Plagiarism 101

Duke hones message to students, faculty on academic integrity

A mandatory plagiarism tutorial helps define issues for students.

From a tutorial for students on plagiarism to a small squeezable cow stamped with the phrase "Got Honor?" to a special session during freshman orientation, Duke is making every effort to get the word out to students about academic integrity.

But one important lesson that Duke officials have learned in the seven years since the adoption of the Duke Community Standard is they also have to get the message out to faculty.

The goal, said Stephen Bryan, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct, is for more faculty and students to talk in the classroom early and often in the semester about academic integrity, getting the issue on students' radar before a problem arises.

"We want faculty to discuss what the Duke Community Standard means for their particular course," Bryan said. "Some, such as Joe Nadeau in Pratt, make it a significant part of the syllabus and talk about it in class. Others approach it as a contract: ‘I'm obligated to come to class prepared to teach, and you are obligated to come prepared to learn in an honest, ethical way.'

"Faculty can be gun-shy about this sort of thing. But we regularly meet with faculty in departments to talk about these issues, and we've received a lot more reception from faculty in the past few years. We've encouraged them to be more proactive."

The past decade has seen changes in the way Duke promotes academic integrity and responds to breaches of it. The Duke Community Standard was updated in 2007 and provided an opportunity to expand attention to issues of integrity beyond the classroom. Surveys administered every five years in conjunction with the Center for Academic Integrity provide valuable information about student behavior. (A third survey will be conducted at the end of this upcoming fall semester.)

Bryan said the numbers in some areas are encouraging. There were 12 reported cases of plagiarism this past academic year. The five-year average for plagiarism cases from 2003-08 was 17 per year.

One reason why the decline is somewhat surprising is that the online age has increased opportunities for plagiarism. Bryan said officials won't know the reason for the statistical decline until they see the results from the upcoming survey. And reported cases of other incidents, particularly unauthorized collaboration, remain high.

Some cases that have come before the student conduct system have been instances of deliberate plagiarism, but in others, students are unclear about citation rules or face a deadline and fail to paraphrase in the last-second rush.

"So much of it isn't on the students' radar until there's reason for it to be so," Bryan said. "A student may see another student cheating and gets angry because it affects the entire class. Or a student panics because a paper has been put off until the last moment. We need to have them thinking about it before then."

The message goes out to students even before they arrive at Duke, through an ad in the send-home edition of The Chronicle and material sent to admitted students. There's also significant discussion during orientation, Bryan said. All first-year students are required to take the plagiarism tutorial before enrolling for the spring semester (see accompanying video). A special session is held with incoming international undergraduates to teach and reinforce for them cultural expectations for citation in the United States.

"We're eager to see the results of the integrity survey this year," he added. "We really need to know if these efforts are paying off with the students."