Integrity in Group Work

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What does the research say about setting collaborative cultures in class? How can I manage conflicts as they arise in group work? How do I prevent copying or cheating and encourage individual voice in these cases?

Relevant Policies

Conestoga’s Academic Integrity Policy includes the following offenses related to group work:

  • Claiming to have completed assigned tasks that were, in fact, completed by
    another person.
  • Unauthorized collaboration, for example, working together without
  • Submitting work prepared collaboratively with (an) other person(s) without
    explicit permission from the faculty member.

Suggestions and Innovations

Know Your Responsibilities

Remember that you are considered the manager of the students under Ontario workplace law. You must ensure that the students are safe and that any issues of harassment are addressed immediately. You must also be sure you have enough information to create a valid grade – the grade must reflect each individual student’s achievement against the course outcomes.

Construct Groups Effectively

Try keeping groups small, and randomly selected, or selected for a mixture of ability ranges. Avoid grouping based on similar previous classroom performance, as this is a less rich learning experience. Learn more about Strategies for Effective Group Work.

Give Clear Instructions

Written instruction may be the clearest way to set out your expectations for the assignment and group work. You may prefer to go over these in class, in detail, to further clarify. Keep in mind, many international students have never participated in academic group work.

Reserve for yourself the right to assign individual marks. If you choose to do so, make sure this is written in your rubric and in the assignment instructions.

Separate the PROCESS from the PRODUCT so that students can see your expectations for both. For example, can they chop up the task and then just meet to reassemble? Probably not as this assignment is supposed to measure each student against the associated course outcomes.

Give Class Time to Work on the Project

This allows you to supervise and guide the groups in their planning and execution of the tasks. Further, it gives you the chance to observe how they are working together, and to prevent or manage issues that may come up.

Set Boundaries for Group Communication

If it works for your course, request that students communicate only through eConestoga. To best do this, create a group-only discussion forum and enroll yourself as a member of each group. You could also ask them to share a folder in their OneDrive, and share this with you in order to observe the sharing and progress of work.

In class, remind students that their messages to each other, any uploaded documents in eConestoga or their OneDrive, and all other interactions online, are all evidence that can be called on to verify who did the work.

Students should only meet on campus. Remind students to restrict their meetings to an on-campus, safe location.

Keep Troubled Groups in Check

If you identify a group in need of some direction or conflict management, step in early. Offer to mediate a discussion of their progress, if you feel able.

If you want to know who did the work, set aside class time for groups to work together. Use this time to meet with the troubled group, and have each group member show you the work they have completed. Require the group to keep a log of time spent with dates, hours, and tasks accomplished. Better yet, have them use a group folder and discussions in eConestoga to share documents, track progress and discuss meetings.

Manage Disputes

Please remember that you assigned the group work, and can help manage it by providing clear expectations and any consultations as needed. Also, some students are new to this (educational) culture, and some are returning to school after long absences.

It may be best to encourage students to see you directly with any concerns. If you are able, offer to help mediate issues. If a complaint arises, ask group members to email you separately with their impressions of the group’s processes and products to date and any concerns. Maintain their confidentiality. Students may have to work together for years to come depending on their program.

If you need to disband a group, you will likely need to revise the due date so that the individual students have a reasonable amount of time to complete the work.

Recognize and Prevent Plagiarism and Cheating

You may have cases where students work in class on general ideas and then you see those same ideas in two papers. This may not be what you wanted but it may be hard to show that this was cheating, rather than collaboration, unless the work is word-for-word.

Use the eConestoga drop box, and make sure to turn on the Turnitin feature. Remind students often that Turnitin can detect plagiarism accurately. Group members are able to review the Turnitin report prior to final submission to you, so they can verify their group members have not plagiarized.

Keep in mind that international students may not fully understand the expectation for original and independently created work in this culture. They may also fear failing their group with their writing skills.

Charging all students in a group when one member has plagiarized or cheated may not be the best option. You may need to follow the electronic threads of file exchange to locate the individual responsible. Encourage communication and sharing to happen in eConestoga or their OneDrive, to have a reliable record of their activities.

If the group buys a product online or submits someone else’s entire work as their own then this is contract cheating, not plagiarism. This would require you to file an Academic Offense Form. For more information, see the Violation of Academic Integrity Procedure.

Revisit the Program Workload

Students are likelier to cheat when they feel overwhelmed. If a student has 5 courses x 3 hours + 5 hours extra work per course (preview, review, studying, and projects) then they are at 40 hours. Much more work would be unreasonable given that most students are not only students but workers and family members. Group work adds extra time limitations, as students need to coordinate multiple schedules, and learn additional time management and collaboration skills.

Your faculty team for the semester can help this by collaborating and communicating on workload and timing of due dates and assessments.


Chiriac, E. H. (2014). Group work as an incentive for learning-students’ experiences of group work. Frontiers In Psychology, 51-18. Conestoga LRC Permalink

Marks, M. B., & O’Connor, A. H. (2013). Understanding Students’ Attitudes About Group Work: What Does This Suggest for Instructors of Business?. Journal Of Education For Business, 88(3), 147-158. Conestoga LRC Permalink

Smith, M., & Rogers, J. (2014). Understanding nursing students’ perspectives on the grading of group work assessments. Nurse Education In Practice, 14112-116. Conestoga LRC Permalink

Sutherland-Smith, W. (2013). Crossing the line: collusion or collaboration in university group work?. Australian Universities’ Review, (1), 51. ERIC Full Text Link

Tombaugh, J. R., & Mayfield, C. O. (2014). TEAMS ON TEAMS: USING ADVICE FROM PEERS TO CREATE A MORE EFFECTIVE STUDENT TEAM EXPERIENCE. Academy Of Educational Leadership Journal, 18(4), 69-83. Conestoga LRC Permalink


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