Frequently Asked Questions - For Instructors
Below are a few tips. There are additional resources available on this website.
- Talk with your students about the importance of academic integrity and about plagiarism and cheating
- Encourage students to speak with you if they are unclear about instructions
- Give clear instructions (ideally in writing) about acceptable collaboration
- Direct students to the Academic Integrity website for more information
- Follow up on and address 'grey area' behaviour that falls short of an offence
- Require your students to complete the Academic Integrity Module and pass the quizzes with 100% before accepting the first written assignment (contact the Academic Skills Centre for more information)
Under the Undergraduate Academic Integrity Policy your role as an instructor is to investigate a suspected case of plagiarism or cheating (to which you may have been alerted by an invigilator). A lot of the information you will need to know is covered in these FAQs; however, it is important to read the full text of the policy, particularly for the definitions of plagiarism and cheating. Note that you need to treat the investigation process as confidentially as possible. Absolute confidentiality cannot be assured because you may need to contact others (see more below).
The ought reasonably to have known provision means that a student who credibly claims ignorance about plagiarism may still be guilty of an offence. The standard recognizes the responsibility of students to educate themselves about plagiarism as well as the University’s responsibility to educate students. The better the job done by instructors and the University in that education, the higher the standard. If a student has ignored communications about plagiarism and put on blinders in proceeding to complete an assignment, the student may be found guilty of an offence under the ought reasonably to have known provision.
The policy states that if an instructor has reason to believe a student has committed an academic offence, the instructor will so inform the student within a reasonable time and invite the student to meet to discuss the matter. The policy additionally states that the instructor will make reasonable inquiries to investigate the circumstances of the matter. Wording in the sample email is suggested best practice for informing the student. Emails must be sent to the student’s Trent account (the University cannot guarantee the security of other email addresses).
If you communicated with the student by email and he or she has not replied, you must make a reasonable effort to ensure that the student received the message (e.g., talk to the student after class, telephone student). The student is not required to meet with you if they do not wish to. You can proceed with your investigation without having met with the student.
The best approach to investigating a suspected offence is often a matter of common sense depending on the circumstances of the situation. Below are some general tips. If you have questions about best practices in a particular situation, your chair may be able to help.
Prepare documentation before meeting with the student, speak with others after. If you suspect plagiarism or cheating, search for fulsome documentary evidence before you meet with the student. However, most of the time the best practice is to meet with the student before seeking evidence from other individuals, particularly other students.
Start with open questions (e.g., Tell me what happened? What happened next?) to elicit the most information in your meeting with the student. You want to hear the full details of their version of events. Once you have their story, you can follow up with specific questions and ask the student to explain apparent contradictions.
If two (or more) students are involved in a situation (e.g., case of improper collaboration or one student copying from another), get each student's story separately. Try speak with each student before they have the chance to confer with one another. A good way to do this is to ask the students to stay after class, inform them that you have reason to believe an academic offence has been committed and have them wait (separately if there are two or more waiting) while you speak privately with each one individually. Note that students should be encouraged to wait, but doing so is voluntary and students cannot be compelled to stay. Of course, a negative inference may be drawn if a student leaves without offering a good reason.
Refer students to the Academic Integrity website. Students need to know their rights and obligations under the policy.
Document carefully. Take thorough notes of your interview(s) with students. Note any inconsistencies or problems with evidence given.
Assess credibility. Determining credibility where evidence conflicts can be difficult but is often a necessary exercise. Consider an individual’s knowledge and memory of events and ability to describe events in detail, whether a description of events accords with other evidence, the reasonableness of evidence in all of the circumstances, and an individual’s demeanor and manner. You do not have to accept the evidence of any individual or accept all of the evidence of any one individual (i.e., you may find the credibility of all individuals unsatisfactory and decide based on the impression of the whole of the evidence).
Collect evidence from third parties with care, particularly other students. For privacy and confidentiality reasons, care should be taken if you decide that your investigation needs to include speaking with third party students (most likely in a suspected case of cheating). You should ask open questions (e.g., Did you see/hear anything unusual during the exam?) and not reveal the specifics of the allegations. Generally you should not reveal the identity of accused students to other students. You may share information with other university personnel on a need-to-know basis but an open question approach also works best if you are seeking information from colleagues. If an accused student names a witness, you may be in a position to reveal more information.
Be fair. Your role is to gather all of the evidence. Even if you conclude that academic dishonesty has occurred, you should take care to conduct the investigation even-handedly and fairly. That may mean following up a student’s version of events or giving the student time to gather information.
Once you have collected the relevant information, you may decide that no academic dishonesty occurred, in which case the policy states that no further action will be taken unless new evidence comes to your attention. You need to inform the student of your decision and you may want to refer the student to the resources available on the Academic Integrity website and warn the student about grey-area behaviour.
If you conclude that academic dishonesty has occurred* your role is to prepare a report to the chair/director of your department/program.
*Note that the standard is more likely than not or balance of probabilities.
You must use the Academic Dishonesty Instructor Report. The report should summarize the relevant facts and evidence, including the student’s version of events (if given). The following information is required in the report: preliminary information including name of student, student number, name of course, and assignment details; facts/evidence (chronological account, reference attached documentation); investigation; student’s account; offence; extraordinary circumstances (if any).
Your report must state whether you consider the offence to be minor or major under the policy and the reasons for your conclusion. If you consider the offence to be minor, you should recommend a grade to be assigned (must be a failing grade). Note that the recommended grade is zero. If any extraordinary circumstances that might warrant a different penalty are evident in the case, they also need to be set out in your report.
Copies of all supporting documentation must be attached to the report.
The policy states that in deciding whether an offence is minor or major, consideration will be given to the following factors:
- the extent of the dishonesty
- whether the act in question was deliberate or whether the student ought reasonably to have known
- the importance of the work in question as a component of the course or program
- the academic experience of the student
- any other relevant circumstances
If you would like additional guidance on whether an offence is minor or major you may wish to discuss with your Chair.
The policy sets out a range of usual penalties, ranging from a failure on the piece of work (with no opportunity to rewrite) for a first minor offence, to suspension and expulsion for multiple offences (see 2.2 for the full details). The policy states that the usual penalties will be levied unless there are extraordinary circumstances which justify a different penalty.
You are required to inform the student in writing via the student’s Trent email account that a report to the chair/director has been prepared. You must provide a copy of the full report (with attachments) to the student. If you have scanning capacity, the preferred option is to send an electronic version of the full report to the student. Otherwise, attach a copy of the Academic Dishonesty Report to the email and inform the student that a copy of the report attachments have been made available for the student to pick up from the department office. The copy should be in a sealed envelope marked confidential and kept securely by the department secretary.
Under the policy you are not obligated to discuss the report with the student. However, there is a provision in the policy for the student to provide written responding comments directly to the chair/director within seven days. You need to communicate all of this information to the student confidentially. The sample email is suggested best practice.
Assume that the chair will agree with your assessment and the assignment will be given your recommended grade. Calculate the final grade accordingly and submit to the RO. If the chair disagrees with you and you have to figure out a revised assignment grade, you can submit a change of grade to the RO.
UOIT students are treated as Trent students and are subject to the same procedures and penalties. After the dean receives the Chair Report and all appeal deadlines have elapsed, the Registrar at UOIT will be informed of the offence and of the penalty that has been imposed.
All students taking courses at Trent are treated as Trent students and are subject to the same procedures and penalties. After the dean receives the Chair Report and all appeal deadlines have elapsed, the Registrar at the student’s home institution will be informed of the offence and of the penalty that has been imposed.
You should copy the department chair and the dean (at email@example.com) on your email to the student. The dean will request that the Registrar put a block on the course so that the student is unable to withdraw. This will be removed if at any point in the appeal process, the decision is made that the offence did not occur.
After receiving your report and considering any responding comments from the student, the chair will usually proceed to make a decision in the case on a first offence. If the chair is not satisfied that academic dishonesty occurred, the chair will inform you and the student in writing and no further action will be taken unless new evidence is brought to his/her attention.
If there is already an offence(s) on file or the chair/director feels that a stronger penalty than they can levy is warranted, first-level decision-making shifts to the dean.
Appeals of chair/director decisions are made to the dean and can only be made by students. Students may also make a final appeal to Special Appeals. You may be contacted by your chair/director or the dean about providing evidence at a Special Appeals hearing. See the Special Appeals website for more information.