Navigating Academic Integrity on Group Assignments

Group work aims to teach collaboration, and it is also a good way to conduct more in-depth projects in a relatively short time frame. Given the shared nature of the work, a project or report is only as good as its weakest link. In group work settings, quality controls are more difficult to manage than when you are completing a task on your own, given the reliance on work from fellow students whom you may not know or someone whose work habits are unfamiliar.

In group work, grading, like the process, is shared. This means that if one person plagiarizes, cheats, falsifies data or fabricates elements of the research, all group members will be held accountable.

What follows is a list of ways to help mitigate devastating outcomes for all members.

  • Spell out the expectations of the group from the beginning.
  • Ask the professor for clarification of expectations if you are unsure what to do. While friends can sometimes be a useful resource, asking peers if you can see their past work may appear to be an act of impropriety. It may also serve as a temptation to cheat or plagiarize for less scrupulous members of the group.
  • Start working on the project early and have regular group meetings where all members present progress updates. (Talk to members who repeatedly fail to attend meetings or who fail to present status updates to emphasize the importance of their contribution to the totality of the project.)
  • Clarify grading policies with professors from the beginning. While many are going to grade collectively, some may grade students on their contributions only.
  • Inquire if you may access to Turn It Into check all sections prior to submission (note that professors are not obligated to do this).
  • If Turnitin access is not permitted, try doing a Google search for suspect passages.
  • Spell out alternatives for members who do not appear to be pulling their weight.
    • Are you willing to assist them on their section(s)?
    • Are you willing to assume responsibility for their section(s) and either complete it yourself or divide it up among the remaining members of the group?
    • Are you going to refuse to include any section that is submitted late?
  • Have open channels of communication with your professor. If you are unable to enact a change in behavior on your own, explain the situation to your professor. Explain the steps you have taken thus far, present the group’s progress to date, and seek advice on how to proceed.  (Note: It is important to remain calm and professional during this process. Emotionally-charged explanations laden with ad hominem attacks will typically not work in your favor.) 
  • Put your group's expectations in writing. Even if you meet to discuss these in person, send a follow-up email to the group spelling out the expectations. This can work to your advantage in the future if, for example, you state you will not include a section that is submitted late.
  • Make the internal group deadline several days in advance of the professor's deadline to give the group time to review all sections.
  • As soon as you put your name on the project, you are attesting that the work submitted meets your standards and expectations. 
  • While some professors may not require all students to work on every section, this is another way to ensure the quality of a group project. It takes more time, but actually writing the report together allows the group as a whole to ensure the quality of the project.
  • Dividing up work so that some members do the report and some do the presentation does not absolve any member from collective responsibility. The presentation is dependent upon the written work, and therefore the burden is still shared.

There are a number of ways that you can proof read a section for plagiarism without access to Turnitin:

  • If there are no citations in a section, that's a good red flag something is probably off.
  • If there are no references provided, that's another indication that something may be off.
  • Even if group members are focusing on different aspects, all members are probably familiar with the core resource materials. Reading through sections you may recognize language from your research.
  • If the writing in a section is varied in style, grammar, etc, that's also an indication that something may be plagiarized. Take suspect lines and put them into Google. You may be able to find original source material that way.
  • Even if you are relying on interviews, you still need to cite that information.
  • Equations, theorems, graphs, charts and other data forms need to be properly cited. If they are not, go back to the person responsible and make sure they cite their work.