Today’s post is by Debbie Wilson, who is the Senior Academic Integrity Officer in the Academic Standards and Quality Office (ASQO) at the ANU. Debbie advises and trains staff on the ANU’s Academic Misconduct Rule, supports staff throughout the various stages of the procedures, and manages the central academic misconduct breaches database.
Take it away, Debbie!
Understanding Academic Misconduct
Maintaining academic integrity in higher education is the responsibility of both staff and students. Universities have a responsibility to educate students on both the importance of academic integrity, and how to demonstrate it in their work. Students are responsible for ensuring they understand the academic integrity policy of their institution, and seek assistance if they are unsure of what is expected of them. Staff have a responsibility to maintain academic integrity in their own work and model good practice in their teaching, educate students on the importance of academic integrity in their assessments, and also deal with any breaches of academic integrity which are brought to their attention.
What is a breach of Academic Integrity?
Each institution have their own, fairly similar, definitions of what constitutes a breach of academic integrity. The most common breach is Plagiarism. The Australian National University defines plagiarism as copying, paraphrasing or summarising, without appropriate acknowledgement, the words, ideas, scholarship and intellectual property of another person. As plagiarism is the most common type of breach, it is not surprising that most universities are investing in text matching technologies, such as Turnitin, to make assist with detecting, and also educating students on how and where they need to improve their academic writing.
The following are also breaches of the Australian National University’s Academic Misconduct Rules:
- Colluding with another person;
- Acting or helping someone else act dishonestly or unfairly in relation to an examination;
- Taking prohibited documentation into an exam;
- Not following examination or assessment rules or direction;
- Engaging in conduct related to an assessment with intention of gaining an unfair advantage;
- Submitting work that is not original.
Dealing with Academic Integrity Breaches
There is no hard and fast guide as to when a particular breach of academic integrity might be considered very minor, which is a ‘very minor mistake’, minor, which is known as ‘Poor Academic Practice’, or major, which constitutes ‘Academic Misconduct’.
There are, however, a number of factors which can indicate whether a case is likely to be very minor, (very minor mistake), minor (poor academic practice) or major (academic misconduct). These factors may vary from discipline to discipline, and institution to institution, so we encourage you to discuss any cases you have with an appropriate colleague, such as your Head of School to seek guidance. For ANU staff, ASQO are also able to provide you with information, please send us through your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the ANU very minor mistake relates to very minor, unintentional referencing errors, for example not using quotation marks, or a missed or incorrectly appropriated reference. Very minor mistakes may be resolved through advice, and/or a reduction in the awarded mark of an assessment piece of between 0 and 10% of the total marks available, and are not required to be up for a review or inquiry under the ANU Academic Misconduct Rule, however must meet the relevant criteria in the Rule.
So, if you can see that a breach has occurred, which does not fit the definition of a very minor mistake, but looks to be more serious what are the factors that you should consider in making a determination?
Are there reasonable mitigating circumstances?
If there are mitigating circumstances that are provided in an explanation from the student, these can be taken into account, in conjunction with other factors. Some examples of mitigating circumstances might include:
- The student is at an early stage of an undergraduate program of study, and was not aware, through no fault of their own, that their actions constituted a breach of academic integrity;
- The student is at an early stage of their studies and has previously studied in a foreign culture that may have had different approaches to academic integrity;
- The student had a personal, emotional, or health issue that can go some way to explaining the actions, and/or is likely to make the breach a one-off.
How significant is the breach?
If the breach is plagiarism, how much was plagiarised? One or two short references that weren’t appropriated correctly might be a very minor mistake, however large swathes of text that form the core part of the argument in an essay or the response to a set of questions might be seen to be more serious.
Does the breach appear to be intentional?
This can be a difficult question to answer, however it is one worth giving at least some small consideration to. Could it reasonably be argued that the breach was unintended, careless, inadvertent or uninformed? Do they appear surprised and apologetic, and willing to engage in redemptive behaviour, or simply distressed that they were caught and argumentative?
Has the student made a breach before?
If the student has breached academic integrity previously, then it is more likely to be academic misconduct rather than poor academic practice. The only time it might be minor, is if the breaches are for completely different offences.
Has the student received any instruction on appropriate academic methods?
Particularly for first year students, was there any instruction provided in the course on appropriate academic methods? Could it be possible that a student genuinely was not aware of appropriate academic methods?
Possible academic misconduct
It may be appropriate to escalate a case as potential academic misconduct, rather than find poor academic practice, where no mitigating circumstances appear to apply.
The goal of finding ‘poor academic practice’ is to try and educate the student to succeed in their studies and not repeat a mistake. If academic misconduct is found, the penalties are more punitive.
Please read the two case studies below and discuss the potential findings for each case.
An undergraduate student in their first semester in their first year, borrows a paper and some lecture notes from another student who took the same subject last year. The student then completes their assignment, and upon submission, the Turnitin report returns a similarity report of 54% with another student’s paper. The convener meets with the student, and the student admits to looking at their friend’s paper, but only to “make sure they were on the right track”. The student insists that they wrote their own paper, and that as both students had used some similar references that is why there were so many similarities.
What might be a possible finding in this case?
An undergraduate student completes their assignment, and asks their brother to proofread it before they submit it. The students’ brother notices that some of the sentences structure is not very well done and offers to re-write a few sentences so that they make a bit more sense.
Is this acceptable? Is it appropriate to ask someone to proofread your assignment? How much help is too much help?
Share your thoughts
What do you think of the cases above? What type of academic misconduct might they be, or are they not issues at all? How would you deal with this situation? Feel free to respond to the post of other participants.