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Sharing isn't always caring: collusion and how to avoid it

Legitimate cooperation and collusion, know the difference
With online study groups becoming more common, make sure you know the facts around collusion to avoid being accused of academic dishonesty.

The University’s move to online learning has seen students become more involved in online discussion groups across a range of social network platforms.

These groups are a great way to keep connected and to encourage collaboration between peers. But on the flipside, these online groups can sometimes lead to collusion, a serious issue that all students need to know about.

If you’re not aware of the risks, you may unknowingly become involved in collusion, and could be accused of academic dishonesty.

Understanding collusion

Put simply, collusion is any kind of cooperation that unfairly advantages a student, or group of students, over others.

When you see the word collusion, you’re probably thinking of a student getting someone else to complete their assignment, such as another classmate or even a private company. This type of collusion is known as contract cheating.

Not all forms of collusion are as clear-cut. Often, there is a fine line between what is known as ‘legitimate cooperation’ and collusion.

Legitimate cooperation and collusion – what is and isn’t ok

It’s important to remember not to share your work, and this includes after you’ve completed or submitted it. If you share your assignment with a fellow student, you’re guilty of collusion even if you completed the assignment on your own.

Here are a couple of scenarios to show you what other forms of collusion can look like, some of which might otherwise seem like legitimate cooperation at first.

  • A Facebook chat group is set up for a Finance Unit of Study. Initially, it is used by students to ask questions around concepts of the course, as well as to discuss lecture content and weekly readings. This is legitimate cooperation.
  • However, during an online quiz, students begin using this chat group to ask questions about the quiz and even post their answers for others to see. This is collusion.

  • Jack and Tristan work on a group project, splitting the workload 50/50 across both researching and writing it. As the project was a group assessment this is legitimate cooperation.
  • The next task for the Unit of Study is an individual literature review, requiring 6 sources to be analysed. Having worked so well together previously, and being tight for time, Jack and Tristan decide to research 3 sources each and send their notes to each other to write their individual assignments. This is collusion.

  • Colette is enrolled in the same unit of study her friend Lucy was enrolled in last semester. Colette messages her to ask what resources she used for an upcoming assignment. Lucy provides links to different journals and books on the Library’s website for Colette to investigate. This is legitimate cooperation.
  • Colette notices that the assignment question was the exact same as last semester’s and asks if she might look at Lucy’s paper to get an idea on how to approach the question. She says she does not intend to copy it and Lucy sends through the paper. Although there is no malicious intent from either person, this is collusion.

What are the consequences?

The academic consequences for collusion are numerous.  You may be asked to resubmit an assignment or re-sit an exam with a mark penalty. Or, you may receive an automatic fail mark, either for the assignment or for the Unit of Study as a whole.

If there is serious misconduct, then you can face suspension from your studies for one or more semesters. International students can also be at risk of losing their student visa.

Preventing collusion

There are several ways that you can mitigate the risk of engaging in collusion.

  • Plan out your semester or study for examinations well in advance – you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you become dependent on your peers, putting yourself and others at risk
  • Form study groups with your peers but keep to discussions around general themes of the Unit of Study
  • Do not share assignments through social media or on ‘swap sites’
  • Consult your tutors and unit coordinator if you are encountering difficulties in the subject. Encourage your peers to do so as well if they come to you for help
  • Visit the Learning Centre to develop your academic skills (be it in research, writing or other) rather than rely on your classmates 
  • Special consideration is also available to help you meet deadlines if you experience illness or something goes wrong
  • Don’t trust any private services, tutoring, or assignment help services that aren’t affiliated with the university.

If you become aware that collusion has occurred, you can report it to your lecturer, tutor or to the University’s 
Office of Educational Integrity. We treat all reports of academic dishonesty made by students as confidential.

14 October 2020