UNDERSTANDING UNAUTHORIZED COLLABORATION
What is unauthorized collaboration?
Unauthorized collaboration can be defined as cooperating, collaborating, or otherwise giving or receiving assistance in completing academic activities without the instructor’s permission. Concordia’s Academic Code of Conduct states that unauthorized collaboration is an offence.
Unauthorized collaboration gives students an unfair advanage over other students. It is important that students must produce academic work that demonstrates their own academic ability; this cannot be determined if a third party has been contributing to their academic work. When an instructor evaluates a student on individual assignments, midterms, exams, etc; it is important for the instructor to evaluate a student’s knowledge and understanding of course material. Although course material might be difficult, it is important to always apply your own knowledge.
What are some examples of unauthorized collaboration?
- Asking a classmate for their answers.
- Borrowing your friend’s assignment to see how they structured it.
- Working with a study group to complete an individual assignment.
- Getting someone else to write your paper.
- Using a file sharing website to access completed assessments.
- Showing another student your essay before the assignment is due (helping another student to commit an offence is also an academic misconduct violation).
- Using Word’s track changes in a friend’s essay to rewrite sentences and explain ideas.
- Sharing your computer code with another student.
- Asking a student for their assignments who took the course in a previous semester. Keep in mind that this is considered an offence for both parties, even if the student completed the course in a different semester.
How do I know how much collaboration is allowed?
Collaborative work allows students to explore concepts in much greater depth than what would be possible individually. However, ensuring that you are submitting work that fairly demonstrates your own academic ability is important. The instructor decides what the level of appropriate collaboration is for each assignment. It may be different in each assessment in the same course and across the different faculties. If you are unsure, always ask the instructor for clarification. Unless the instructor specifies, it should always be assumed that course work is to be done individually. Discussing course material, solving practice problems, is a good way to facilitate your own learning. However, discussing solutions or ideas for an individual assessment, becomes an academic offence.
Case study 1: Looking at a completed paper
Chris has his first assignment for a course he is taking. It is due tomorrow and he is finally getting a chance to get to it. When he sits down to do the assignment, he realizes he has no idea where to start. Luckily, his friend, Tom took the course last year. He sends Tom an email asking for some tips on how to get started. Tom emails his old assignment from last year and Chris realizes that some of the questions are the same. Although the instructor made it clear that this work should be individual, he uses Tom’s structure and some content for each of the questions that are the same, completes the remaining questions and submits the assignment.
Even though Chris only wanted some tips he will be influenced by what he reads, and it will likely be too similar to Tom’s paper. By copying directly, Chris is not demonstrating his own ability. Chris is also missing out on the learning for this subject, which may be needed in a later assessment.
Chris is likely to already be too far behind to catch up and he is now making a decision that he would not normally make. Reaching out to the instructor or the TA to explain this situation is always better than cheating. If caught, the result could be a failing grade on the assignment or an F in the course with a permanent notation on the student's record.
Case study 2: Divide and conquer — Lab reports
Marc, Lindsey and Abdul are working together on a lab assignment for their Biology course. They are assigned to work together all term. The instructions indicate that they must work together to complete the experiments and then write and submit the lab reports individually. Marc suggests that they take turns writing up the report each week and share it with each other. Each partner could then reword the report and submit it.
Each member of the group is not demonstrating their own academic ability. If another course builds on the knowledge gained from these lab reports, then the students will not have acquired the knowledge they need to be successful.
The reports must be completed individually. In this case, students are allowed to gather their data for their lab reports, but the report itself is to be completed individually. Students can get help from the instructor or TA. For help with study strategies, the Student Success Centre offers appointments with learning specialists and study skills workshops.
Case study 3: Using file sharing websites
Jennifer has been incredibly busy and doesn’t get a chance to even look at her calculus assignment until the weekend before. She realizes that there is more to this assessment than she first thought. Feeling desperate, she Googles the title of the assignment and finds a site that offers her access to instructor material for her course. She pays the fee, accesses the site and finds all of the solutions to her assignment being made available for her. Jennifer copies all of the answers and submits the paper.
Jennifer is not demonstrating her own academic ability by copying the answers. Jennifer is trusting people that she does not know to provide her with the correct answers. If a further paper builds on this one, Jennifer is missing vital knowledge. File sharing sites also violate the intellectual property rights of instructors.
Jennifer should reach out to the instructor or TA for help in understanding and starting her assessment as soon as possible. If time management is a contributing factor, then the semester planner or Student Success Centre workshops would be very helpful.
How can I help my friends and protect myself?
Unauthorized collaboration is frequently the result of good intentions and trying to help a friend in need. The best way to avoid accidental unauthorized collaboration and help your friends is to:
- Help them to understand the material by discussing the concepts in general without talking about the actual answers.
- Encourage them to get help from their instructor or TA as soon as possible.
- Avoid sitting next to your friends and discussing ideas when you are both working on the same assignment.
- Compare feedback after the assessment has been marked.
- Tell you friends about the support and resources available at the Student Success Centre.
- If your friend assures you that they will not take your answers and just needs some help, you can also refer them to the Academic Code of Conduct. At the end, it is not worth jeopardizing your academic career.
What happens if I am caught violating academic integrity?
Academic misconduct is a serious form of intellectual dishonesty and the university will investigate all suspected allegations of academic misconduct. The Academic Code of Conduct details the process that will be followed where an academic misconduct violation is suspected. The sanctions vary according to many factors including the severity of the violation, what year you are in your program and whether it is a first violation.
The sanctions can include grade reductions or failure in the course or, in the case of severe or multiple violations, suspension or expulsion from the university. For more information visit concordia.ca/integrity.
Adapted from University of Calgary