Academic Integrity at UWindsor

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Ensuring Academic Integrity

A common concern about assignments that don’t occur in a proctored setting is the possibility that students will cheat. Research into student motives for cheating, however, indicates that the key reasons students resort to plagiarism and other forms of cheating are not connected to the degree of oversight, but are related to pressure, work overload, lack of confidence in their ability to complete assignments successfully, or cultural differences in views of citation and authority.

The following are key strategies to help mitigate plagiarism in assignment design:

  • Design assignments that make cheating difficult: Assessments that require originality, synthesis of specific materials, or substantial analysis are much more difficult to plagiarize than those that ask only for memorization or definitions. Consider, for example, having your students address a specific audience or incorporate specific course materials into their assignments. This will make it much more difficult to locate and copy relevant material.
  • Design assignments with collaboration and open books in mind: Another option is to embrace the possibility that students may want to discuss the assignment or conduct some research. Key is to choose high level problems that have many different solutions, and let students know that while they must submit individual responses, they are welcome to consult each other and the wider literature. You can even provide a forum for these discussions (eg discussion boards or blogs) where you can monitor and provide support.
  • Ensure assignments are relevant and expectations clear: Research indicates that students are most likely to resort to plagiarism when they do not see the value of the assignment or understand what it is they are supposed to do. When they can see the value of the exercise to their future courses or careers and thoroughly understand the tasks they are expected to complete, they are much more likely to do the work themselves.
  • Be candid about the value of academic integrity: Explain to students why academic integrity is important and provide resources to help ensure students know how to cite properly. You might also consider academic integrity contracts, where you ask each student to provide an affirmation that their work is their own on the cover page of assignments, or respond to a question affirming their identity when taking a test. These measures do not guarantee that students will be telling the truth, but they do provide additional impetus to act with integrity.
  • Use plagiarism detection software: Blackboard provides SafeAssign, and if enabled when setting up your assignment, will compare student work against a database that includes their peers’ assignments, as well as webpages and journals. This will give you insight into the degree to which an assignment may have been copied. Note that the results may take time during periods of increased load on the systems – and results do need to be interpreted with caution. For more information on using SafeAssign: For more information on interpreting SafeAssign results: [1]
  • View metadata on submitted documents. If you suspect that a student has cheated, you can look at the document properties to get a better sense of the origins of that document, the authors and date that it was created and modified.


Bartholomae, David. "Inventing the university." Journal of Basic Writing 5.1 (1986): 4-23.

Franklyn-Stokes, A. & Newstead, S.E. (1995) Undergraduate cheating: Who does what and why?, Studies in Higher Education, 20:2, 159-172, DOI: 10.1080/03075079512331381673 

Gillis, K., Lang, S., Norris, M. and Palmer, L. (2009). Electronic plagiarism checkers: Barriers to developing an academic voice. The WAC Journal, 20, 51.

Howard, R. M., Serviss, T., & Rodrigue, T. K. (2010). Writing from sources, writing from sentences. Writing and Pedagogy, 2(2), 177-192.

Howard, R. M. (2002). Don't police plagiarism: just teach!. Education Digest, 67(5), 46-49.

Jamieson, Sandra. (2013). “Reading and Engaging Sources: What Student’s Use of Sources Reveals About Advanced Reading Skills.” In Across the Disciplines (ATD), Special issue on Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum.