Information about collusion and how it can be avoided, both in exams and for coursework.
With thanks to our colleague Richard Knott (Academic Skills Team) for his feedback on this article
During this period of online teaching and assessment we have seen an increased number of students through our service being investigated for collusion.
Allegations of collusion can lead to investigation under City’s Academic Integrity & Misconduct Policy and can have a serious impact on your grades, progression, and studies.
Ahead of the Summer Resits we have drafted a guide to provide some further information about collusion and how it can be avoided, both in exams and for coursework.
Alongside specific examples about exams and coursework, for students in SMCSE and the Business School we have also included examples relating to mathematical formula and code as we realise the issue of collusion can be tricky in these areas.
What is collusion?
The University has a definition of collusion, which is that this is a “a form of cheating which may occur where students have consciously collaborated on a piece of work, in part or whole, and passed it off as their own individual efforts or where one student has authorised another to use their work, in part or whole, and to submit it as their own”.
The definition and examples are given in the Academic Integrity & Misconduct Policy and Guidance on Page 16.
In a nutshell this means it’s not okay to work together with other students on submitted assignments unless if this is part of a group project and your lecturer has told you to work together.
Allegations usually arise because students have worked together far too closely and in ways that are unfair to other students.
It means that the submitted work or exam answers are no longer the work of an individual or reflective of their own personal knowledge and study.
Does this mean we can’t study with other students?
There is a difference between cooperating with other students and collusion.
It’s okay to discuss your assignment together very generally or analyse the question as part of a study group.
We know that this kind of cooperation, such as in study groups or ‘study buddies’, is encouraged. University is all about sharing and discussing ideas.
However, it becomes collusion when students collaborate on writing the work for the assessment together in a way that gives them an advantage.
What if I share my work with someone else?
Students may often ask each other to see drafts of their assignments, or revision notes.
If you share your work with another student and they copy it, all students involved can be accused of academic misconduct. This is the case even if you were the original author of the work and somebody else has copied from you.
It is also still the case if this person has paraphrased and not used the same words as you.
It’s your responsibility to protect your work from this, so do not share your work.
What about exams?
Many exams are now sat online due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, this had meant that we have seen an increase in the number of collusion cases for exams. This is because answers given in exams can still be copied, especially when the exams are taken online.
If you revise together with your friends and analyse possible questions that could arise I in the exam, then this is okay. However, if you all write down a set of answers and share them together, with each student using these answers in an exam then this is collusion.
This would still be the case even if the answers are worded or paraphrased differently.
Working together on exam questions in this way is still collusion because students are not working independently on their answers and are gaining advantage over other students.
How do we avoid colluding?
When you are discussing your assignments or exams with other students you may take your own notes.
Make sure your discussion is general. You should not be working together to arrive at an answer to a question but rather discussing the broad topics or issues at hand.
This also means avoiding a detailed discussion of how you will structure your essay or answer, or what references you will use. To do this would be to step beyond having a broad discussion and into colluding together.
We would advise that you don’t start writing your essay or exam answers together collaboratively.
If you have worked very closely with other students to discuss the structure of your essay or answers, references, conclusions (etc.) but then write this up independently later, you are still likely to have colluded! This will be because you have had far more than a broad or general discussion.
As earlier, you should never share your work or answers with another student.
Some practical examples of collusion
1. An example regarding an essay
Two Nursing students are working on the same essay question. They are friendly and tend to partner together when studying.
One of the students has an urgent family issue and has been unable to work on his essay. The deadline is fast approaching. He asks his friend if he can see her essay and she declines to send the whole thing, but tells him the structure, approach and conclusions of her essay and sends him an important section.
He follows the same overall structure as her, copying this interesting and important section into his own work. He changes a few words here and there.
Both students are investigated for academic misconduct post-submission as they have colluded.
How could they have avoided this?
Firstly, he could have explored the option of claiming extenuating circumstances due to his family issue. This may have afforded him another uncapped attempt at the work at a time where he might be in a better space to tackle the essay.
Failing this, they could have discussed the broad issues with the work together. However, his friend should not have shared even part of her essay with him. Also, discussing the exact structure and conclusions of her work overstepped the line and became collusion.
It is possible that his friend could not help him much in this situation and this is unfortunate, but this does not excuse collusion.
2. An example involving mathematics and formula
Four students studying Finance in the Business School get together to discuss their upcoming exam.
They know that the exam will involve some pretty difficult mathematics, and they also know from past papers the kind of questions that will arise.
The students discuss the likely formulas and logical steps needed to answer the questions. They share their notes, formulas and the answers together.
For written questions, they write down and share answers to some very likely questions.
On the day of the exam all four rely on their notes and copy them out into their answers.
All four students have colluded. They have worked much too closely together. All are then investigated for academic misconduct.
How could they have avoided this?
All four could have sat to discuss some of the mathematical problems from past papers, and a general approach to answering those questions. This could even have included formula, or suggested study material to revise from past lectures.
However they could have avoided going through the way to answer the questions together step by step.
This applies even if the mathematics is logical and all students are likely to follow the same steps if they apply their learning correctly.
They could have also avoided sharing their notes as doing so meant all of the students copied the answers into the exam.
3. An example involving code
A student is having a very hard time producing workable code. She is stuck and her code fails to run properly despite several different attempts to troubleshoot. The deadline is fast approaching.
She approaches another student and asks for help. They show her their own code, sending her a copy.
The student she approaches is working on a slightly different solution, but she is able to edit the code so that it works for her own problem. The code runs correctly and gives her a sensible output. She submits this.
Both students are then investigated for academic misconduct due to the similarities in their code.
How could they have avoided this?
While it may be common to share code in some contexts in the professional world (if it works it works, right?) this isn’t acceptable here. The students are being asked to demonstrate their ability to write this code independently.
The student who was asked for help should not have shared their code.
They could have sat down and discussed the problems with the code, and the broad approach and implementation of the code to help resolve the problems.
They could even talk about some specific problems with the syntax or semantics.
However that doesn’t mean the student who has agreed to provide some insight should sit and fix the code, or even walk her through it step by step.
So in summary?
- Discuss broad ideas, topics and approaches together
- Compare your feedback once something has been marked
- Express ideas together and apply them in your work independently
- Work independently and from your own understanding of the material
- Share your work, code, or answers with other students
- Ask to see another students’ drafts essays or exam questions
- Ask other people to edit your work, even proofreading
- Discuss what exact references to use together, or share bibliographies
- Devise an essay, answer or structure together
- Copy chunks of text (or code, or formulas) from other students, or even paraphrase another students’ work. Work independently
How is collusion detected?
When students work closely together it can be quite obvious, even if the work is heavily paraphrased and differs in structure.
Students may arrive at the same answer, conclusions, or use the same references.
The wording may be similar enough for Turnitin to detect, across all the students involved. This will make it clear that students have been working together on the essay or exam.
What are the penalties?
Students found to have colluded generally need to resit the essay or exam in question and their marks would be capped at the pass mark (40% for undergrads, 50% for postgrads).
Another penalty could be that the entire module is capped at the pass mark, and not just the assessment in question.
Where can I get more support on this?
The Academic Skills Team are available to help you develop your skills so that you can learn effectively. They provide one to one support, as well as webinars, workshops and online guides. You can contact them on email@example.com
You can access the guides here https://studenthub.city.ac.uk/help-and-support/improve-your-study-skills/guides
There’s also a lot of information and guidance available through the Student Academic Development and Student Wellbeing Moodle course which can be accessed here http://tiny.cc/city-support
You can find out how to contact the team for support here https://studenthub.city.ac.uk/help-and-support/improve-your-study-skills
If you are accused of collusion we can advise you on your case and help you throughout any investigation. Please get in touch with us by completing a Case Form here https://www.citystudents.co.uk/advice/accesstheservice/