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Quick Tips for Teaching Online: Promoting Academic Honesty with Online Assessment (part 3)

Two skulls sitting on either side of a sign that reads "These Men Didn't Take Their Atabrine".
National Museum of Health and Medicine (CC-BY-NC)
Fri, 16 Oct 2020

By Angelica Risquez.

Reading time: ~3 minutes.

Featured Image Source: National Museum of Health and Medicine (CC-BY-NC)


In part 2 of this post, I discussed how to create a culture that is conducive to academic integrity, highlighted the importance of working to develop academic writing skills, and paid attention to assessment design. Yet, despite our best preventive efforts, we must prepare for the disappointing fact that some students will still plagiarise. In this third and final part, I will talk about best practices using Turnitin as a plagiarism detection tool and will offer some guidance to deal with these dreaded plagiarism cases.

  1. Tools to detect and deter plagiarism
  2. What do I do when plagiarism happens?
  3. Conclusion & Upcoming Events


1. Tools to detect and deter plagiarism

If you are planning to use Turnitin to detect (and deter) plagiarism, I strongly advise to include it in your honor pledge and discuss with your students at length. In my time supporting faculty to use Turnitin in their teaching, I have seen everything from a whole class rebelling to submit their assignments to Turnitin for fear of being labelled as ‘plagiarists’; to the tool being used in many proactive, positive and creative ways. Giving students an opportunity to submit a draft assignment and granting them access to the Turnitin originality report helps to dispel myths to a great extent. Importantly, it can also raise conversations about what constitutes a legitimate source and how to cite it.

Turnitin is a powerful tool to help with plagiarism detection, yet not failproof, and only appropriate for writing-based assessments. In all cases, you will need to rely on your academic judgement to interpret its ‘originality report’. Choosing a given percentage (%) of matching text as a threshold for further investigation is misleading and dangerous – yet common- practice in my view. One of the many reasons for this is that many ghost-writing/‘essay mills’ services are specialised at bypassing such detection mechanisms. In my experience, Turnitin is way more useful as a formative tool during the writing process, and indeed, I think it is far superior as a tool to manage the feedback process as explained in the webinar on Turnitin Feedback Studio and this interactive tutorial. But if you are using Turnitin to assist you in plagiarism detection, use the integration within the Sulis Assignments tool and check all the papers submitted, not just a sample. Familiarise yourself with the Recommendations for Faculty using Turnitin and the detailed interpretation of the Turnitin originality report as explained at length in this webinar. And if possible, consider other deterrents and detection mechanisms, such as random short follow up oral vivas with students, to check understanding and authorship.

2. What do I do when plagiarism happens?

This is the last situation we want to find ourselves in, hence the emphasis on all the preventive measures above. The UL Guidelines for Academic Staff on Dealing with Plagiarism in the Student Handbook (Appendix 4) define the scope of academic responsibility. You are compelled to exercise your professional judgement to deal with a case of plagiarism without referring to the disciplinary process, in which case the plagiarism will only be reflected in the academic grade that the student receives. The Student Handbook advises that:

You might for example deduct marks if one or two sentences seem highly derivative or poorly cited, whereas you would fail the whole piece if it is completely plagiarised. Your professional judgement should be guided by your analysis of the context, the requirements of your discipline and your understanding of the student’s situation.

In my training sessions, I often refer to the Plagiarism Reference Tariff as an objective and well tested tool to guide you to make these decisions. In every instance, communicate with the student in question, and if possible, transform this incident into an opportunity for learning through feedback on good academic writing skills, advising the student and exploring any difficulties which they have had that may have led to their actions.

3. Conclusion & Upcoming Events

Those eager to learn more will find a great line up of national events for European Academic Integrity week (19 - 23 Oct):

  • QQI Programme of Events.
  • An IUA webinar titled "Consider Technology to Support Academic Integrity" will run on Monday 19th Oct. @12:30pm.
    Sharon Flynn (IUA), Fiona O'Riordan (DCU) and Rob Lowney (IUA/DCU) will talk about how to use technology to support a culture of academic integrity in online and remote teaching and assessment.
    Sign up here to receive the link to join this and other webinars in the IUADigEd series. Alternatively, send an email to ULs project lead, David Moloney (, for the link.
  • The IUADigEd Student Associate Interns will be running a campaign from the projects Instagram account with posts throughout the week.
  • @IUA_Academic will be posting videos on the 21st of October from each university representative (@rossandersonphd from UL included) on the National Academic Integrity Network (NAIN).

Also, there is a growing curation of pedagogical best practices in the Resources section of the LTF website.

In conclusion, the IUA advises not to give the impression that academic integrity is not important because of the unusual situation. Using Turnitin and your assessment design are crucial elements in developing your students’ academic writing skills, and the cure is in prevention, prevention, prevention!

About the contributor

Angélica Rísquez is a Lead Educational Developer at the Centre for Transformative Learning. She is responsible for providing academic leadership in blended and online learning, and learning analytics. She has contributed to the scholarship of teaching and learning in relation to academic integrity, amongst other areas. To learn more, see RIS Profile.