Do Students Know What Academic Dishonesty Is?


Students know that academic dishonesty is wrong and punishable.  Students clearly understand some of the acts known to be academically dishonest, especially where intention to break known rules for a grade advantage is apparent, such as in exam cheating or purchasing papers on-line.

At the U of S it is a requirement that teachers provide information or link to the information about academic misconduct on course syllabi.  And, yet, students are still left wondering is it wrong to study from circulating old exams from the same course or professor?  Is it wrong to, instead of reading Hamlet the play, to watch a movie version and write an analysis on that basis?  Is it wrong to make minor changes to an assignment submitted for a past course that asked for a personal opinion in fulfillment of a current course requirement?  Is it wrong to work with a group of classmates on an assignment that is to be submitted and graded individually?

What should be done to address students’ uncertainty about academic dishonesty?  I think that it is not surprising that confusion exists and interpretations differ in terms of academic honesty and dishonesty.   Whether we know it or not, our students see us as the authority for academic dishonesty in our classrooms, be they physical or virtual.   By virtue of having the role of teacher, we hold authority and transmit our personal values and those of our field and department or college.

In the study I conducted about academic dishonesty, students suggested professors ought to (1) clearly articulate all the rules and assumptions related to the means for completion of academic work, (2) position themselves as authorities who will both take responsibility for teaching students about what it takes to be academically honest as well as enforce the rules if contravened, and (3) explain the conditions, if any, under which the rules may be altered, for example, an extension to a deadline.

What might students’ need for explicit rule-setting reflect?  Here are three possible reasons that come to mind:

  1. A strong rule-orientation may reflect a developmental stage where students treat knowledge as certain and believe authorities must know best.  For students at this stage, the rules are either broken or are not and a teacher’s responsibility is to articulate the rules, teach students how to follow them, and enforce then enforce those rules.
  2. Experience may have taught some students that teachers at the same university differ by personal and/or disciplinary approach to matters of academic honesty and dishonesty and therefore an explicit statement of expectations is needed to clear up uncertainty.
  3. Competition for grades can be a preoccupying force for some students and the explicit setting of rules for academic honesty may assure them of a “level playing field” so that they don’t feel honesty might actually put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Those interested in the University policies on course syllabi and academic misconduct can find them at http://www.usask.ca/university_secretary/council/academiccourses.php

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