Factors that Can Contribute to Academic Misconduct
This section of the Teaching Guide for GSIs addresses some of the common causes of or factors contributing to students’ commission of academic misconduct. Addressing these causes and factors can help students negotiate their academic difficulties without resorting to unfair means.
Prevention through Instructional Approaches
One of the most common causes of academic misconduct is ineffective or inadequate study habits, for example superficial reading practices and last-minute cramming. Some students may need to enlarge their repertoire of academic strategies to cope with their courses’ intellectual demands. If students are not familiar with effective and legitimate strategies, they may be tempted to try dishonest ones.
You can help students address this issue directly by discussing reading and study strategies with them in class. Do this several weeks before an exam and alert students to the problems associated with last-minute cramming and sleep loss. When a student comes to your office hours saying he or she is having trouble with the material, ask how the student goes about learning the material in his or her study time, and explore ways to improve study or homework strategies for your course. Further suggestions for helping students with their study habits appear in the Plagiarism and Cheating pages of this Teaching Guide chapter.
You can also refer students — or obtain information yourself — from the Student Learning Center’s excellent Academic Success and Strategic Learning Resources page.
Assignments and test preparation are sometimes left to the last minute because a student has not yet worked out how to organize and prioritize the work, or how to handle multiple large course projects or exams simultaneously. Some students maintain high commitments to extracurricular activities, outside jobs, or family responsibilities in addition to their university studies. Under such circumstances a student may intentionally or unintentionally resort to dishonest practices in an attempt to raise their grade.
Students need to understand that overloading themselves will inevitably affect their academic work and that they may need additional skills and resources to handle all that they’re taking on.
Students will sometimes procrastinate or avoid studying because they may harbor unrealistic expectations of themselves — for example, that they have to appear more sophisticated or knowledgeable than they feel they are, or that they shouldn’t show that they don’t understand something, or that they should be able to do all their academic work with equal success regardless of the difficulty of the material. You may recognize their feelings in your own experience — the sense that “everyone here is so much smarter than I am!” Students may fear betraying this feeling. Fear can produce paralysis, leading to desperate last-minute measures. Students who feel they don’t have their own ideas or who are afraid to express their ideas may be tempted, even unconsciously, to borrow others’ ideas. Likewise, students who don’t understand course concepts from the material presented can be tempted to resort to unacceptable means of obtaining a good grade.
You can help by explaining to students that one of the primary purposes of section and office hours is to help them develop their knowledge in a safe environment. They are not expected to know everything already, but to work together and individually to increase their knowledge and understanding. Exploration, not avoidance, is the better way forward.
One way GSIs foreground the learning process — and one way students learn to put aside their anxiety—is to use online discussion forums. Many GSIs have found that students who have otherwise been reticent in class feel more free to ask questions and experiment with ideas online. They can also gain confidence as they find that they can answer their peers’ questions or bring valuable ideas to the conversation.
There may also be other circumstances or stressors. Many instructors therefore include in their course syllabi or section information sheets the contact information for the University Health Services’ Counseling and Psychological Services, which offers individual and group counseling to students.
Finally, an increasingly common cause of academic misconduct is ignorance or lack of clarity about what it is or why some practices are unacceptable. Because U.S. university standards may not have been addressed in students’ previous academic experiences, students may arrive at UC Berkeley without a clear understanding of what constitutes academic misconduct or why there are disciplinary sanctions on some behaviors.
Types of academic misconduct that are prone to occur as a result of unfamiliarity or misunderstanding include the following:
- Splitting an assignment with or working too closely with another student in a way that results in both handing in nearly the same piece of work. Instructors need to be clear about their expectations around student collaboration and individual responsibilities.
- Submitting the same paper for grading in different courses. Students often think this is okay because they are the original authors of the papers in question. However, this practice can constitute self-plagiarism. Students must cite all sources, including their own previously written works. (See “Plagiarism/Self-Plagiarism” at Statements on Course Policies, Academic Integrity.) Moreover, students receive course credit for each class in which they complete all the work satisfactorily; they may build on what they learn from one course to another, but they must complete the work for each course separately.
- Plagiarizing from electronic resources. The free availability of information on the Internet has led to the common belief that if something is on the web it must be fair game for students to copy and use as their own. Encouragement to create mash-ups as assignments in their earlier schooling may also lead to confusion in the college environment.
Let students know up front what the expectations are for your course and your field, what some of the misconceptions are, and what the consequences are for ignoring the boundaries of academic integrity. Have a talk early in the semester with the Instructor of Record for the course about special concerns or policies that the instructor thinks may be likely to come up and how the Instructor of Record deals with them.
In general, the possibility of academic misconduct is best handled by proactively helping students develop and use legitimate strategies throughout the semester, as well as resources the university offers to help students succeed.
This is the approach taken in the Teaching Guide’s sections on the most frequent forms of academic misconduct: cheating and plagiarism.