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Preventing Academic Misconduct

One of the ways to foster Academic Integrity at Toronto Metropolitan University is through course design, notably, in the syllabus. Academic Integrity can be profiled with related academic behaviours reinforced. The intellectual and educational culture of our university can be strengthened when Academic Integrity is positioned prominently by faculty/instructors and TAs/GAs.

A statement on academic integrity must be visible in every syllabus in every course and, if using, Brightspace D2L.

Ryerson Senate Office has created a word fileGuide to Course Outline and Suggested Template. This document has suggested wording regarding academic integrity and PDF filePolicy 60: Academic Integrity, opens in new window. You will want to explain your departmental policy on academic misconduct.

If, external link, opens in new window is to be used in a course, the following wording is required:  “Students who do not want their work submitted to this plagiarism detection service must, by the end of the second week of class, consult with the instructor to make alternate arrangements.” For more information on Turnitin, please see “Turnitin” section on this website.

If Group Work is part of your course, students should be informed of specific guidelines for cooperative projects or assignments. Refer to the PDF filePolicy 60: Academic Integrity, opens in new window about group misconduct. 

The following suggestions may help prevent academic misconduct on assignments and, hopefully, inspire you to think of other strategies that promote academic integrity in your courses.

Focus on Academic Integrity in Class and on Assignments

  • Include a statement on your assignments that explains what the academic integrity expectations are and provide a link to the Academic Integrity website and PDF filePolicy 60: Academic Integrity, opens in new window.  Notify your students of the preventative measures you will be taking e.g. that you will be using Turnitin Feedback Studio.
  • Discuss with your students why academic integrity is important to you.
  • Do not assume that your students know what plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct are. Keep in mind that your students may have come from an environment where “cutting and pasting” was permitted or tolerated, and that students returning to school after a long absence, or those from other academic institutions may need extra assistance in understanding our expectations of academic integrity.
  • Provide examples of proper and improper citation. RULA’s Preparing a Bibliography, opens in new window page on its website provides examples. Be sure to post links to these resources on your D2L page or hand out printed copies of the stylesheet you expect students to use.
  • Talk to your students about Contract Cheating and the existence of paper mills, file sharing sites and essay writing services – letting them know that you are aware of them – and that papers purchased/shared through these services can constitute academic misconduct. 
  • Demonstrate good practice in your lectures and presentations. Cite all sources used in the bibliographic style you want your students to use for their assignments.
  • If you are using in the course, visit Turnitin Feedback Studio, opens in new window to know more about the available resources for faculty. Make students aware of the information page for students, external link.
  • Ensure that your students know that they can obtain help from RULA, opens in new window and Student Life & Learning Support, opens in new window should they need assistance with researching their paper, essay writing, citing sources, or learning about time management, as well as answering questions they may have about academic integrity.

How you design and explain your assignments on paper and in class can improve academic integrity.

Tips for Enhancing Academic Integrity in Assignments

How you present the assignment to your students will determine how they treat it and how much effort they will put into it.

  • If students view a research assignment as “busywork”, they may dislike the assignment and tasks associated with it, and may feel inclined to cheat. Before distributing the assignment, decide what goals you want to accomplish, determine factors that may affect achievement of these goals, and assess whether the goals have been clearly stated in the assignment.

Make assignments unique and use specific, narrow topics.

  • Use new topics for each class and ensure that they are current (i.e. they require the use of newer resources) to deter the use of paper mills or the recycling of papers.

Set a series of due dates for the various steps of the research paper, for example, outline, rough draft, annotated bibliography, final paper.

  • This will make it more difficult for students to engage in academic misconduct and also provides you with the opportunity to monitor the papers for concerns and provide feedback on each section submitted. You may also consider marking each section separately as part of the final grade of the paper.

Consider having students submit a "research diary," reflection piece or "metalearning" essay for each section.

  • For example, including all information resources consulted, what was learned from doing that section of the assignment, and the difficulties that were encountered.

Define the terms you use on the assignment.

  • If students do not understand the assignment they will probably have trouble completing it. (What is meant by ThesisThemeAbstractPeer reviewedRefereed journalScholarly journalPrimary source/secondary sourceCitationStyle guide?)
  • Consider the different ways people learn and always present your assignments both in writing and orally.

Utilize the RULA resources at your fingertips. From not assuming your students know how to use the library to booking a research skill session; they can help you and your students understand how to prevent academic misconduct.

Test the assignment before distributing it

  • Use your Subject Librarian to help design, test and provide feedback on the assignment.  

Avoid topics that require your students to use the same sources

  • If possible, avoid topics that require all your students to use the same sources. However, if specific books or journals are essential for the completion of the assignment, ensure equal access to these resources by placing them on Reserve in the Library.

Don't assume students know how to use the library

  • Students will not necessarily know how information is organized at a university library or how to search databases.  Also, with so much information being available, the skill of evaluating this information needs to also be learned. Check out RULA.

Schedule a Library Research Skills session

  • Schedule a Library Research Skills Workshop, opens in new window with your Subject Librarian that coincides with the distribution of the assignment. Library sessions are much more effective if the students learn research skills and how to find and evaluate appropriate resources if they do so at the time of need. Plan to attend the session with your students so that you can work with the librarian in providing guidance to your students and answering their questions.

Encourage your students to use a referencing system

  • Encourage your students to use a reference system.  There are many web-based bibliographic citation managers that allows you to collect, save and organize bibliographic citations from books, journals, websites and other sources found during the research process. It also allows you to create correctly formatted bibliographies from over 200 style guides. Please see: Ryerson referencing systems.

Be specific about the use of the internet for research

  • Be very specific about the use of the Internet for research and state any restrictions you have on its resources. Distinguish between the types of information available through the Web (e.g. non-scholarly information available through search engines, vs. peer-reviewed articles on the Library’s website). Your Subject Librarian can provide a workshop on evaluating Internet resources.

Stress that any information obtained through the internet must always be cited

  • Students may not understand what constitutes acceptable use of Internet resources. Stress that any information obtained through the Internet (e.g. Google, full-text journal articles through the library, etc.) must always be cited. Provide examples on how to do this.

There are many free workshops provided to assist students in developing the knowledge and skills required for academic success. Encouraging your students to attend a workshop will also help them focus on areas where they most need help.

For example, Study Skills and Transition Support, English Language Support, Writing Support, Math Support, and Graduate Student Support are all offered by Student Life & Learning Support, opens in new window (SLLS).

For examples that may signal academic misconduct on an assignment, go to the Detecting Plagiarism section.

Collaborative learning is an educational method that is frequently used at Toronto Metropolitan University and can offer many benefits to the student.  Students are encouraged to form study groups; assignments are frequently group projects; and classroom activities often involve group work.  However, as a learning method, it can have pitfalls associated with it if not used wisely. Please check out the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching's PDF fileBest Practices Guide on Group Work, opens in new window.

Also, do not assume that students know how to work in a group. You need to prepare them by exploring expected behaviours and how to do conflict resolution.

Class Environments

The following suggestions are to assist in incorporating academic integrity learning into your classroom activities and evaluation methods:

  • Discuss academic integrity with your class during lecture time at the beginning of the term, stressing the importance of academic honesty. Clarify your expectations with your students, explain what constitutes unacceptable behaviour within group work. Refer to the PDF filePolicy 60: Academic Integrity, opens in new window and make the penalties clear. State that a student plagiarizing or cheating on the portion of their assignment can put all members of their group at risk of being charged with misconduct.
  • Provide students with clear guidelines on what is permissible within group work and include this information in your course syllabus and on assignments.
  • If possible, keep the group size small (four). Larger groups require a great deal of skill to be successful.
  • Be visible and interactive and provide feedback. Work with the students in offering encouragement, clarifying misunderstandings, promoting interactive skills and instruction on what common group behaviours exist.
  • Assign group members to groups to avoid the same people always working together.
  • Suggest the group use an App that will assist in project creation and tracking of work (this will assist if there's ever a suspicion of academic misconduct) e.g. Slack, Asana, Ryver, Google Docs.

Laboratory & Studio Environments

The following suggestions may help prevent academic misconduct in lab reports and assignments:

Ensure that your teaching assistants and graduate assistants are ready and willing to work with you in promoting academic integrity in the lab environment. Confirm that they are fully aware of PDF filePolicy 60: Academic Integrity and the guidelines in your course/program.

Encourage your TAs/GAs to be vigilant in laboratory sessions. Be present in the labs and ask relevant questions. Students who know their TA/GA is aware of their data and progress are less likely to feel that they can present the TA/GA with a dishonest write-up.

Be very clear about the level of acceptable collaboration in the labs. Include this information on course outlines and in instructions for assignments and lab reports. Also state that reports from previous semesters or years cannot be reused without permission.

If possible, modify your lab exercises every year or every semester. Create more lab exercises than needed for a year or semester (e.g. have 20 for a 12 lab course) and rotate them. Even small changes from year to year will show students that results from previous years are not useful.

The assignments and labs given to multiple sections should be as different as possible to ensure that students don’t use each other's submissions.

Give students ample time during the lab to write a report or summary. To help prevent unwanted collaboration, give students enough time during the lab to write a report or summary.

Have answer sheets that are filled in by the student. These sheets can be in the format of a formal report or may simply require answers to questions.

Prevent students from feeling that they have to “cook”, fudge or copy data. Avoid penalizing students for not having a correct end product or result.

Have students give more attention to the “process” of the experiment rather than the end results.

Have students explain their results and describe what went wrong and what they would do differently next time.

Provide students with the correct results and have them write a report on these results.

Offer a lab make-up period so that they can redo the experiment.

Consider replacing, or supplementing written lab reports with these ideas:

  • Require oral presentations to the instructor or the whole class and require students to answer questions during or after the presentation to determine the depth of knowledge.
  • Try incorporating a “metalearning” exercise into the oral presentation by asking the following questions: “What problems did you encounter and how did you solve them?” “How do you feel these problems affected your results?” “Were the results what you expected? Why or why not?” “What is the most important thing you learned from doing this experiment?” “What would you do in the future to increase or improve your data?” “What conclusions can you draw from your data?”
  • Replace lab reports with questions that have to be answered in preparation for the lab.
  • Replace traditional lab reports with questions or problems based on the lab that students have to answer before leaving the lab.
  • Introduce term projects that have a strong individual component, which involve considerable library research. Assignments that promote a problem solving situation that reflects what happens in an academic or industrial research setting.
  • For upper level students, ask them to come up with a problem to solve using any of the instrumentation techniques they learned in class or elsewhere. If the chosen procedure does not work, have them develop another one.

Please see the PDF fileRyerson Examination Guide for best practices in tests and exams.

Please ensure that all students and invigilators are aware of what constitutes academic and non-academic misconduct and the consequences involved.

For a useful resource on Creating Effective Assessments, see: PDF fileBest Practices: Creating Effective Assessments, opens in new window.

The Academic Integrity Office has developed academic integrity videos and quizzes. These engaging, short and informative videos present some of the values and behaviours expected of Toronto Metropolitan University students and some of the most common misconceptions about academic integrity.

To embed these into your course shells, first download the quizzes from the Academic Integrity website, then login to D2L and import the quizzes in your course shells.

For instructions on how to do so, see Educational Tools.