Reporting academic misconduct
What is academic misconduct?
At La Trobe, academic misconduct includes:
- cheating, plagiarism or any other conduct engaged in by a student with a view to gaining for himself, herself or another person an unfair or unjustified advantage in a formal examination or assessment or in relation to or for a formal examination or assessment, whether such advantage occurs or not;
- conduct which constitutes a breach of any rules relating to a formal examination or assessment; and
- conduct engaged in by a student with a view to gaining for himself, herself or another person an unfair or unjustified advantage, including without limitation class attendance or participation requirements and requirements pertaining to placements, whether such advantage occurs or not.
[From the Academic Integrity Statute 2015.]
Reporting a suspected case of academic misconduct
If an employee, officer or appointee of the University has reason to suspect that a student has engaged in academic misconduct, they must report the matter to the relevant Academic Integrity Adviser. In addition, teaching staff must, in the first instance, also refer these cases to the Subject Coordinator.
You can find the relevant AIA on your College academic integrity site (login required):
This flowchart outlines how to deal with academic misconduct and what happens with case once it is reported to an AIA.
Should I report it to the AIA?
It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether you are dealing with a case of poor scholarship or a potential case of academic misconduct.
Poor scholarship often results from a genuine misunderstanding about referencing and paraphrasing requirements. Students new to university study can find these requirements surprisingly difficult to follow. Poor scholarship may include inadequate paraphrasing and/or inadequate or inaccurate referencing. It may also involve inadequate synthesis of sources. There is no deliberate intention to deceive or mislead.
Poor scholarship should be dealt with through the marking criteria/rubric for the assessment task. If a piece of writing requires synthesis of sources with adequate and accurate acknowledgement, then marks should be allocated for this in the rubric. A student who does not follow these guidelines will therefore lose marks.
Academic misconduct broadly involves either cheating or a deliberate attempt to gain advantage by claiming credit for work that is not the student’s own.
The most commonly experienced ‘grey area’ between poor scholarship and academic misconduct is inadequate paraphrasing. This often shows up as text matches in a Turnitin originality report. Was the student ignorant of the extent to which they need to paraphrase, or were they deliberately using another’s exact words and trying to pass them off as their own? There may be extenuating circumstances to take into consideration such as whether the student is in first year or whether they are new to Australian academic culture.
If you are not sure whether you are dealing with a case of poor scholarship or potential academic misconduct, contact the AIA in your discipline for advice. The following scenarios may help in making the decision to report potential academic misconduct to an AIA.
Academic Misconduct Scenarios
You are marking an assignment that is very well-written and has proper referencing, but it doesn’t quite match with the assignment question and includes none of the key readings from the subject. The student‘s previous assignments have demonstrated a poor standard of writing. The Turnitin originality report shows 3% text matches. You suspect the student has paid someone to write the essay but can’t find any evidence. Do you report it to the AIA?
YES. The AIA will investigate the case and search for evidence of contract cheating. The student in question may be asked to produce a piece of writing under exam conditions for the purpose of comparison with the submitted work.
A first-year student in a first semester subject submits an essay with a full reference list but no in-text references. The Turnitin originality report shows 4% text matches. Do you report it to the AIA?
NO. This is likely a case of poor scholarship. By paraphrasing the information from sources, the student has not attempted to pass the work off as their own and is more likely to have misunderstood the rules for referencing. It is not uncommon for secondary school subjects to only require a reference list and not in-text referencing. The student should be penalised for poor scholarship through application of the marking rubric, and they should be clearly told that their lack of in-text referencing is unacceptable.
Students have worked together on a group project but submitted individual assignments. Two assignments from students in one group have a high similarity to each other (50% text matches to each other’s work), but there are few matches to any other sources. Do you report it to the AIA?
YES. This is a clear case of collusion.
Two students have submitted individual essays on the same assigned topic. They both have Turnitin originality scores of less than 5%. However, the two essays appear to have covered exactly the same points in exactly the same order, even though the wording is different. This occurs in every paragraph of the essay. They have used some of the same quotes from the key text to support their arguments. Do you report it to the AIA?
YES. This is likely a case of collusion. If marks for the task are allocated for choice and structuring of ideas, then it appears the students have not both done this independently.
Almost a quarter of your students have a Turnitin originality check score of around 25% for their major individual assignment. Do you report it to the AIA?
NOT NECESSARILY. It depends on where the text matches are. If they are in the essay topic itself, key technical terms that can’t be paraphrased, or the reference list, then this would not indicate plagiarism. There is no specific cut off percentage match in Turnitin that indicates plagiarism.
In a first-year student’s essay, all of the paragraphs are paraphrased, with one in-text reference at the end of each paragraph. The Turnitin originality check score is 7%. Do you report it to the AIA?
NO. This is likely a case of poor scholarship. The student could be penalised for poor scholarship through application of the marking rubric. The student should be advised that they need to synthesise information from a variety of sources to support the points they make in each paragraph.
A third year student submits an assignment with a moderate amount of similarity with online sources, resulting in a Turnitin similarity score of 30%. The student has made some small attempts at paraphrasing these by changing a word or two in each sentence and has also provided in text references. You speak to the student who expresses surprise that their work is not acceptable and agrees to try harder next time. Do you report it to the AIA?
YES. The student is in third year and so should have a good understanding of paraphrasing requirements and should know that changing one or two words per sentence is not acceptable. The student may be a ‘serial offender’ who has been repeatedly claiming ignorance of paraphrasing requirements. The AIA who deals with the case will have access to the student’s records and will know if a case of minor academic misconduct has been previously recorded against the student.
Academic Integrity Advisers
Academic Integrity Advisers (AIAs) review cases of academic misconduct and play an important role in educating staff and students across the University about academic integrity.
Academic Integrity Advisers (AIAs) will:
- Review cases of suspected academic misconduct
- Decide if cases are minor or serious
- Refer serious cases to CAMC
- Apply appropriate penalties for minor misconduct
- Refer students to support services and resources if students need to learn more about proper acknowledgement
- Report trends as observations to senior leaders and committees
If you are interested in becoming an AIA, you should speak with your Head of School.