical standards in our professional activities. Eaton (2023b) highlights this comprehensive more holistic view of academic integrity.

Comprehensive Academic Integrity (CAI) Framework

Comprehensive Academic Integrity Framework

Figure 1. Comprehensive Academic Integrity (CAI) Framework (Eaton, 2023b, with permission)

UCD’s Academic Regulations (4.13) highlight that ultimately a ‘student is responsible for the academic integrity of an assessment that they submit’. Additionally, the UCD Student Plagiarism Policy outlines for students several key definitions and responsibilities. It is advised to link to and review these policies with your students and to connect them to relevant areas in your curriculum broadly and specifically around assessment practices in your module(s).

What drives breaches of academic integrity?

There is a vast body of literature exploring academic integrity and related concepts (e.g. cheating, plagiarism, collusion, copyright violations). In fact, entire journals exist to cover the topic (see: Journal of Academic Ethics, International Journal for Educational Integrity.) In the decades of literature, scholars have explored motivations and reasoning to explain academic integrity breaches. A range of complex variables can help us to understand why students/staff can engage in breaches and will briefly explore a few here.  

Awareness and Understanding

One of the often cited reasons for violation of academic integrity is lack of awareness or understanding.  Waltzer and Dhal (2023) found that many students did not recognise their behaviour as cheating.  In their study of Irish university students, Risquez et al. (2013) found that students recognised certain behaviours as unethical, however they were unable to apply this understanding to their own practice or to identify certain acts as plagiarism.  These findings indicate the importance of continual discussion and transparency around all dimensions of academic integrity.  New technologies such as artificial intelligence agents like ChatGPT add increasing complexity to these conversations (Crawford et al., 2023).  

Cultural Practices 

Another area of the literature has explored the influence of cultural norms on academic integrity.  Abkar et al. (2022) have provided an indepth look at academic integrity practices in the Muslim world and how religious values can impact understanding.  In a study of Chinese universities, Ma et al. (2023) found congruence with much of the existing literature and noted unique contextual factors influencing student behaviour. In the edited volume Academic Integrity in Canada: An Enduring and Essential Challenge (Eaton & Christensen Hughes, 2022), scholars share how Indigenous ways of knowing (which place a high value on collaboration) can challenge Western conceptions of authorship.  

Overload and Pressure to Succeed 

Consistently, research points to students feeling pressure to succeed as a motivating factor for academic dishonesty (Miller et al., 2017). The stress of the COVID pandemic has added another complicated layer to the conversation (Jenkins et al., 2022.) Additionally, research shows that students have varied conceptions and perceptions when it comes to topics such as plagiarism and cheating.  For example, Evering and Moorman (2012) found that students cite such reasons as “vague assignments, lack of interest, lack of understanding, maintaining grade point averages” as motivations for cheating.  Bretag et al. (2018) cited cultural differences such as second language learning, disciplinary norms and pressures, and assignments with short turn around times and heavy grade weighting as influencing their behaviours to cheat. 

Assessment design to support academic integrity

In relation to ensuring that students act in a manner that has academic integrity, there are some general overarching principles/guidance in relation to your assessment design. These in particular address the importance of student education and prevention.  Note: The use of detection (with or without the use of technology) has also an important part to play and this is dealt with later in this web-page.

In addition to the general advice for designing assessment for encouraging academic integrity, some particular areas require some specific advice, for example: use (or not) of artificial intelligence, plagiarism, contract cheating, collusion/collaboration and copyright. First we will look at general guidance and followed by this specific guidance. 

General Guidance

Following a literature review (Egan, 2018), O’Riordan et al (2021) highlighted some academic integrity principles for assessment design. They are divided under three categories: standards, assessment design and the importance of developing student ownership in this area.  The table below provides their principles for each category, with some embedded links to UCD and other related resources.

Standards
  • Set high academic standards which value university, programme, and student/graduate reputation.
  • Provide detailed information and direction on how students might avoid breaches of academic integrity, and ensure consistency across a programme team.
  • Regularly update and edit assessments, and programme assessment strategies.
Assessment Design
  • Use clear marking criteria and rubrics to reward positive behaviours associated with academic integrity
  • Design assessment that motivate and challenge students to do the work themselves (or in assigned groups/pairs)
  • Ensure assessment are authentic, current and relevant
  • Adopt a scaffolded and
  • Consider assessment briefs that have open-ended solution or more than one solution
Student Ownership
  • Include elements for students to record their individual pathways of thinking demonstrating students own work, (e.g. portfolios)
  • Develop assessment which allow students to prepare personalised assessments (either individually or group based)
  • Build in a form of questioning or presentation/viva type defense component
  • Co-design assessments or elements of assessment (e.g. rubrics) with students

Table 1: Academic Integrity Principles for Assessment Design (Egan, 2018; O’Riordan et al, 2021)

In addition to the above general guidance, linked with the idea of student ownership is the use of ‘honesty codes/ ‘honour pledges’. ‘Honour pledges are formal, student-led commitments to uphold the principles of academic honesty and integrity’ (McMaster University, 2023). An Honesty Code is intended to remind students of the ethical considerations and expected behaviours when completing assessments, and the consequences of academic misconduct. Module Coordinators may also wish to implement the Honesty Code within their module assessments and there are a number of ways of doing this: 

  • Use the ‘checklist’ functionality with ‘release condition’ in Brightspace to implement the Honesty Code whereby the student would be required to accept the checklist item (i.e., the Honesty Code) before completing the assignment/quiz. See UCD IT Services resource on how to set this up.
  • For an online quiz, the Honesty Code could be presented as the first mandatory question in the quiz that the student must "accept" before proceeding further.  
  • For an assignment, the student could be required to paste the text of the Honesty Code and their acceptance of same into their assignment submission. The following is a recommended text for a UCD Honesty Code: As a UCD student, I declare that I have read and understand the following statements:
    • Academic Integrity is the practice of honesty and ethics in scholarship. All students of UCD are expected to engage in their studies with honesty at all times.
    • Academic misconduct includes any action or attempted action that may result in creating an unfair academic advantage, this includes plagiarism, copying, possession of anything other than permitted resources during an examination and collusion with others in an examination.
    • The UCD Student Code of Conduct and UCD Student Plagiarism Policy set out the University's regulations and expectations in respect of student behaviour and conduct during examinations. The University's Student Discipline Procedure  outlines the process followed when dealing with allegations of academic misconduct. Any breach of the UCD Student Code of Conduct or the UCD Student Plagiarism Policy may result in disciplinary action being taken under the Student Discipline Procedure.

Specific Guidance

Some areas require more specific advice, please see further details below on these areas.

Artificial intelligence in education was brought to our attention with the arrival of ChatGPT in late 2022. Hwang et al. (2020) put forth an overarching descriptive definition of Artificial Intelligence in Education (AIEd) stating

AIEd refers to the use of AI technologies or applications in educational settings to facilitate instruction, learning, and decision making processes of stakeholders, such as students, instructors, and administrators (p. 1).

There is a growing debate on the most effective and ethical approach to the use of Generative AI in higher education (AAIN, 2023). Some ways that people are using AI in learning and assessment, include designing in (using and acknowledging Generative AI to enhance student learning) and designing to minimise the use of Generative AI (discouraging its use in student learning). The approach(es) that you decide to use in your module may depend on the disciplinary nature of your module and your own view/values on the use of Generative AI in this context. Whichever approach you use, you should clearly communicate this to the students in the module documentation and you should encourage dialogue with your students on the use of it in the module. For further guidance to UCD faculty, see our Quick Guide on Generative Artificial Intelligence in Learning and Assessment.

Plagiarism is the inclusion, in any form of assessment, of material without due acknowledgement of its original source  (UCD Student Plagiarism Policy (2021).  This includes traditional ‘copy and paste’ and related intentional (and unintentional) failure to adequately acknowledge source material, collusion,  as well as newer forms of academic misconduct such as contract cheating. 

It can include, but is not limited to: 

  • Failing to cite and acknowledge sources properly. 
  • Making minor changes to text or paraphrasing from sources like the internet, journals and books, and presenting this as your own words. 
  • Working collaboratively with other students but presenting the work as solely your own. 
  • Presenting work for an assignment which has also been submitted (in part or whole) for another assignment at UCD or another institution. This is known as ‘self-plagiarism’. 
  • Buying assignments from companies such as ‘essay mills’ is never permitted and is a serious breach of the University’s Student Plagiarism Policy and the Student Code of Conduct (Guide to UCD Student Plagiarism, 2021

In your assessment design, particularly in early stage modules,  provide students with guidance on what are the different forms of plagiarism (including self-plagiarism), the correct approaches to citation in your discipline including conventions for paraphrasing. Practice what you preach: provide a list of references at the end of each lecture using the citation style that the students are required to use. 

As each school uses different citation styles and versions of styles, provide students with links to the relevant library citation style guides.  Encourage students to organise their references using electronic referencing software. UCD Library provides training in Endnote which allows students to store and manage their references, as well as create a bibliography electronically within MS Word using a number of referencing styles. The Library provides a detailed EndNote Guide. This includes the EndNote course timetable.

UCD Library, as part of the work on information literacy skills, offers a range of supports and resources in this area: a dedicated Academic Integrity Guide, which includes; video tutorials, advice on avoiding plagiarism,  citation styles used in UCD, tips on writing, quotation, paraphrasing and more. 

UCD Librarians work with module coordinators in designing, delivering and assessing information literacy skills, including the ethical use of information.  Librarians are happy to work with you in co–designing and customising inputs appropriate to your discipline and level.

Purchasing of essays/assignments from a third party is often called contract cheating. It is considered a form of plagiarism under UCD’s definition of plagiarism (UCD Student Plagiarism Policy (2021) In addition, due to the increase in this activity, there has been recent legislation introduced in Ireland, making it an offence to: 'facilitate a learner to cheat in any way; advertise cheating services to learners; and publish advertisements for cheating services to learners'.

The first approach is to try to prevent contract cheating occurring in the first place. In a study in Australia (Bretag, et al., 2018), students’ perceptions of cheating likelihood were highest amongst students who: speak a language other than English at home; reported there to be lots of opportunities to cheat; expressed dissatisfaction with the teaching and learning environment; were studying commerce or engineering; assessment tasks that encouraged cheating had short turnaround times and those that are heavily weighted and lack authenticity. Being aware of these variables in your assessment design process in one key approach to reducing its likelihood. 

As many contract cheating sites (‘essay mills’) are very well produced and appear as legitimate learning spaces, it is important to recognise and raise awareness of the ethics behind these sites. At times they provide incentives for students to engage with their products. You need to alert students to the risks associated with engaging with commercial essay mills, including the risk of being blackmailed. 

There has been a growing emphasis in higher education policies and practice to support students to collaborate in their learning through work with peers, in groups and in teams. It is an important skill required by students beyond the institution in the workplace. However there has been a growing uneasiness in higher education around the boundaries between acceptable cooperation or collaboration and unacceptable collusion (see also, Smith (2013). 

Collaboration is a positive aspect of human behaviour, as working with and helping others is a powerful learning experience. Students in particular like to support their peers in informal and formal learning contexts.  Collaborative assignments are on the increase in higher education.   UCD Code of Practice (2021) sets out some guidance on the use and assessment of group work.  In  particular it emphasises the importance of clarity to students around how collaboration is graded: ‘ It shall be made clear how the module will be assessed and whether the assessment strategy is based on the product of the group work, the process of the group work or a combination of both the product and process’ (3.4). In addition, UCD Teaching and Learning gives some guidance on the advantages and disadvantages, design consideration and to prepare students for group work. 

Collusion on the other hand is often described an unwanted behavior and one definition is: 

           ‘Collusion is the presentation by a student of an assessment task as his or her own which:

  • In whole or in part is the result of unauthorised collaboration with another person/persons.
  • Is plagiarised due to inappropriate collaboration during group work. 
  • Involves working with others without permission.
  • Is the product of two or more students working together without official approval. 
  • Is the product of unauthorised cooperation between the student and another person. 
  • Is a form of academic dishonesty (cheating) because it is the same or very similar to that of another student’ (Smith, 2013, p51)

One common area for collusion is gaining ‘significant support’ from family and friends. 

 Given that staff and students struggle with the boundaries between what is authorised and what is not, a key element in addressing this is explaining to students, with examples, what is allowed and what is not allowed. Transparency is key. For example, 

  • Sharing answers in an open book exam, where it has been specified that this is not allowed, is collusion
  • Students studying together in study groups is collaboration. 
  • Emotional support and advice from family/friends is appropriate, however, their significant input, or writing/doing aspects of your assignment, is collusion

La Trobe University gives some useful advice and examples for students on how to avoid collusion.  It may also be helpful for Schools to have an agreed position on much help is permissible (in terms of proof reading etc.) and to communicate that clearly to students

Another area that students need to be made aware of in relation to their assessment is the issue of copyright. 

Copyright is a form of intellectual property that grants rights to the creators ("authors") of certain categories of works, such as books, songs, plays or films. When you are the owner of a copyright work, you have the exclusive right to copy the work, make the work available to the public and make an adaptation of the work.

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment: Copyright Guidance 

Copyright allows a person to protect their original material and stops others from using their work without the author’s permission. Students need to respect this ownership and abide by the licences/permission in their assessments when using, for example, text, images, artifacts, etc.

In using copyright materials, however, there are a number of ‘exceptions’ that may apply to those in Higher Education. These enable one to use copyright protected works without the need to seek permission, so long as certain conditions are met.

One particular exception is Fair Dealing’, which relates to any individual in relation to their work. This allows one to copy limited extracts of a work provided its use is for non-commercial purposes (such as education and research) and that will not prejudice the interests of the copyright owner.  Such use must be accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement identifying the author and title of the work. Examples may include: using an excerpt in presentations - however it must be a ‘reasonable proportion’ of the original work, i.e. a volume that is considered fair. Another exception, specific to education,  is Educational Usage’, where one may use copyright materials in the preparation of and delivery of teaching, including in an online environment (E.g. within an authenticated site such as our VLE Brightspace). One may also use such materials in the course of an examination. 

To prevent students (or indeed yourself) in breaching copyright: 

Detecting Breaches of Academic Integrity  

Supporting student academic integrity literacy, good assessment design and developing positive student values and behaviours are the preferred approach to supporting academic integrity. The use and impact of approaches to detecting breaches, however, has a place in this debate. 

Inappropriate use of AI, plagiarism, use of contract cheating essays/assignment may be suspected by some of the following indicators:

  • A change in writing or language style from the student’s usual style or within a paper – a different ‘voice’;
  • Use of a mix of English/American spellings or phrasing;
  • Use of incorrect/incomplete reference details in the bibliography;
  • Use of quotations in the paper which do not have matched citations in the bibliography;
  • Unusual or poor layout of essay, for instances where material is ‘cut and pasted’, or the spacing within a paper is ‘off’;
  • Use of graphs, charts etc. within an essay where there are no matched references.
  • Irregularities in the ‘Properties’ section of the document, such as ‘author’, ‘creation’ and ‘last modified’ dates. 

Plagiarism detection software has become increasingly popular in higher education as a means of dealing with and preventing plagiarism. Ouriginal by Turnitin (formerly known as Urkund) is UCD’s current originality/similarity checking or plagiarism prevention tool in Brightspace. Although this is available in all UCD modules through Brightspace, Faculty can choose to use, or not use, the tool. Using software to detect breaches to academic integrity has advantages and disadvantages for both students and staff. 

The advantages include:

  • Making students aware that detection software is used may have a positive impact on their behaviour;
  • For staff, using Urkund/Originality Checker provides objective evidence on whether to progress a charge of plagiarism. 

The disadvantages include:

  • The software can produce false positives which can have a significant impact on students 
  • Its use can impact on the staff-student relationship and removes the ownership of academic integrity away from the student. 

Figure 2 Academic Integrity Arms Race (Eaton, 2023b, with permission)

Resources

Find out more about UCD and national guidance and policy on academic integrity:

References