Ready to Talk to Students About Suspected Academic Misconduct?

When you suspect academic misconduct in your course, it’s common to feel frustrated.  Some educators feel insulted or angry.  Some blame themselves.   Some people have a mix of all of this.   Regardless, if you suspect a student has engaged in academic misconduct it is important to talk to them about it.

The points below are offered to help you think through your approach, so that you can feel confident and clear about how you will facilitate that conversation.

Key things to think about

First, get grounded.  Return to your own commitment to what ethical teaching and learning looks like in your course, in your subject/disciplinary area.  Ask yourself:

  • What am I committed to with respect to students’ learning?
  • What am I committed to with respect to fair assessment?
  • What am I committed to with respect to my own role for academic integrity?
  • Why am I asking the student to talk with me?

Getting Started

To begin, once you request a conversation with the student, what is it you want to discuss?  For example:

  • What will you tell the student about the sequence of events/observations/steps that has led you to request this discussion?
  • How will you explain your reasons for suspecting academic misconduct?
  • What will you say about why this is important to you as an educator?

During the discussion

Think about how will you will solicit the information you need and give the student’s response your full consideration.  For example, you could ask the student these questions:

  • How did the student approach the task?
  • What did the student expect?
  • What did the student think the rules were?
  • Can we agree on what happened? Or do we see different facts at play?

Complexities can arise

For example:

  • Will the student’s stated intention or claims of ignorance matter to you in this situation?
  • Are there any extenuating circumstances that would change your mind or alter your approach with this student?
  • What if the student apologizes?
  • What if the student gets mad?
  • What if the student cries?
  • What if the student is silent?
  • What will your response be if the student implicates others?
  • What if the student reveals highly sensitive personal information?
  • What if the student wants to have someone else sit in on the conversation like a parent, a friend, a USSU or GSA advocate?
  • How can you be ready to connect the student to other campus resources (e.g., counseling, a USSU or GSA advocate)?
  • What will you say if you want to pause the discussion if it’s going “off the rails”, if emotions are running high, if the student or you need some time to think before speaking further?

You do not need to make a decision while talking with the student.

It is probably better to reflect first and to seek advice from the person in your College who manages the academic misconduct reports and procedures.

It will be important to explain any next steps to the student as a matter of fact (including taking some time to reflect on the conversation as a next step).  Remember, the student should not feel like they are being coerced into an admission in order to avoid the procedures of the academic misconduct regulations.

You will be considering what you have heard from the student and what is suggested by the situation or what evidence exists.  You may think the case is a teaching moment which also means there is no penalty, including no re-submission or re-writes.  You may think the case requires a penalty and then there are informal and formal procedures to engage through your College.

Take the opportunity

Lastly, it is important for educators to flag potential academic misconduct and ask questions early, and early in a student’s academic career.  When we do not follow up, we may be inadvertently teaching students that their shortcut or their error or their blatant misconduct is actually acceptable, or at least not so serious.  Creating a climate for academic integrity calls on educators to be consistent and transparent in the enforcement of the rules that we set.