Academic Integrity:
Promoting Genuine Learning in Your Courses

Volume 12 Number 2 (January 2003)

Academic integrity has become an issue of increasing concern on university campuses across the continent and beyond. Motivated by concerns about the behaviour of some students in their academic work from those who inadvertently present ideas without attribution to those who intentionally download papers from the Internet many campus are looking for new ways to maintain and enhance academic integrity.

What's the problem?

Just how much of a problem are plagiarism and other forms of cheating? A scan of recent reports is informative:

Why do students cheat?

For instructors, the process of engaging with ideas and being informed by other peoples' ideas is central to the academic enterprise, and the tests and assignments they give in their courses are ways of providing students with opportunities to do this. For many students, however, the tests and assignments are simply tasks that need to be completed in order to move further along the path to their degree. Values of academic integrity, genuine learning and honest effort are for instructors fundamental to this work, but to some students there may be less of a direct connection between these concepts and the work they are doing in their courses.

Students cite a variety of reasons for why they might be tempted to cheat and plagiarize, such as:

Discussions of these and other reasons for cheating and plagiarism can be found in Brown (2001), Harris (2001), Newton (2001), McCabe, Trevino and Butterfield (1999).

So what can we do about it?

Looking at the above reasons and the pedagogical challenges each one presents might helpfully inform the kinds of strategies instructors might consider to address them. In dealing with cheating and plagiarism, there are four main areas in which instructors might concentrate activity: education, prevention, detection, and investigation.

  1. Education - Help students understand what academic integrity is all about, the standards of conduct that apply to all academic work and promulgated in York's senate Policy on Academic Honesty, and the kinds of referencing and citation practices that you expect students to follow. On page 5, James Brown offers a strategy for using the idea of an "honour code" to help students understand and commit to principles of academic integrity. On the back page is an announcement about a new online tutorial for York students to help them learn about issues of plagiarism and how they can avoid it.
  2. Prevention - Structure tests and assignments to reduce incidents of cheating and plagiarism for students. The bulk of this issue is devoted to offering practical strategies that instructors can use when designing courses, when teaching in the laboratory and studio environments, and when structuring examinations, tests and written assignments. On page 3, Kim Michasiw outlines the kinds of conditions that instructors can create for academic integrity to flourish. George O Brien, on page 6, discusses the kinds of strategies instructors can use to minimize cheating on exams. Paula Wilson, Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt and Allen Koretsky discuss the kinds of strategies instructors might use to foster academic integrity in science laboratories, in Fine Arts studio courses, and in academic essays, respectively (pages 7, 9, 11). Finally, page 9 contains an announcement about a plagiarism detection program,, that is being piloted at York to help deter plagiarism.
  3. Detection - Be alert for clues that indicate cheating or plagiarism (i.e., changes in writing quality, style, expression and sentence structure), check out essay services on the web for papers that might be relevant to the assignment, use Internet search engines such as Google to trace a suspicious phrase back to the original source, or use copy-detection software such as (see page 9). In addition, Allen Koretsky advises that students be reminded that theoretically no submitted essay is considered complete unless they can explain and defend any part of the essay, any idea, phrase, word, or the essay as a whole (page 11).
  4. Investigation - Hopefully, the strategies outlined in the above three sections will render this fourth section less significant. However, in the event that a suspicion of academic dishonesty arises it behooves us as a community to it with the condemnation it deserves (Senate, 1995). Here York's Seneta Policy on Academic Honesty can provide helpful guidance to instructors for investigating and dealing with cases of academic dishonesty, both formally and informally (see page 11). Specifically, the Senate Policy defines and clarifies the University commitment to principles of academic honesty, the kinds of conduct that are regarded as academic offenses, the penalties for those found of an academic offense, and the procedures for dealing with those accused of committing an academic offense (the full Policy can be found at These procedures may be supplemented by Faculty procedures, and instructors are advised to consult the appropriate Faculty offices for further clarification.

We hope that you will find in this issue many ideas that you can modify, adapt or use as a springboard to other ideas to help promote academic integrity in your courses. As always, we invite you to contribute your own ideas and strategies to add to the vital and growing collection of materials on this topic for instructors at York.

Brown, J. 2001. Plagiarism and student acculturation: Strangers in the strange lands of our disciplines. In Newton, J. et al, Voices from the Classroom. Toronto: Garamond Press.

Fain, M. Internet Paper Mills. Kimbel Library, Coastal Carolina University. <> 23 July 2002, accessed 18 Dec 2002.

Foster, A. Up to 14% of Australian university students may be plagiarizing from web, study suggests. Chronicle of Higher Education, 20 November 2002.

Hoover, E. Georgia Tech concludes cheating inquiry and issues penalties. Chronicle of Higher Education, 31 May 2002.

Jones, V. C. 2002. Cheating Carleton Students Punished. The Globe & Mail, 4 July 2002.

McCabe, D., Trevino, L. and Butterfield, K. (1999)Academic integrity in honor code and non-honor code environments: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Higher Education, 70:2 (211-233).

McCabe, D. Research page of the Centre for Academic Integrity website < > accessed 12 Dec 2002.

Merrit, J. You mean cheating is wrong? Business Week, 9 December 2002.

Senate Policy on Academic Honesty, York University (1995) < >

Young, J. U of Virginia dismisses 45 students and revokes 3 diplomas as cheating probe concludes. Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 November 2002.