Assessment and Feedback

Academic Integrity and Turnitin Day 5

The big picture on academic integrity

As we’ve seen from recent events, it’s vital for students to have a comprehensive understanding of academic integrity and plagiarism before the leave university and enter the work force. But academic integrity goes far beyond Turnitin alone, and ideally should be addressed before students are submitting assignments to Turnitin. In this post, we’ll look at some of the strategies that are can be used for plagiarism prevention.

Photo by Adrian Scottow.
Photo by Adrian Scottow.

Prevention strategies

Different institutions have different types of approaches to this issue. Findings from recent research (Bretag et al., 2011; Bretag, 2012; Bretag et al., 2013; Bretag & Mahmud, 2014) indicate that no one method works alone, and a multi-layered, institution-wide approach is needed. Take a look at some of the different approaches below.


Clear, concise, and well-understood policies on academic integrity, misconduct, what to do in the event of breaches, and consequences for breaches should be clearly articulated, and followed by both academics and students. A report from the University of Sydney (PDF) also highlights the importance of approaching academic integrity as a positive goal to strive towards, rather than a punitive rule.

Curriculum and Assessment Design

There are several ways to improve understandings of academic integrity through the curriculum (across courses) and assessment (within courses). In first-year courses, for example, low-stakes referencing assments and embedded academic skills workshops can help students better understand the requirements for referencing and writing with academic integrity. The types of assessments that are set in a course can also have a big impact on plagiarism rates. This includes things like working on a project throughout a semester, group tasks, assessments based on personal experience (such as journals), clinical placements or internships, and breaking up high-stakes assessments into several smaller ones. Rather than submitting one large, high-stakes essay worth 40%, students could produce an annotated bibliography worth 10%, an essay outline worth 10%, and a final essay worth 20% to receive feedback on their process work and references before the written piece is finished.

Learning support for students

Most universities have teams, such as ANU’s Academic Skills and Learning Centre, which directly support students with writing, referencing, and other academic skills, and who can provide embedded workshops and other assistance. Many universities also have online academic integrity modules that students complete during their first semester. Some universities have made completion of these modules mandatory. Further to education, ongoing support resources provide students a stronger chance of learning how to write with academic integrity. Our research (Silvey, Snowball, & Do, 2016) around whether Turnitin can assist students to write with academic integrity demonstrates that even with embedded academic integrity workshops and training about using Turnitin, students require time and multiple attempts to hone their skills in writing with academic integrity.

Training for staff

Photo by Barbara Friedman
Photo by Barbara Friedman

Providing staff training about identifying and reporting academic integrity issues is another element of best practice (Bretag et al., 2011). As people have already noted in the comments during this coffee course, detecting academic integrity issues is difficult in many cases, so support for staff is needed around this issue. Providing training and support around how to use software such as Turnitin, good assessment design, and how to address potential cases of contract cheating is vital to ensure that institutions have consistent approaches. This requires time for attending training and dealing with academic integrity issues to be included in staff workloads, including sessional staff.

Reporting and tracking academic misconduct

Consistent and efficient reporting is necessary to achieve an effective institutional approach. One of the challenges that implementing such reporting standards presents is to have a system that can achieve this aim. Another approach that has been adopted by some universities is to have central or faculty-based academic integrity officers. These staff can assist in detecting and responding to cases of academic integrity breaches.

All in all, having an institutional approach can send a consistent message about the importance of academic integrity. It can also have a significant impact on supporting students and providing sufficient and meaningful education.

Your thoughts

We’d like to hear from you now regarding your experiences with the approaches listed above. Some questions to think about:

  • How familiar with the approaches (listed above) were you?
  • What does your institution do to prevent academic misconduct? Do you think it is effective, and what do you think could be improved?
  • Do you know where to access the policies or student support of your institution? How familiar with them are you?
  • How has this course impacted your understanding of academic integrity?

Let us know in the comments!



18 thoughts on “Academic Integrity and Turnitin Day 5

  1. Educating students is a very important part of the puzzle. Punitive measures of enforcing academic integrity should obviously be minimised.
    An equally important element of effective prevention is to have a teaching environment which also supports lecturers in their efforts to genuinely help students in this area. While showing maximum goodwill, educators should not be reluctant to impose sanctions as a last resort. Where such actions are seen as evil, needless, a waste of time, or even potentially risky, some educators may not make the necessary effort to weigh in to make a difference. The risk here is that a lecturer trying to pursue a not-so-obvious but highly likely case of breach (e.g. ghost writing) is left alone without any support and can be accused by students of discriminatory behaviour, having to then spend their energy on defending themselves rather than approaching the problem on a purely professional basis.
    We are lucky here at the ANU to being able to operate in a fair and unbiased supportive environment. In some other teaching environments that are tilted towards protecting students indiscriminately in all situations, many educators might be inclined to pass a student committing a potential breach rather than engaging in an investigation subjecting themselves to inconvenience, accusations and even potentially putting their career at stake.
    This course has been great, many thanks to all involved. The blog posts and a range of very useful resources helped me better understand academic integrity issues.

    1. Hi Gabor – I’m really glad you have enjoyed the course! The resources will remain here on the blog so feel free to pass it around to others who might find them useful as well.

      As to your point about institutional culture – I think this is the most important piece of the puzzle, but also the most challenging and unclear to address. Without support for academics to understand and deal with academic misconduct, and support for students to understand how to avoid it, situations can become negative really quickly. I’m glad ANU is a supportive environment for you! How can we include others in this too?

  2. I agree with Gabor that educating the students regarding academic integrity play an important part.
    I think the Academic Skills and Learning Centre is a very valuable source for students to consult and the students should be widely encouraged to seek help from the Centre.
    This course has certainly been great, and I have learnt so much on why students could have breached academic integrity, and through this course, I have understood what can be done to help the students further.
    Thank you to everyone involved!

  3. Curriculum and assessment design to help improve academic integrity is an interesting area to consider. I am uncertain how much is taught to our students prior to university from their schooling? This is an area the university could probably help with.

    1. Hi Michael, curriculum and assessment design are, in my mind, one of the most important aspects to preventing academic misconduct. I am unsure what students are taught about this before they come to university – I imagine it would be difficult to quantify as students have such diverse backgrounds before they attend ANU. Do you think a mandatory academic integrity module for new ANU students might be one way to get everyone on the same page?

    2. Hi Michael, your point about how much students already know about academic integrity (AI) when they arrive at university is one of the key reasons why Bretag’s research is pushing for institutional policy that supports education about AI. Your point reflects our own experience at ANU. ASLC runs orientation week and embedded workshops about AI and referencing, and these workshops are always in high demand. Given the diversity of students at ANU and the diversity of education systems and workplace practices that they’re coming from, the AI standards at university are significantly different to their previous experiences. In short, many students arrive at uni with very little or very different experiences in AI and referencing, so they require a range of support to learn the practices.

  4. This course has definitely made us think seriously about the issues/challenges surrounding academic integrity and strategies that may help address them. Thanks for running it. As Gabor and Katherine said, educating the students plays a big part in academic integrity – not merely on Turnitin but also about the purpose/objective/experience of learning – because they are the ones who either maintain it or breach it.
    Teaching academic integrity is like teaching ethics in a profession. On a spectrum, extreme cases of intentional and unintentional breaches are rare (this is contrary to the research discussed by Belter and du Pre in their 2009 article (reference given above)). What’s common is people know what they ‘ought to do’, but don’t do it because of a variety of reasons, i.e. I’ll only do it once; no one will notice or find out; others are doing it so why can’t I; even if I’m caught, no one can do anything; and so on.
    To me, the issue of plagiarism/academic integrity is far more serious at universities and Turnitin can only do so much. Without changing the broader cultural environment where plagiarism has been allowed to flourish, our effort in tackling it on an individual teacher, faculty and institution basis would not be very effective.
    But I enjoyed the readings and discussions and it has been a useful exercise. Thanks everyone!

    1. Hi Er-kai, thanks for joining us! I find that I have a lot of empathy for students who find themselves in academic misconduct situations – in many cases, the risks of failing a course are extreme and can have financial, personal, and other repercussions. But I think the ANU can be a bit more proactive in addressing academic integrity as part of being an ethical student and future worker in a profession. Perhaps this is something we can address at the curriculum level more effectively than in a patchwork way in specific assessments or courses. Addressing the cultural change that is needed is the hardest part!

  5. Thank you Katie for giving us the opportunity to gain in depth knowledge with Turnitin and plagiarism. Now really appreciate and understand it much better where plagiarism/academic integrity is exposed to the wider community and the seriousness of these issues in all universities. I would encourage all my work colleagues to take the opportunity and do this online course.

  6. Hi everyone,
    I have enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts and reflections.
    I do believe that without designing our assessments within a solid framework and constructively aligning our assessment tasks to the Intended Learning Outcomes we will not deter those students who intend to commit plagiarism and academic fraud. In the realm of future developments in the Artificial Intelligence market we should be counteracting by focusing our current attention to designing strategies with which to monitor and assess the learned skills and attributes we want our graduates to be armed with when they enter the workforce.

  7. Dear ANU Online Team,
    I thought I’d let you know the reason why I could not take up your kind offer of coffee on Wednesday 2 November. The ANU College of Law had an all day retreat on that day that staff were required to attend. Er-kai, Jane and Katherine were there, too.
    Once again, thanks to all involved for a great course!

  8. I am very familiar with the policies having gone through the full processes at a number of universities. One of the most important things I think is very important is that a) the process is relatively simple and b) people higher up actually follow the process properly.

    At ANU I have heard from some colleagues that they don’t bother escalating things up as it involves a lot of paperwork and in the end the student usually gets a slap on the wrist when in their opinion the student deserves a lot more punishment. I’ve encourage them to escalate, because even though the punishment might not fit the crime, at least their needs to be a record that this student has been warned. I once worked in one uni where there was no central record and we found out the same student had been “warned” about plagiarim in four different courses, each time claiming that they didn’t know and that the academic practice in their home country was different.

    As an example of where policies don’t really get followed. I do know of another student in a different university who was finally kicked out of their university for academic misconduct having been caught for outright cheating three times during exams. TWICE in the subject “ETHICS”!

  9. As research students, we had a compulsory academic integrity training at the beginning of the program. That training was mostly from the perspective of a student. This coffee course provides a view from the educators. Now I understand this is a rather complicated system. It’s not simply “we should do the correct things”, but “how” and “to what extent”.

  10. Being an advocate of holistic approaches to embedding uni-wide understandings and cultures of academic integrity, I am fairly familiar with these approaches. However, I feel that my department (and ANU more widely) does not do enough to prevent misconduct. In addition to student concerns raised above, academics are not given adequate training and support. Many (at least in my department) are not familiar with the policies or support services available on campus. As such, curriculum and assessment designs do not allow for prevention or building students’ skills and understanding. Further, as David alluded, there is insufficient reporting, tracking, and most importantly, communication/information sharing among academics. When academia itself lacks a strong culture of teaching academic integrity, it is no wonder that students struggle with it.

  11. As an early-career researcher who hasn’t yet done a lot of teaching, I would really like to have some training in how to identify things like ghost writing and other forms of plagiarism. I understand how to look for these in principle, but I don’t feel confident enough to make the call when I have concerns. Of course, I can ask my colleagues, who may be familiar with some students and their work, but I would appreciate some specialised training too.
    I think a compulsory online academic integrity course for first year students would be a great idea, at least as a start, but as the research described above shows, it takes multiple, consistent approaches to make a difference in the long run.
    Thanks for this course, I’ve found it really helpful!

  12. Despite my own previous stresses over interpreting Turnitin reports as a student, I am familiar with all of these tools listed above. I guess what I feel leaves a lot to be desired at the ANU in terms of effectiveness, is probably the fact that there is always a mention of plagiarism in the very first lecture of every course, every semester. But these brush over the policies in place and where to go for more information. Students, particularly undergraduate students are often either overwhelmed when they first begin their undergraduate degrees, or, as they progress through their degree, become over confident in themselves or feel they should know this stuff already and so do not seek out assistance when they are concerned.
    A possible solution to this could be to implement a compulsory online module to inform them about Turnitin and what is acceptable and expected of them.
    This course has been great for giving me a teaching perspective on academic integrity and plagiarism. It has also suggested ways, and made me think of ways, to improve student awareness of these issues in any future courses I teach. Thank you!

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