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Every year, students seem to find new ways to "cheat" on the work. Every year, my course policies section grows longer and longer (a full page now) to match the newfound methods. I list all forms of plagiarism and exam rules and penalties. I additionally post similar rules on assignment instructions, particularly defining areas where I found students "cut corners" while still literally following the instructions. I teach many freshmen and foreign students who are not familiar with college expectations.

Do I need to define all forms of cheating on the syllabus? Is there some way to apply and enforce a blanket, "no other cheating permitted"?

Some examples include:

  1. Copying and pasting text from Web sites.
  2. Submitting classmate's returned assignment as late assignment with own name.
  3. Foreign students using machine translation exclusively to write essays for writing courses.
  4. Using TTS for speeches.
  5. Peering at other papers during exams.
  6. Copying from phone during exams.
  7. Submitting work they made in other courses.
  8. Adding names of extra non-contributors to group work.
  9. Doing work for a classmate.
  10. Pretending to be another student during an exam.
  11. Attending different sections during exams to preview the exam or try different versions.
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From (11) it seems like you are giving the same questions to different students at different times, in a classroom exam text. That seems bad practice in my view. –  Federico Poloni Jun 16 '14 at 9:55
Many colleges and universities have an 'academic integrity' policy or standards. I would reference this policy and indicate all violations will be referred to whatever judiciary committee or structure is in place with your institution. It is the responsibility of the student to know what is and is not a violation of academic integrity standards. –  Brian P Jun 16 '14 at 11:18
In The Netherlands we like to joke that in Germany, they apply that Alles übrige, daß hier nicht gestattet ist, ist verboten, which means Everything else, that is not (explicitly) permitted, is prohibited. –  gerrit Jun 16 '14 at 14:29
And, in France, everything that is not [explicitly] prohibited, is permitted. –  Phil Perry Jun 16 '14 at 14:54
Thanks mister! I never even knew there were this many awesome ways to cheat. You broadened my horizons. Before I was thinking of quitting school but now I feel confident again and very motivated to get my diploma instead of starting a gang. With this edumacation maybe I can even become the presodent! –  NickNo Jun 16 '14 at 17:56

8 Answers 8

I think your problem quite literally is that you specify too much. If you provide a long list of things students are not allowed to do, it is natural that students assume that the list is comprehensive (that is, everything that is not on the list has to be legal). If you do what chubakueno proposes and have a single rule Plagiarising == fail, most people would be fully aware what that means.

EDIT: clearly, this does not mean that you should never go into more detail. Of course, if one has unusual or unexpected rules which other comparable lectures in the same university do not have, then of course they need to be explained. However, most of the examples given by Village are IMHO pretty obvious.

Frankly, many of the items on your list cannot reasonably be assumed to be ok, no matter the rules. For instance, did you really have a student tell you with a straight face he thought it was ok if he pretended to be somebody else to write the other guy's exam?

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Can we safely assume that a first-year student knows the definition of plagiarism? Some of the points are quite nuanced (e.g., (3) and (7) in Village's list), and it is quite possible that a foreign student has never heard that word in their life. –  Federico Poloni Jun 16 '14 at 9:53
@FedericoPoloni By and large, I am all in favor of treading students (even freshmen and foreign students) as adults. This also includes that, if e.g., an assignment text uses a word that you are not sure what it means, you clarify. –  xLeitix Jun 16 '14 at 10:05
The OP did state(in a comment) "submitting work completed in other courses". This is not exactly an obvious rule. But is often(was with me anyway) part of the university policy itself. –  Cruncher Jun 16 '14 at 14:10
I agree that trying to define a comprehensive (exhaustive) list is pointless, as someone will always find a new way to cheat. I would tell students that cheating is not permitted, point them to some standard school academic ethics code as a starting point, leave enough wiggle room that you can catch and punish new methods of cheating, and invite anyone who's not sure if something crosses the line (e.g., collaborating on graded homework [but not a take-home project]) to ask you (or the provost, or whoever appropriate) about it. –  Phil Perry Jun 16 '14 at 14:59
I do have many foreign students who are completely unfamiliar with not just the word "plagiarism", but also the concept. It is possible that in some countries different behaviors are accepted by teachers. For e.g., some students claimed that their former teachers always let them "work together", i.e. submit identical work. In some countries, students are encouraged to write the words of famous authors and scholars from memory and citations are not required. –  Village Jun 16 '14 at 23:49

Does your school not have an academic code of conduct? Usually schools have very comprehensive (but succinct) definitions of "cheating" and "academic honesty" simply so nobody has to roll their own. Every syllabus I've ever had or used in any school I've ever been to found it sufficient to say "in addition to the syllabus of this course, you are also required to follow the school's code of academic honesty. Failure to abide by this code will result in immediate failure and referral to the appropriate administration."

This is even easier with the advent of web resources where you can explicitly link to the academic code of conduct in the syllabus (or some mirror of it if it's not online for whatever reason).

If not, I definitely agree with xLetix. Providing a comprehensive list of "bads" subtly implies that everything else is valid. Certain you can say "among other things...", but you should not have pages of examples. Certainly you can give one or two examples of blatant plagiarism, but otherwise give a succinct definition that's broad enough to allow you to catch all cases and leave it at that.

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If your university doesn't publish its own academic integrity policy, you can always adopt another school's policy in your syllabus. "This course will follow MIT's academic integrity policies; see integrity.mit.edu for full details." –  JeffE Jun 16 '14 at 14:04
@JeffE I'm not sure I like that. MIT can change their policies at any time, and you in your school, should not be willing to immediately adapt whatever it is that they're doing. –  Cruncher Jun 16 '14 at 14:12
@Cruncher MIT can change their policies at any time between semesters, but their definitions of "cheating" and "plagiarism" are unlikely to materially change. And of course you shouldn't adopt any policies that you haven't read thoroughly—every semester—and actually agree with. –  JeffE Jun 16 '14 at 14:40

These basic ideas should be prominent:

  1. Your work must be your own.
  2. Your ideas must be your own - you must identify and give credit for any ideas which are not yours.
  3. You must be honest and ethical in all behavior related to assessment.

You might want to provide some separate information about exams. For example, you are/are not allowed to have your book/notes in the exam. Suppose someone for instance has information on their phone (and they are not allowed to have notes or the book), but they claim that phones were not excluded. You can, when discussing it with them, ask them whether they think this was honest and ethical behavior.

Part of the point of this is that it is their responsibility to identify if work or ideas are not their own. If someone claims, for instance, that copying from a website does not mean that their work is not their own, you can ask them where and how they acknowledged the use of the ideas.

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There are generic expectations that are widely understood, and you don't need to spell those out. For example, you don't need to explicitly tell your students that it's not OK to pretend to be someone else and take their exam.

On the other hand, I find that there are certain specific things that I want to make clear in my syllabus because they may differ from other teachers' expectations. For example, I teach physics labs, and my expectation is that collecting raw data is group work, but analysis, making graphs, and doing the writeup is individual work. There are other teachers at my school who have different expectations about lab work, so I need to make my own policies clear.

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As suggested by a commenter, I am expanding my comment to that of an answer. Many colleges and universities have an 'academic integrity' policy or standards. For example, here is one such policy at the University of Michigan: http://www.lsa.umich.edu/academicintegrity/. You can find many other policies and standards regarding academic integrity.

I would include the exact language of any such policy in the syllabus. When you review your syllabus, you should draw explicit attention to this policy and indicate that all violations will be taken seriously and referred to any judiciary committee if necessary. You can also take it one step further by having students actually sign a statement that they have read and understood the policy. Once you have done this, students assume the burden of ensuring their academic behaviors are entirely consistent with the policy.

The other part of the process is actually following through on violations. I don't have problems with this issue in my class because students are very much aware of exactly what will happen if violations are observed. Of course, some students will claim that they "didn't know." Ignorance of violations of academic integrity are simply unacceptable among college / university students who should be treated like adults. You don't want to give the impression that you are lenient on any such policy.

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Don't include the exact language in your syllabus - otherwise there will be inconsistencies when the policy gets updated and your syllabus still includes the old version. –  user1915639 Jun 16 '14 at 19:39
@user1915639 So, if you don't have the exact language, then what do you recommend. If the policy changes, so should your syllabus, right? –  Brian P Jun 16 '14 at 21:54
Just say "You must comply with the university's policy on X", with a link to the URL for the policy (assuming there is a URL which will always point to the latest version - otherwise just link to some page higher up in the hierarchy e.g. all current university policies or something). –  user1915639 Jul 20 '14 at 17:27

The comments so far all seem to come from the perspective of the educator. Having recently made the transition from undergraduate completing exams and assessments, to postgraduate setting and marking them, I offer the following advice based on my experience.

My university requires every single student to complete an online "Plagiarism and Academic Honesty" course each year. This course takes the form of a few dozen slides detailing many complex rules and examples, attempting to cover every form of assessment in every academic department. No-one ever actually reads the content of this course; the old concept of "TL;DR" is true even when your academic or professional future is at stake. Based on this experience, I rule out the "exhaustive restrictive list" approach.

We also have the polar opposite as a University-wide policy: a very short, to-the-point statement about always behaving with complete academic honesty and integrity. This is always qualified, however, with a link to the full "legalese" policy. Again, no-one reads this. There are also numerous loopholes. For example, the policy states that you must not use another student's work without attribution. Copying an entire report and then scribbling "I copied all this from Dave" in the margin would therefore appear to be fine. This further leads me to the conclusion that a restrictive list is not the way forward.

So what do I see as the best option from both sides of the assessment process? Assume nothing of your students. They will have come from a wide variety of cultures where "academic honesty", "plagiarism", "cheating" and all related terms have very different definitions. Public exam processes used in schools also vary across the globe, so you cannot rely on "it's the same as it was before university". I would therefore advocate a "permissive list" as the best policy:

  1. You are only permitted to take pens, calculators, and rulers into the examination room.
  2. All work must consist solely of the thoughts, ideas and work of the named candidate (or group, where applicable).
  3. Using the thoughts, ideas or work of others is permitted only where it is attributed and clearly marked as not your own.
  4. All work must be original and created for the purpose of this assessment.

I believe those four rules cover everything in the eleven points above, plus other methods of cheating.

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"Copying an entire report and then scribbling "I copied all this from Dave" in the margin" - this may not be plagiarism, but that does not make it a good classroom paper. Not plagiarising is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for a good grade. –  xLeitix Jun 17 '14 at 11:05

This is bound to be country specific, but like most people here from US institutions, I refer to the University code of conduct. However, I highlight gray areas. This means I don't list obvious things like (2) or (6) on your list. I would say something like this

"In this class you must follow the academic code of conduct [link to code], all violations will be reported to the judiciary committee. Note, in college academic dishonesty extends a bit further than you might be used to, so read the code carefully. For example the following things are not allowed [insert a list of two or three non-obvious things - I include 1. not understanding something you write, 2. Turning in basically the same assignment as a collaborator, even when collaboration is permitted].

Don't make it sound like you are giving an exhaustive list, but it is good to highlight some gray areas.

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It seems like in your case, you might just list what is allowed.

Imagine you have entered a room for the first time. You did not bring anything or anyone with you. This room has only a desk, a chair, a few blank sheets of paper, and a pencil. Anything that you would not be able to do in this room is not allowed in the exam.

Generally, you could just point out a few non-obvious things to adequately illustrate the spirit of the rule, and then say:

This list is not comprehensive. I will punish anything that gives you an unfair advantage. Use your own judgement to decide what would be acceptable, and if in doubt, ask.

After all, you are not required to have every decision you make in class to have been written in exacting detail beforehand (at least in most schools). You can just say, "even though I didn't explicitly say copying from your friend is not allowed, it should have been obvious to you that I would consider it cheating". Also, some things on your list should not even be mentioned. Whatever excuse the student who tried to take an exam for someone else came up with, I guarantee that they knew full well they shouldn't have done it, and they knew you knew they knew. I don't see how

No cooperating, no open book, no cheating

Doesn't cover everything except 7 and 8 on your list. Do your students honestly think that they're allowed to copy from a phone during an exam that isn't even open-book?

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