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Tips for Detecting Offences

Over the past two decades, there has been increasing interest in the levels of academic misconduct within high schools and colleges/universities. Data from studies suggests that academic misconduct is far more widespread than we would like to think. In a study of academic misconduct at 11 Canadian universities in 2002-3 (currently being updated), 18% of the 15,000 respondents admitted to cheating on tests while 53% admitted to an offence involving written work.*

Your vigilance and reporting of instances of academic misconduct when they occur supports a culture of academic integrity at the University of Toronto, ensuring consistency and fairness in the application of standards set by the University. If you begin to suspect that an academic offence is occurring, document and collect evidence to support this.

* Christensen Hughes, J., & McCabe, D. L. (2006). “Academic misconduct within higher education in Canada”. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 36(2), 2006, 1-21. Note that this study is being updated during 2012-14.

Detecting Offences in Tests and Exams

  • Ask all TAs to circulate and report all behaviour to you or the CPO.
  • Check all items on students’ desks.
  • Be aware of items in students’ pockets.
  • Look for strange body language & movements such as:
    • shifting in seat;
    • looking at neighbour, lap, sleeve, hat;
    • watching for position of circulating observers;
    • covering something with test paper;
    • writing answers in large letters.
  • Accompany students to the washroom.
  • Check washrooms both before and after students take breaks.
  • Take note of lengthy washroom breaks.

Detecting Offences in Written Work

Use Turnitin.com: when used properly it is an efficient tool for detecting and deterring plagiarism. The tool is now integrated with Blackboard for ease of use. For more information about Turnitin.com, please consult Ryan Green or Saira Mall at the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation.

Clues that an assignment may be plagiarized or recycled:

  • no citations where ideas that could not originate with the student are expressed;
  • changing citation style or false references;
  • similarity to a text you know, or other papers you have graded;
  • inconsistency in style, phrasing, and vocabulary;
  • elevated language or argument beyond what you would expect from the student;
  • strange or sophisticated punctuation, typographical errors, font changes, or formatting;
  • work that is not entirely on topic or where the topic shifts midway through the assignment;
  • references to previous years’ lectures.

If you are hesitant to send a case forward because you only found a small amount of plagiarism in an initial search, note that in the majority of cases forwarded to OSAI the case officer identifies additional problematic areas. Please don’t hesitate to contact OSAI if you are not sure what to do.

Clues that an assignment may have been purchased:

  • A Google search reveals text taken from an essay available for purchase.
  • The style of writing is inconsistent with the student’s abilities.
  • The assignment contains references to outdated or unusual sources which are not available through the University’s library system or online, nor discussed or used in class.
  • The assignment is not entirely on topic, or the topic shifts midway through the assignment.
  • The document properties of the electronic file (e.g. Word .doc/.docx) show suspicious activity (author name, date of creation/modification, revision/editing time).

Dont assume that you can’t pursue your suspicions of a purchased paper merely because you cannot find any “hard” evidence. Please contact OSAI for advice on how to approach such situations.

Detecting Offences in Student Documentation:

Fraudulent medical documentation submitted to explain missed assignments/exams is a serious offence. This documentation is usually presented as a U of T Verification of Student Illness or Injury form, but can also include ER reports, death certificates, obituaries, etc.

Clues that a note may be problematic:

  • The dates of the illness do not correspond with the date of the missed assignment.
  • The 5-digit College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) number (which you can verify) is missing or incorrect.
  • The U of T form is accompanied by a letter on hospital letterhead (at least one entity is known to exist which provides fraudulent notes to students on what appears to be legitimate hospital letterhead).

What can I do if I think a note is problematic?

  • Do not feel obligated to accept a note that you do not find satisfactory.
  • If the note doesn’t meet the Faculty’s requirements, if you have received similar notes from the student in the past, or if you have reason to doubt the validity of the note, ask the student for more information before accepting the note.
  • If you suspect the note has been altered or forged, call the doctor to confirm that the student was seen on the dates stated in the note. By signing the U of T form, the student has authorized you to follow up for more information.

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