Teaching and Learning Development Unit

Designing out plagiarism and collusion

planning maze

When designing modules or planning assessments it is important to consider how you might minimise opportunities for academic misconduct and encourage students to produce work which demonstrates their own understanding of the material and ideas in the module. Here are a few suggestions of ways to reduce plagiarism and collusion through module and assessment design:

Reducing the assessment load can significantly reduce the motivation and opportunity for plagiarism. Students often plagiarise when they are facing deadlines and cannot see any other way of completing their assignment, so making sure that we assess just as much as is necessary and do what we can to spread the load is one way to reduce students' motivation to plagiarise.

Using staged assessments will make students spread their work over time. For example, if an essay is to be written, then an essay plan or outline could be required at a fixed point before the essay deadline. This could be peer-assessed, with the tutor simply noting whether the plan has been produced. This will benefit all students as using criteria to assess each others' plans can allow them to fully understand and internalise the standards for the assignment. Structuring assessments in such a way that students have to start work on them earlier will reduce the stress involved in submitting on time and thereby reduce the motivation to plagiarise.

Essay titles/questions that require students to make an argument, analyse, evaluate or synthesise rather than just collecting and compiling material will promote deep learning as well as making it difficult to 'cut and paste' material into an essay.

Including recent real-life examples or case studies in the assessment task will make the assignment more relevant and engaging for students who will be more motivated to tackle the task than if they see it as a 'jumping hoops' or 'box-ticking' exercise. It will also be harder for students to plagiarise if the task is new and unique.

Titles/questions that require students to compare particular texts, ideas or models are also less likely to be plagiarised as the exact combination is likely to be new.

Assessments that produce a record of work over time, such as learning journals, fieldwork logs or lab notebooks are also very resilient to academic misconduct - especially if they are checked from time to time, or incorporated into teaching sessions. As these sorts of assessment often mirror professional activity they are also seen as relevant and therefore motivating.

Guidance on peer-learning and group tasks that makes very clear how much students are expected to work together and from which point the work must be done individually, will help students to get the most from group working without running the risk of being accused of collusion. If students are to be encouraged to work as a team on a project it may be better to assess the group rather than individuals. The pages on assessing group work may help you to design a group assessment.

The Academic Office has an extensive list of approved modes of assessment, many of which will encourage the sort of learning that is incompatible with academic misconduct. Many of the modes of assessment on the list will have been designed with particular subjects/disciplines in mind but are applicable beyond that area. Why not have a look and see if there is something that would work well with the learning outcomes on your module?

Here are a few of the many resources available to help you as you think about how to make the assessments on your modules less prone to plagiarism. You will find more in the TLDU web links for plagiarism and assessment and there is an Endnote library on Prevention of plagiarism.