Collusion is where students present work as independent work when it has in fact been produced in whole or in part with others (including persons external to the University) unless prior permission for joint or collaborative work has been given by the Course coordinator, as specified in the Course Outline.
Collusion can include:
- a student inappropriately assisting with, or accepting assistance with, the production of an assessment task
- submitting work which is the same as, or substantially similar to, another student's work for the same assessment task
You might like to think of collusion as collaboration that has gone wrong. Collusion happens when students work together on an assessment task when they have not been given permission to do so by their course coordinator.
This might include sharing study notes or discussing an approach to a problem with other students but then preparing separate answer. Chances are the responses will be noticably similar to other students raising the suspicion of the teacher.
You can avoid collusion by making sure you are absolutely clear about how much collaboration your teacher has allowed for the task.
You should also avoid sharing your finished assignment, especially digitally, with another student unless your teacher has asked you to, because you can’t be sure how they may use this in their own assessment.
Case study #1 (from Trimester 1 2020)
Ali, Sasha, Kiki, Kahn, John and Lizzie (not their real names) are all enrolled in a Masters degree that has a major capstone assignment worth 70% of the marks for the course. The assignment is a Research Proposal for a major research project which is completed in a course in the following teaching session.
The research proposal is submitted on a special template provided by the Course Coordinator in the MyUni course via Turnitin. The assessment outline clearly states that individual work must be submitted, and all students should have their own ideas, topics, approaches and plans for the larger project that they will complete later in the year.
The students were friends who met at a preparatory college. Due to a mix up with enrolments they weren’t enrolled into the Masters degree program until late in the Trimester by which time the course coordinator had already discussed expectations for academic integrity with the class.
With all the stresses of the year and the late arrival into the course the friends decide to work together to maximise their chances of finishing the proposal correctly. They get together to discuss their proposals and research ideas and methods. Kiki has done research proposals before and finishes hers first. She shares her proposal with the others. Nobody thinks it might be a good idea to approach the course coordinator for help.
When marking, the course coordinator found that the Turnitin similarity reports for each of the 6 proposals was high (~22%). Further reading of each proposal showed other similarities including using the wrong format (not the required template) and research ideas and proposed methods that were very similar.
The course coordinator suspected that one proposal (which was of higher quality) may have been used by the others to frame and base their own proposals. When the AIO met with the students (via Zoom) they said that they didn’t understand that it isn’t ok to work together and explained that they hadn’t talked to the Course Coordinator about their proposals before submitting.
Given the circumstances, the AIO decided that the students had breached the policy (collusion) but through a genuine misunderstanding. The students were allowed to resubmit the assessment within 2 weeks of the meeting date with no marking penalty. Each student’s name was recorded in the Academic Integrity Register.
The AIO provided academic integrity counselling: he explained the expectations of the policy and warned that any breach in future would have to be treated as deliberate. He explained how serious academic misconduct is and the severe penalties that can apply to repeated breaches.
Case study #2 (from Semester 1 2020)
Sally and Sarah (not their real names) are both sitting their third year exam in a health professional degree. The exam involves looking at clinical scenarios and images and applying their knowledge to answer the questions. It is an open-resource and online exam in two parts which are done with a break in between. All the questions are short answer.
Sally and Sarah are sitting the exam separately, each at their own house. Sally starts to get really stressed out and feels like she will run out of time to finish the first part of the exam so she texts Sarah and they decide to swap answers to two of the exam questions. She was going to paraphrase the answers that Sarah provided to her but she runs out of time and ends up leaving them the same.
In the break between the two parts of the exam Sally and Sarah starts to feel really bad about cheating in their exam and worry that they will get caught. They decide not to work together for the second part of the exam and each student does all their own work.
When the exams were being marked the marker noticed that Sally and Sarah had identical answers for two of the questions. They had also left the same questions unanswered. They suspected that Sally and Sarah got together to do the exam or shared answers with each other.
The AIO emailed Sally and Sarah to notify them of the suspicion of academic misconduct. Sally wrote back and admitted what happened. She said she was very sorry and knows that it was the wrong thing to do and that she will accept whatever penalty is decided. Sarah also admitted that she and Sally worked together. She explained how stressed she has been and that she just wants the whole thing to be over.
The AIO offered meeting times to both Sally and Sarah but Sarah says she is too stressed and doesn’t want to attend. A few days later Sally also decided she didn’t want to attend the meeting if Sarah wasn’t going to attend hers.
The AIO considered the evidence that the course coordinator provided and the written submissions from Sally and Sarah. She also took into account that neither student had a record of a previous breach.
The AIO decided that there had been academic misconduct (Collusion) for the first part of the exam but that Sally and Sarah worked separately for the second part. She found there was no genuine misunderstanding of the Academic Integrity Policy so she decided that the students should receive zero for the first part of the exam but the second part could be marked as normal and the marks for both parts combined.
The AIO also provided academic integrity counselling to both students, emphasising expectations of academic integrity and reminding them that as health professionals in training they are expected to learn professional conduct which is honest and ethical and that breaching the Academic Integrity policy could impact on their future careers.