Academic Honesty

Academic Honesty – a whole school issue


In response to a educational masters degree unit considering on-site leadership I constructed an action plan for a whole school response to the issue of academic honesty.  Although the situation is fictional I have identified considered the support structure presently in place at my present school.

Academic Honesty at a School Level

Promoting academic honesty in Science essay writing


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I have spent some time speaking to teachers from other departments to help develop the best strategies for promoting academic honesty in the completion of essays.  I have learnt a few tricks which I will mention here but the most importantly I have come away feeling lucky to teach science.  The reason being is that this subject offers so many great opportunities to provide the students with true ownership of their work.  For example I have task in my year 10 unit which requires the students to promote the use of alternative resources in the production of electricity – Alternative Energy report.   However, by getting my students to select both the country and the resource it provides a rich diversity of content, which in turn helps promote academic honesty.

I recognize that keeping track of all stages of the formation of an essay reduces the opportunity for plagiarism by increasing the teacher’s awareness of the content.  Yet this also provides increased opportunity for teacher feedback to help students respond and create an improved final product.  Ms. Perry from my department showed an excellent example of this in an assignment asking students  for the consideration of if the issues surrounding access rare earth metals impact on their worth there for us? This essay planning and structure document clearly includes all of the discussed stages of research, structure development and a final draft production.

Within the earlier mentioned research stage it is vital that it incorporates methods that incorporate the recording the sources.  This simplifies the task of referencing when compiling the final draft.  I use a document which ask students to extract either guiding questions or required information from the assessment task instructions and to map these with the sources used – Research management with guiding questions tool.

Use an on-line plagiarism checking tool, such as as an opportunity to teach students not catch them.  So allow and promote students submitting versions onto in advance of the final deadline so that they can identify places where they need to improve their referencing and/ or paraphrasing skills.

1)      Choose a task which provides students with the opportunity for individual ownership.

2)      Identify and support the skills required at every stage of the student process in constructing an essay.

3)      Provide adequate time for students to complete each stage.

4)      Provide adequate time for you to give valuable feedback.

5)      Expect all sources to be fully referenced and embed the appropriate preparation into the student process.

6)      Use as a tool to help students identify academic honesty issues in advance of handing in a final version.

I hope that by following my own advice I can really improve the academic honesty of my students over this academic.  I will keep you informed of how I do., as ever, though this blog.

The issues of academic honesty and the class test


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In theory a test can be an excellent assessment task and devoid of all academic issues.  We like to think it as a pure moment; a student walks into a class, answers the questions the best they can and then walks away.  Thus, leaving a true insight into the ability of the students’ ability to use the tools they have learnt.  Furthermore, a test can act as excellent piece of formative assessment if the students are given the opportunity for a supported review.  With these honest aspirations I want to consider some of issues relating to academic honesty which need to be considered for this to be a truly fair assessment tool.

Please note that for this blog post I am considering a test which a student might sit at the end of a unit.  I am purposely avoiding the issues related to nationalized testing – such as exam style bias, or manipulation by teachers due to a range of outside pressures.  I am also not advocating this as the only suitable assessment task – I think it is one of many assessment tools which I accept some students perform better with than others.

So with my caveat out of the way here is my initial list of issues that need to be considered by both the teacher and the school institution:


Description Solution
Institutional test history When used as a formative tool it means that a test gets given to the student community and this becomes a reference for future generations of students completing this unit. 1)      As a teacher we need to revisit the test we set each time and make adjustments

2)      Only use as a summative tool – which to me is an educational failing.

Different test times When timetabling causes tests to be held at different times it means that those students who take the test first can provide an insight to those taking the test later. 1)      Set the timetable with an opportunity to have at least one shared period (this might put another subject out once in a while but what goes around should come around for them also)

2)      Set a different test for every class – which to me would not help the teachers with their work-life balance

Oh no I have missed the test due to…. Student misses the test so completes it later hence benefitting from the shared insight of other students 1)      Set one catch-up test which has been suitable adjusted and informs all students that this is the only other opportunity to complete this assessment.

2)       There should be other chances to test students during the year

Crib sheets Secret additional notes brought into the test
  1. Set a test which is based on application of knowledge and not recollection e.g. give them all the formulas they need
  2. Consistent rules relating to students being caught cheating in this manner
The useful toilet break A well placed toilet break provides an opportunity for a student to use their phone to access a world of information School rule that you cannot go to the bathroom until you have finished the test, unless you are accompanied


I mentioned earlier this was my initial list because I am hoping this blog post will provide an opportunity for further issues and solutions to be voiced.  So please do add comments.

Protecting the scientific investigation from plagiarism


Why a scientific investigation is important

A scientific investigation should provide an opportunity for students to work the scientific method – the general guide to the development of scientific thinking which is used from elementary school experiments to published scientific papers.  This continuity provides students with the opportunity for students to recognise that every associated write-up provides the opportunity to put to use what they have learnt before and experiment with improvements to help their own development.


The right investigation

I genuinely believe in that last statement but feel that too often students are set tasks are not open ended enough for students to be empowered by individual ownership due to repetition within the class or, worse, around the world with those experimental standards (for example the classic resistance of the wire experiment).  One reason for this is that teachers are afraid to set tasks that they do not completely understand so to protect their position as the revered holder of all knowledge, rather than acknowledging their shared role as a life long learner.

My favourite recent scientific investigation for a year 11 class involved the research into factors that affects the function of a simple voltaic cell.  The features which make this a suitable task are:

1) The potential experiments are relatively easy to set up and tale measurements from

2) With several different types and many electrolyte options it becomes easy for every student in the class to have their own individual investigations

3) I could not predict all the results found so felt that I became an involved learner with my students.

4) Even when some of my more able students dug up the Nernst Equation it became obvious that the ranges of concentration were not specified so often led to some delightfully (more for me than the students) contradictory results.

4) Some investigations can lead to null results, where values do not change.  This provides a great reminder to students that sometimes things are not dependent (which is seemingly trained out of students by teachers with the insecurities earlier mentioned)

5) Null results also provide an excellent gateway into conversations about the precision and reliability of results so supporting the requirement leap into higher level science (in my case those set by the IB diploma)

The right student support

Students need to recognise that every scientific investigation write-up should build upon the last.  Especially, when there is access to a digital version in the class due to a one-to-one program, the previous investigation, including the teacher’s comments, makes a great starting point as it best highlights the students’ strengths and weaknesses.

For this to work a school should insure that the expectations for a scientific investigation are consistent across all teachers throughout a year group.  I know every teacher has their own quirks when it comes to a write-up so bringing a year group team together to discuss this is vital.  Furthermore these pieces should fit together as a natural progression from year to year, which requires a department to consider all of these collectively.  For example my own year 7 template introduces and scaffolds al l the required sections, whilst the year 11 support material is no longer a template and is more detailed but does represent the same core sections with language continuity.

Helping each student develop their own glossary of useful terms for each section of a scientific investigation write-up is also a useful tool.  For instance sentences which correctly describe different graphical trends could be built up in a data analysis section.

The right teacher engagement

Academic honesty issues can be avoided if the teacher is constantly aware of what the student has produced at each stage – which is briefly explained below.

1) Aim, hypothesis and variables

Students should be provided the equipment to familiarise themselves with the investigation and related the equipment to help spark a question from which to develop a one sentence aim.   A one paragraph hypothesis should explain what they expect to happen and why.  A table showing the type of variable (independent, dependent and fixed) and how they are changed measured or controlled.

2) Procedure and results table (this should be a hurdle for starting the investigation for students)

The procedure, which describes the scientific process, with clear instructional and numbered steps.  A results table that, would normally, include the independent variable in the first column and the dependent variable in the following columns depending on the number of repetitions mentioned in the method.

3) Results and refined method

The results should be gathered and the method refined to reflect what the student actually does.

4) Data analysis (often including a graph)

An analysis of the results – often a graph and an explanation of what trends have been identified.

5) Conclusion

A consideration of the quality of the data collected relating to the reliability and validity.  Before presenting a scientific explanation of the findings. The validity, of course, should be related to if an existing scientific explanation can be used to support the identified trends.

6) Evaluation

The identification of issues which arose during the investigation and the related improvements.

This is all made even easier when each stage is reviewed by the teacher using a tool such as for each stage to be turned in and this should highlight the similarities between earlier stages and the final piece of work.

The right student requirements

By producing an explicit timeline for the stages described above it helps students manage their time more effectively and models the teacher expectations – so trying to eliminate the ill-conceived student developed plan of completing a scientific investigation write-up in one, often late night and last minute, attempt.

At best a hypothesis should reflect the students understanding at a point in time which guide their predictions.  It does not have to be based on the latest related academic studies but a student’s articulation of prior knowledge and therefore for a teacher provides a tremendous insight.  By making this clear it alleviates a convoluted hypothesis which has been designed to best fit the conclusions scientific explanation.

It is expected that a conclusion should contain a scientific explanation and that should be based on what others have identified.  For this reason it is vital that students understand that they need to identify their sources using a school wide consistent method e.g. MLA format referencing.


The rules to protect scientific investigations from academic honesty issues:

Rule 1: The teacher must design a suitably open-ended investigation with enough variety for all students to have individual ownership. 

Rule 2: Every investigation should emphasize the embedded building blocks for which the student to improve their own skills, and grades.

Rule 3: Teacher must be aware of all stages of the investigation to make it easier to identify work which is not that of a student but also to provide support at the relevant time.

Rule 4: We are all standing on the shoulders of giants and identifying where the key scientific concepts located in the conclusion come is best done by including a bibliography (and if possible in-text referencing). 

Academic Honesty – The issue


I believe that the issue of a lack of academic honesty is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.  However I also see that this is not one dimensional issue where success equates to catching students doing the wrong thing.  This issue is far more complicated than that and needs to consider both the driving pressures on students and the lack of support and additional pressures on teachers which causes them to accept transgressions.

Two recent situations which I have observed highlight a number of elements:

1)      In a year level discussion group I had to listen to teachers cry out that they felt much of the work produced by certain students was not their own.   This clearly highlights an issue of tutors (which in this context is a misuse of the title) completing student assignments so avoiding the issues of plagiarism as would be identified by the school’s use of   Furthermore, even though teachers recognize that the composition was too advanced for the student which they regularly interact with at school, they neither felt they have the time or the support of a rigorous school system to proceed with the issue.



2)      In my own final year MYP Science class I uncovered an issue through which identified the replication of a procedure another teacher’s class.  As it turned out my discovery was actually only the tip of the iceberg.  For what had actually happened was a student had stolen a draft version of a report from his lab partner, he then used a section which he knew his lab partner had further developed (so avoiding being caught in but shared this with a student from another class who thought it was an internet available lab report (yes yet another issue here) and so felt it was acceptable to use.  This web of deceit did finally unravel and the unwitting participant work was assessed whilst those students who lacked academic honesty where not.  However, the published school procedures where ignored and so the message to the students was muted.

These examples show how a culture of academic dishonesty is prevalent and that teachers are not empowered to take this on. So I want to use make my own classroom a place where the balance is shifted.  I have been further inspired by John T. Simpson excellent post “10 ways to cheat proof your classroom”. So over my few blog posts I am going to be honest about where I presently am and try and develop practical methods to take on this issue in my classroom, within my department and perhaps throughout my school.

Over the next few weeks I will be considering how we can insure academic honesty can be maintained in the following assessment situations; test, essay and scientific investigation.  With each of these I want to also highlight practice which develops a better understanding of this issue for all.

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