Promoting Integrity | Webster University

Promoting Integrity

Webster University and its faculty aim to educate students; to achieve this goal, faculty are encouraged to develop academic assignments that ask students to create work that illustrates not only quality but also integrity. To help meet that goal, faculty must be aware of what common causes lead students to commit plagiarism and to understand how they can design course materials, meetings, and assignments that demonstrate to students that honesty in their work is expected and required.

Why Students Commit Academic Dishonesty

Course Design

Assignment Strategies


Why Students Commit Academic Dishonesty

All students are different, so the circumstances around their academic performance and the choices they make are going to differ for each individual. However, there are many factors that lead to the most common types of integrity violations. Knowing these factors and being prepared to strategize around them can help faculty encourage integrity in their students' work. 

  • The internet has made it easier to access information that can be effortlessly pasted into one's writing.
  • Perceptions of intellectual property influenced by file sharing, music downloads, Wikipedia, etc., make it difficult for students to evaluate the source of information or understand ownership of information.
  • Students may be unprepared for college-level writing and academic expectations, particularly the expectations for in-text citation, quoting, and/or paraphrasing.
  • Students' focus on grades and their fear of failure create a motivation to cheat or to fabricate expected results.
  • Procrastination and poor time management leave students with limited options, particularly for students who divide time between work and school.
  • Students are uncertain about which documentation rules to follow.
  • Students in groups may blur lines between individual and collective responsibilities.
  • Assignments that are too general or only require a final draft may be perceived as opportunities to cut corners.
  • Inconsistent campus and faculty responses make it easier for students to hide behind their own confusion.
  • Differing cultural/global standards of integrity create gaps in knowledge or understanding. 

What are some differences in non-traditional/traditional students related to academic integrity?

In addition to the above, there are special circumstances that non-traditional students may face:

  • Increased time management demands of balancing home, work, and school
  • Increased feelings of lack of integration coupled with higher outside pressures
  • Increased grade pressures for those whose employers fund their education
  • Higher likelihood of online courses, which can lead to a perception of greater distance between the student and instructor and therefore less supervision
  • More time lapsed since rigorous academic coursework was expected and/or since a course that covered writing expectations

What are some cultural differences related to academic integrity?

International students may face specific challenges:

  • Text and other intellectual property may be viewed as collectively owned by the society or culture, not the individual.
  • Some cultures value open access over individual ownership.
  • Learning based in rote memorization and copying rather than critical examination leads to instances of copying and pasting.
  • The use of someone's work verbatim can be viewed as honoring the author.
  • The buying or borrowing of papers and other forms of cheating are widely accepted.
  • The pressures of writing in English create additional challenges: excessive paraphrasing, cutting and pasting passages, and “patchwriting” can be considered as a means of learning the language.
  • Students are unfamiliar with rules defining common knowledge, documentation, and other concepts.
  • Faculty or institutional assumptions that US academic standards were discussed with the student at an earlier academic stage. 

Each of these factors can lead students into making the wrong choices or in accidentally violating academic expectations, but faculty can take steps toward designing their courses and assignments to help prevent those violations.

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Course Design


The Syllabus: Have an Integrity Policy

Include a statement in all course syllabi about the University's and the instructor's expectations, particularly plagiarism and cheating. Provide basic definitions and common examples of unacceptable behavior (using someone else’s work, using instructor's manuals, etc.). This will not only inform students of the course expectations but also provide the faculty with a personal policy to fall back on should a student infringe upon it.

This is an important time to establish your stance on self-plagiarism. Self-plagiarism is not mentioned specifically in the University Academic Honesty Policy as some courses or projects are expected to build on prior work. If you want to prohibit your students from using work from other/prior courses or require students to ask permission before developing other work, your syllabus is your opportunity to say so.

It’s recommended to also include possible repercussions should an infraction occur. These are up to the instructor, but it may be helpful to refer to Webster University’s Academic Honesty Policy to start, tailoring these actions to the faculty’s preferences:

“Webster University strives to be a center of academic excellence. As part of our Statement of Ethics, the University strives to preserve academic honor and integrity by repudiating all forms of academic and intellectual dishonesty, including cheating, plagiarism and all other forms of academic dishonesty. Academic dishonesty is unacceptable and is subject to a disciplinary response. The university reserves the right to utilize electronic databases, such as, to assist faculty and students with their academic work. […] In most cases, the instructor will address issues of academic dishonesty within the confines of the student's course. The instructor may decide an appropriate consequence, including the following options: a written warning; the assignment of a written research project about the nature of plagiarism and academic honesty; a reduced grade or partial credit on the assignment; requiring the student to repeat the assignment; or issuing a failing grade to the student of the course.”

Utilize this or a personalized discussion of plagiarism to set a standard for the course, and if an instance of plagiarism occurs, use those consequences where appropriate.

The Syllabus: Have a Citation Policy

Another important syllabus component is citation style and expectations. Many students aren’t fully aware of which courses utilize MLA versus APA or other style guides, so specifically stating a preferred/expected citation style for the course in the syllabus will avoid any confusion on students' parts. This would also be an effective time to stress that a formal citation page is required whenever sources are used and that in-text citations are expected within the body of the assignment to note specifically where source material is utilized. To complete this section of the syllabus, it may be helpful to provide students with a resource to go to should they need help with citations (consider directing them to a specific style book, the library, the Writing Center, or credible online resources).

Talk about It

In addition to having statements in the syllabus, discussing plagiarism and other academic dishonesty infractions in class reinforces that this is an issue that both faculty and the university take seriously. Faculty members are encouraged to discuss plagiarism in the first course meeting or when the first assignment is discussed. As students are informed about the course and the objectives for the term/assignment, faculty can stress that the academic projects required of the course must be done with honesty and integrity. Discussing plagiarism in class can also help avoid confusion among students about exactly what actions are considered plagiarism (e.g., buying papers on-line, cutting and pasting from multiple sources, paraphrasing material but not citing it, etc.). Surveys show that many students have an unclear definition of plagiarism. By directly stating honesty is expected and what appropriate academic practices are, students will be more aware that the faculty member is attentive to the quality of student work as well as more informed.

Use Turnitin and/or Check Student Work in Other Ways--and Tell Them So

Simply enabling Turnitin on an assignment can deter plagiarism or cheating as it incontrovertibly demonstrates to your students that you will be assessing their work for integrity. If you prefer not to use Turnitin, inform your students that you will still be assessing their work for originality and integrity in other ways, as some students perceive the lack of Turnitin as an opportunity to take advantage. If students are aware that you'll be checking their work for academic integrity (through Turnitin or any other means), they will be more inclined to keep up good practices.  

Having alternative methods to assess student work is particularly important for assignments where Turnitin can't be enabled, such as quizzes and discussion posts. Open-answer quizzes and discussion posts are currently not equipped to be set with Turnitin, so students may be more likely to cheat or plagiarize in those assignments. If your students are aware that you check their work in ways beyond Turnitin, this may deter violations of opportunity. 

Provide Tutorials

Faculty might consider adding a plagiarism and/or academic honesty tutorial, quizzes, surveys, or other corresponding assessment in select, broad-reaching courses (1000, 3000, and 5000 level courses). Faculty could utilize a course quiz or survey that addresses primary definitions, good practices, or behaviors to avoid. Other measures might include handouts or examples that illustrate acceptable assignments as compared to unacceptable material. It may also help to tailor tutorial material to individual faculty expectations or guidelines. Some courses may implement material or resources that students haven’t encountered before, such as an instructor manual or answer guide. These personalized tutorials can inform students what practices are unacceptable should they not be familiar with certain resources or expectations. Schedule this tutorial to be covered or available prior to any major assignments so that students are fully aware of the faculty’s expectations as they develop course projects.

Enable Good Habits

A tool that faculty can use to prevent academic dishonesty in their students is providing their students with the tools needed for effective academic learning and good writing and research practices. If relevant to the discipline, discuss with students how certain projects can or should be conducted and the steps or stages needed to complete the project effectively. Discuss what proper source use entails (quotations or paraphrasing) or how to keep effective notes in the research process. If this sort of instruction isn’t applicable to the course level or the field, then provide students with links and resources to relevant material should they need to review. As most students come from a range of different educational and cultural backgrounds, what educators expect from their students unfortunately doesn’t always coincide with the students’ actual knowledge, so having these resources clearly linked gives students somewhere to go should they need help with certain concepts or be unsure of how to complete a project. Most importantly, these sorts of resources inform the student precisely how faculty expect assignments to be accomplished not only correctly but honestly. Webster University’s Academic Resource Center provides many of these tools: the Writing Center provides writing tips and citation advice and the Plagiarism Prevention site is a student-centered analysis of plagiarism prevention that educates students on what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. Consider linking or referring to these as needed throughout the course.

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Assignment Strategies


The best (albeit more challenging) way to promote honest work is to design assignments and class activities that make it a challenge for students to plagiarize or cheat. Well-designed assignments can make it more difficult for students to copy ideas from other sources indiscriminately. They can also make plagiarism easier to spot for the instructor when an assignment deviates from the expectations or requirements. The following are some suggestions of ways that faculty can design assignments that make plagiarism less likely.

Use Question Pools and Randomization

Practice: Randomize the order of questions and/or answers within tests and quizzes. 

Rationale: Students cannot share answers as easily if one student's Question 1 or Answer a is different from another's. 

Practice: Create a question pool for each major concept; for example, if I want to test students' understanding of how to cite a book in APA style, I would create a question pool of 5 different situations, from which one question would randomly be pulled. 

Rationale: When students receive all of the same questions, there's the possibility of sharing answers (even when the answers are randomized); if students receive different prompts over the same concept, answers cannot be shared. 

Keep Things Fresh

Practice: Change/tweak assignments from term to term or for different sections.

Rationale: If the assignment changes, student work from previous semesters will no longer meet the requirements of the assignment, discouraging students from sharing work or making it easier to detect when this occurs.

Practice: Ask students to select a topic that is timely or relevant to their personal lives.

Rationale: Topics related to personal details make it difficult for students to misrepresent others' ideas as their own. Topics from recent headlines will mean that there are fewer possibilities to find pre-generated discussions.

Be Aware of Student Progress

Practice: Discuss project topics before the due date. Make sure the first time you learn about the topics and the nature of students' assignments isn't when they turn in the final product.

Rationale: By working with the students at various stages of the assignment, faculty can better tell which ideas are their own. Forcing students to begin thinking and talking about a project before the final deadline can also help them to avoid procrastination, a major incentive to plagiarize.

Practice: Ask students to turn in materials before the final paper: for example, a topic proposal, an annotated bibliography, or an initial draft.

Rationale: Linking multiple assignments together means that the final paper is not the only exercise that has required the student to work with that subject, making it harder for students to compile a paper by cutting and pasting from the internet. Expecting students to provide a bibliography prior to the final draft also encourages them to keep track of where they found their information more rigorously, which can help cut down on fabrication or plagiarism due to sloppiness.

Use Group Work (with Caution)

Practice: Have students complete assignments in pairs or groups.

Rationale: Collaboration can promote honesty, since a student who might plagiarize alone may find it harder to do so in front of their peers. Properly designed, group work does not necessarily mean that the student is doing less work than an individual assignment. In such projects, require students to complete individualized, private reflections of the process, which provides them with the opportunity to show how they contributed or to inform you how a group member failed to do so.

Practice: Use peer review and have students incorporate their peers' feedback into their work.

Rationale: Requiring students to incorporate feedback from their peers can make it difficult for the students to hide the fact that they have not developed their ideas individually.

Practice: Have students turn in their peer-reviewed drafts or comments along with the final project to determine if the work has progressed.

Rationale: The peer-review comments can let the instructor get a sense of whether the work has grown since the first draft, even if the instructor did not review the earlier draft.

Go Beyond the Essay: Multimodal Assignments

The following suggestions can be used in place of or in conjunction with a traditional essay; requiring students to present on or re-envision an essay can give faculty insight on students' processes and their understanding of the work.

Practice: Use non-traditional writing formats where appropriate. For example, have students write a letter or proposal, design a blog, create a poster campaign, or develop a podcast or panel discussion where the material is communicated in non-essay format.

Rationale: This type of assignment encourages students to interpret their research into their own words in order to match the format of the assignment. Students will also find it much more challenging to find papers in such non-traditional formats online.

Practice: Assess non-writing assignments that might achieve course objectives and illustrate student learning, for instance presentations, videos, activities, or other ways to illustrate the material, such as experiments or models.

Rationale: Writing assignments are naturally more likely to be plagiarized, so if the course material or discipline allows, a project that doesn’t involve a major written component will ask students to think about the project in different ways and makes it difficult for students to counterfeit.

Practice: Have students prepare a cover letter or reflection for the assignment, summarizing their findings and explaining the process behind their research.

Rationale: In addition to encouraging students to be more reflective about their methods and writing, a component like this makes it easier for the instructor to detect papers purchased on-line. A well written, thoughtful paper with a cover letter that seems confused about the paper's argument or methods can be a red flag.

Practice: Have students give an oral presentation over their project, either in class or in an oral examination with the instructor.

Rationale: As with a cover letter, having to present their work orally as well as in writing requires students to be more engaged with their project. This may discourage students from buying papers online or blindly cutting and pasting material, since they know that they will have to explain the material in their paper in person.

Make Expectations or Requirements Part of the Assignment

Practice: Forbid students from using standard websites. Require that all sources be in print form, ebooks, or material accessed from university databases. 

Rationale: When students are allowed to use online resources, they typically do so carelessly or are more likely to conduct their research at the last minute. If students must use the library or the library's online resources, students are more likely to start sooner, to be more careful about what they use, and are less likely to be able to find pre-written assignments that utilize the right kinds of sources.

Practice: Require students to use a set number or specific variety of sources for their projects, including print resources. For example, require that the assignment utilize one book source, 2 peer-reviewed journals, and one audio/visual source. 

Rationale: Advanced academic or print resources are harder for a student to copy and paste from. Also, finding or implementing specific sources will help ensure students avoid using pre-written papers. Similarly, a submitted paper that doesn’t meet the correct requirements would warrant closer inspection.

Practice: Require the inclusion of class-specific texts or sources, such as a chapter or article over a specific concept or theory.

Rationale: Requiring students to use faculty-chosen sources will make it harder for students to find material to copy, making it both less profitable to plagiarize and easier to detect if they do.

Practice: Require specific objectives or criteria that need to be met aside from or beyond source materials.

Rationale: The more open/broad an assignment, the more susceptible it is to being plagiarized. While it may not be practical to assign specific topics, faculty can incorporate requirements that make it difficult for students to find pre-made assignments that meet those objectives. Consider requiring specific sections, headings, or objectives that must be addressed through the discussion.

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