‘Collusion’ is another form of academic misconduct and it is, therefore, treated in the same way as plagiarism. Collusion occurs where there is unauthorised collaboration between students in the preparation of an assignment. It does not refer to authorised group work that is assessed by a single group report, or group presentation.
Often this can occur where students work on a project as a group, but are expected to submit an individual report. It is, therefore, important that Course Co-ordinators explain to students that the work they submit should be prepared independently. Although some similarities may be expected for individual submissions from a group working on a project together, there should be independent thought processes evident in the submissions, substantially different wording, divergences in the ordering of arguments and supporting evidence. Submissions that follow the same argument, in the same order with the same or highly similar wording, for example, should be investigated for possible collusion.
- How can staff design assessments to minimise the opportunity for collusion?
There are a range of strategies and approaches to help academics minimise collusion opportunities for students in assessments; these include, but are not restricted to:
- Making the parameters of the assignment clear to students in the assessment brief; they may have worked together on the project, but their assessment content must be authored individually.
- Changing the topics of assignments on a regular basis, to limit opportunities for help from students from the previous year’s cohort.
- Using formative assessments to educate students on how to approach particular assignments, especially where there is a new type of assignment (e.g. poster or blog) for students to complete. Collusion sometimes happens because the students are unsure how to do the assignment and, perhaps out of desperation, work together to solve the problem and to reduce their stress.
- Allocating time in class to discuss and explain the difference between collaboration and collusion with students.
- What is the penalty for collusion?
The University’s Code of Practice on Student Discipline (Academic) outlines the procedure Schools should follow if they identify a case of possible collusion. If this is a first instance of such academic misconduct, Schools should use this as an opportunity to inform the student what is meant by collusion and how they should avoid it in future. The standard penalty would be to award G3 for the assessment with an opportunity to resubmit. When investigating collusion, all the students identified as having possibly colluded should be invited to an interview, including (where possible and relevant) students from a previous year of study. It cannot be assumed by the dates/times of submission that a particular student is the one who is guilty of collusion. Multiple instances of collusion and/or another form of academic misconduct could result in expulsion for the University.
- How do we identify collusion?
Collusion may be identified manually, if the assignments are all marked by the same marker, but most often Turnitin will identify similarity between submissions on the same academic course, even if they have been submitted in different years. Where text similarity is observed between two or more members of the same class (in the same year), the investigation may focus on whether these matching submissions were prepared by members of a group that had worked together on the project. Often this indicates that students did not understand the differentiation between group working and an individual report. Sometimes, however, the match comes from a report submitted in the previous year and the investigation will then focus on how the student has been able to access someone else’s report. Often this arises when a student has a friend, who completed the course previously, who lends them their report for guidance and the student then presents a version of that report as their own. This shows more of an intent to deceive than the previous example and may, therefore, be seen as a more serious offence.