23 April 2023

Academic integrity on a higher level

It happens quite a lot that I am called to check on student work that contains a lack of paraphrasing. The students are, of course, encouraged to take the information from extant work, but they can't use the wording. They have to explain the information from their sources in their own words; only then can we judge if they understood what they read. And even though the students know we have software that detects if they copy phrases over, it still happens on a regular basis. And a lack of paraphrasing is not academic malpractice; it is, however, academic poor practice so we do act upon it.

At some point I was called to check on an exam. An entire paragraph had been copied over from an internet source. And checking my records I noticed that student had been caught before. And as soon as it is a second offence, I have to drag this person to the integrity committee of the entire university. I know that students are not very happy when they get the initial email from me, that says they have been caught paraphrasing insufficiently, and they are at risk of getting a penalty. I imagine getting the email saying that you have been caught for a second offence, and it will be dealt with centrally, is even worse.

The actual meeting, which took place online, was quite brief. The chair asked everyone to introduce themselves, and set out the procedure. He then asked me what the allegation was that had lead to this meeting, and asked the student what their response was. And then the panel had all the information they needed. We all left, and later that day the message came with the outcome. It boiled down to a lower grade. And I thought that was reasonable. 

My predecessor had hoped that after one stern conversation, this student would be more careful. But in the stress of the exam period, it happened again. I really hope now they will always keep the need for using their own wording in the forefront of their head. And by now there is not that much left of their degree! I have faith. 

I have reason to believe this won’t be the last time I will meet with this panel. But I hope it will remain a rare occurrence. For me it’s no big deal, but you can tell that for a student, it probably is. And it would just be be more pleasant for all if there was no need for it. Never doing stupid things under pressure is a big ask, though…

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