How to Avoid Inappropriate Collaboration

The University of Alberta recognizes collaboration as an important part of intellectual and academic development. Collaboration can produce creative and innovative ideas and research; however, if students engage in inappropriate collaboration, it gives them unfair academic advantage and is a violation of the Code of Student Behaviour.

Much like citing your sources in a paper, it's all about being transparent. When assigning you a grade, your professors need to know how much of the work was your own and to what extent you received help. Each professor may have different expectations, so be sure you know exactly how each professor prefers you to work. Ask the questions -are you allowed to work together? If so, to what extent? How should that collaboration be acknowledged?

Appropriate Collaboration

The line between appropriate and inappropriate collaboration can be confusing. That line is defined by the instructor on each and every assignment. For example, some assignments must be completed individually while others are group assignments which require collaboration. Some fall into the grey area in between, and can be perplexing to students who are inclined to work together, especially when instructors are not explicit about their expectations. If you are at all unsure about how much collaboration is permitted, ask the instructor. Don't assume you know what is allowed, and be aware that the amount of collaboration permitted may vary from instructor to instructor.

Inappropriate Collaboration

There is a difference between participating in scholarly discussions or debates with your colleagues and engaging in inappropriate collaboration on assignments intended to be completed individually. When two or more students submit identical or nearly identical work claiming it is their own, it is a clear sign of inappropriate collaboration.

There is no single section of the Code of Student Behaviour ("the Code") dealing with inappropriate collaboration. Depending on the specific facts of a case, applicable sections might include:

  • Using another student's ideas or words without acknowledgment amounts to Plagiarism [Code of Student Behaviour 30.3.2(1)];
  • Having someone write, rewrite, extensively edit, or correct your work for you is Cheating [Code of Student Behaviour 30.3.2(2)b and 30.3.2(2)c]; and
  • Helping someone else in those ways is Participation in an Offence [Code of Student Behaviour 30.3.6(5)].

Group Projects

Group projects are one way to capitalize on the benefits of collaboration. In this context, the whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. It takes creativity for a group of individual students to learn how to work together effectively. Students working on group projects should be aware of the following guidelines:

  • If your name is on the assignment, you are responsible for everything in that assignment, whether or not you participated in every section. Carefully review all the material submitted by other students in your group.
  • Ask questions of the professor if your group is confused about expectations.
  • It may be helpful to include a section describing the role of each student within the group, if appropriate for that project.
  • Understand that everyone has different approaches to their work. Your group, whether you were assigned or chose to work together, will likely have to negotiate your process before you even begin the assignment.
  • It is helpful for the group to agree upon a mechanism to deal with any conflict that arises as you work together.
  • If your professor did not identify the assignment as a group project, assume you are expected to generate your own ideas and written work.