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Faculty tackle issue of cheating, plagiarism at campus workshop

With national surveys indicating that a high percentage of college students have cheated at some point in their academic career, faculty members at Binghamton University are focusing on what they can do to foster an environment where academic integrity flourishes.

During last week’s seventh annual Institute for Student-Centered Learning titled “Who’s Responsible? Approaches to Academic Integrity,” more than 30 members of the faculty gathered for discussions on the prevalence of plagiarism and cheating nationwide and on campus — and what to do about it.

Among the topics covered were Binghamton’s institutional responses to the issue, development of a culture of academic integrity on campus, policy and procedures, equity in sanctions, suggested interventions and strategies for the future.

A compilation of surveys by Donald McCabe of Rutgers University indicate that nationally 79 percent of students feel copying off another student’s exam is “serious cheating,” 69 percent feel plagiarism is “serious cheating,” but only 35 percent feel copying a few sentences without citation is serious. In a survey of 850 students conducted at a public university in Michigan similar to Binghamton, 50 percent of students admitted to “working in a group on homework that was assigned as individual work,” while much smaller percentages admitted to the remaining forms of academic dishonesty. Only 17 percent said that they had never cheated in any form at any time in college, meaning that 83 percent had cheated at least once.

“It’s a very small percentage of students surveyed that say they never cheated,” said Jeff Barker, associate professor of Geology and chair of the Center for Learning and Teaching’s Institute for Student Centered Learning committee. Although no formal survey has been done on cheating at Bing-hamton, a random sample of students interviewed before the workshop admit to minor degrees of academic dishonesty, he said. One justification made for this is large classrooms, where students feel anonymous. “Students will go into a survival mode when they are feeling stressed, in which the ends justify the means, in order to get through the course,” he said. Among best practices discussed at the workshop were ideas for progressive writing assignments in classes, with each assignment building on the work already completed by the students; the use of carefully designed teamwork in the classroom, with each member of the team evaluated for his or her level of participation on the group project; and more effective use of Blackboard for class discussion.

One of the outcomes that the workshop participants said that they would like to see was increased education for new faculty, adjunct faculty and teaching assistants about the University’s policies and procedures on academic honesty, Barker said.

“Another was to survey our students and our faculty to quantify the state of the problem here and the level of interest in dealing with the problem,” he said. “Ultimately, the goal of this entire process is to encourage students to take some responsibility for academic integrity on campus.”

Discussions with students also indicate that many aren’t really aware of what constitutes plagiarism.

“One of the outcomes of the workshop is that we need to do a better job of teaching our students about writing papers and what constitutes academic honesty, so that they don’t inadvertently plagiarize,” Baker said.

Consistency also is key when it comes to academic integrity.

“One of the major ideas of the group was that we should be using the admission of academic dishonesty form,” Baker said. “This registers first-time offenders in a database, but not on student records.”

The form, which can be found at, provides faculty with a way to track allegations of cheating without attaching anything to a student’s permanent record. This way, faculty members who have concerns about a student can record those concerns without damaging the student’s record, but will have noted them if questions about academic honesty arise with the student in the future, Baker said.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08