Minimising academic integrity breaches through timely reporting and early intervention

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In this article we highlight the importance of timely incident reporting for maximising the effectiveness of educational interventions for students, minimising recidivism, and assisting faculty teams to manage case loads effectively.

Incident reporting in 2016

Almost 3,500 instances of suspected plagiarism or academic dishonesty were reported across the University in 2016. This represents a significant increase on the average number of 1,500 incidents reported in each of the previous five years.

Rather than a substantial increase in the number of students engaging in academic misconduct, the increased levels of reporting reflect the significant improvements made last year in terms of University-wide procedures for reporting and investigation. It also reflects increased vigilance on the part of academic staff and their desire to ensure that students in need of developing their understanding of academic writing and referencing conventions were provided with sufficient, well-timed opportunities to do so.

Early intervention is the key

Almost 50% of the reported incidents investigated last year resulted in the relevant students being instructed to undertake a further development course and, where appropriate, to resubmit corrected work. In most of these cases,  some kind of mark penalty was applied to the resubmitted work to moderate the potential for a student to gain unfair advantage. This developmental approach is a hallmark of the University’s management of academic integrity issues, and enables students to immediately put in to practice the principles and practices they are taught through the development courses available to them.

In semester 1, 2016, approximately 70% of all incidents reported were received by faculty educational integrity teams after week 9 of the semester. Feedback from faculties indicated that many of these incidents were reported some four to five weeks after the student had made the initial submission of work. On several occasions, this limited the ability of Educational Integrity Coordinators to intervene early with the relevant students, some of whom were reported for one or more subsequent incidents.

Timely reporting promotes early intervention

To maximise the effectiveness of any such interventions, it is imperative that any issues identified with a student’s work are reported to a faculty Educational Integrity Coordinator as early and soon after a student submits work for assessment as possible.

One way of achieving this is to conduct an initial review of student submissions made to Turnitin, particularly where very large classes are concerned. This can be done by sorting the primary assignment inbox by similarity index, and then working systematically through student submissions in descending similarity order. Where appropriate, this task can be undertaken by an experienced senior tutor.

Interpreting the Turnitin originality report always requires the application of academic judgment, so it is important that the similarity index alone not be used as an arbiter of whether a student’s work should be referred for further consideration. In our experience, using the similarity index as a “cut off” point for determining whether to report a student’s work or not can often mean that students in need of development are not identified, and so miss out on the (formal) opportunity to further hone their academic skills.

More timely incident reporting can also significantly assist faculty teams to manage their case loads and resolve matters as soon after they are reported as possible. Where this does happen, cases are often resolved in line with the typical marking cycle of two to three weeks. This was evident in semester 2, 2016, where the timeliness of reporting improved relative to semester 1 led to a reduction in average case duration from 38 to 29 days. It can also go some way toward reducing the stress and anxiety on the part of students and the pressures associated with managing high case loads on the part of faculty teams.

Minimising recidivism in a nutshell

  1. Early and timely intervention with students has been demonstrated to have a significant positive impact on their ability to make the most out of their subsequent learning experiences and, by extension, reducing the rate of recidivism over time.
  2. Where unit of study and faculty processes are at their most efficient, Educational Integrity Coordinators are able to ensure that students in need of further development receive this development as soon as possible after an issue is identified.
  3. The timeliness of incident reporting has a significant impact on the ability of faculty teams to manage their case loads effectively.
  4. Timely incident reporting and efficient case management often mean that matters are resolved in parallel to local marking processes, and so simplify administration at the unit of study level.

Please feel free to contact us in the Office of Educational Integrity for further advice and support. You can find our contact details here and here.

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