Academic Dishonesty and Designing Assignments
Assignments: Best Practices ||
Faculty can help their students with academic integrity by first designing
assignments that are plagiarism-resistant. Research shows that careful
assignment design can go a long way to preventing plagiarism (Cummings,
2003; see also Gibelman,
Gelman, & Fast, 1999); Malouff
& Sims, 1996; Kloss, 1996)
Here are some techniques for designing plagiarism-resistant assignments:
- Consider dropping the open-topic theme. The
more specific the assignment, the smaller the universe of information
students can use to search and perhaps use inappropriately.
- Know your field of research. If you require
your students to do research, be sure that you have done the research
yourself in advance. You will be familiar with many of the sources
your students are using and you might recognize suspicious wording,
etc. And if you demonstrate to your students that you have done
the research yourself, you show your own commitment to the topic.
You also give them reason to know that you won’t be fooled,
and this in itself can discourage academic dishonesty.
- Word assignments precisely. It might not be
enough to tell your students to cite their sources. You might
also need to assign them the specific citation style, give them
examples, and point out resources where they can get help. The
to Citation gives detailed instructions for citing common
publication types, and it points to other resources as well.
- Incorporate information literacy standards into your
assignments, particularly the need to critically evaluate
information, synthesize it and use it, rather than simply collect
it and quote it, paraphrase it, or summarize it. The American
Library Association has put together a fine resource defining
information literacy and listing the five competencies at Information
Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.
- Become familiar with the student’s “voice.”
Have your students write early in the semester or term. A potent
signal that a student may have plagiarized is a sudden change
in language, style, and “voice,” i.e. the way a student
sounds in their writing. The VAIL Guide to Plagiarism
Alarms gives a good overview of this and other signals that
plagiarism may have occurred.
- Structure long writing assignments in small chunks or
drafts so that students can make incremental progress
and not be led down the path of procrastination and plagiarism
due to panic. Procrastination is a leading reason why students
plagiarize in the first place (Roig
& DeTommaso, 1995)
- Assign annotated bibliographies, requiring
students to provide abstracts of their sources in their own words.
Librarians at Cornell University have put together a fine resource
on the process at How
to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography.
- Have students turn in a log or journal of their research,
including the names of the search tools used (catalog, search
engine, subscription database) and search terms used. Sample their
tools and strategies by trying to replicate a few at random. Ask
questions if the search cannot be replicated. The University of
Maryland University College instituted an undergraduate course,
Information Literacy and Research Methods, in which the development
of such a research log is a central focus.
- Discuss student papers in class. Ask questions
about the meaning of suspicious passages. If students cannot explain
what they have written, perhaps they are not the true author.
If students know in advance that they might be required to discuss
their papers, this may deter some from plagiarizing.
- Assign oral presentations. Have your students
report on their research process. Prompting students with questions
like “How did you find this article you cite? I would like
to read it myself,” is a non-threatening way to begin looking
into suspicious passages that are not in your student’s
- Substitute a short written assignment for the oral presentation.
This can be a brief, one-page summary of their research process,
including how they selected their sources. Ask students to sum
up what they learned from their research.
- Require recent sources, including some that are in print.
If you only require Web-based research, this is more likely to
tempt students to copy and paste the words of others since it
can be easily done.
- Assign students roles or specific audiences to address
in their writing. The papers that can be found in most
term paper mills are just that, i.e. term papers, and they are
usually written in the third person with the teacher as the audience.
If you assign your students roles as a researcher, someone advising
an administrator who needs to make a decision, then it is unlikely
that it will have the sound of a term paper.
In conclusion, designing assignments that are meaningful and challenging
gives your students an incentive to learn, and when they have that
incentive, they will do their own work.