Teaching Essentials

Responding to Academic Misconduct

When responding to academic misconduct, approach the situation with honesty, curiosity and respect. Use the following guidelines to help determine if misconduct occurred and possible next steps. Consult the S4 Academic Integrity Policy for further information.

Fact Sheet – Types of Academic Misconduct

Detecting Academic Misconduct

The following observations may lead to questions about the authenticity of a student submission. One or two observations may not provide enough evidence to prove a breach of academic integrity but can lead to further investigation. Remember, these observations have many explanations and may not involve the intent to engage in academic misconduct.

Language Use and Ability

  • Language in the assignment does not match the language or terms used in class, interpersonal interactions or previous assignments.
  • Sentences contain jargon, nonsensical words/phrases or misused words.
  • Content, style and formatting does not meet the assignment/course criteria.
  • Terminology inconsistent with industry-specific terms or classroom specific terms (e.g. unit vs. module, subject vs. course, term vs. semester).


  • Submission does not match the context or relate to the discipline.
  • Reflection assignments seem inappropriate, generic and not reflective of the course, work experience or topics taught in class.
  • Research assignments include information not relevant to the assignment context (e.g. palm trees included in a research assignment for a local project).
  • Formatted with headings, title pages, running heads or a structure not used in the course.

References and Citations

  • Missing or poorly done references and citations.
  • Level of expertise beyond expected and previously demonstrated work.
  • References in a language the student does not speak.
  • Inconsistent references i.e. in-text citations and reference lists do not match each other or the context of the work.

Potential explanations:

  • The student lacks the skill to complete the assessment at the level required. Inconsistencies could be the student’s own poor attempt to complete the submission.
  • The student is in a writing stage called patchwriting (Howard, 1992), where the writer patches their ideas and other people’s together in an unclear way. This can involve unintentional plagiarism, as the writer may not have the skills for paraphrasing and summarizing.
  • The student used technology such as Grammarly to polish their work. In general, using Grammarly is not academic misconduct, unless the assessment requires students to independently generate grammatically correct text. If allowed, talk to students about fair use of grammar tools. (Use as learning tools instead of blindly accepting every suggestion.)
  • The student used online ‘article spinners’ and paraphrasing tools such as Quillbot to paraphrase text that appears as ‘original’ writing. Writing sounds wordy, complicated, makes little sense and misuses terms and everyday words.
  • Friends or family over-assisted or completed the work.
  • The student submitted an assignment from a previous course/student.
  • The student submitted an assignment obtained through online file sharing.
  • The student used back-translation to translate text into another language or multiple languages, then back to English. The resulting text would read as ‘original’ writing. This writing also sounds wordy, complicated, with misused terms and words.
  • The student outsourced the assignment to a contract cheating service that completed the work on the student’s behalf. Third-party writers may not have the contextual knowledge needed to meet the rubric expectations.

Exploratory Meeting

An exploratory meeting helps determine what to do next when something about a test or assignment seems like the submitting student did not complete the work themselves. Taking time to meet with the student can prevent unnecessary work and the additional stress of escalating a situation that may have an acceptable explanation. In some cases, speaking directly to the student clears up the concern with no follow-up needed.

Preparing for an exploratory meeting:

  1. Document all communication with the student – include how, what, when, and where the exploratory meeting takes place.
  2. Ensure the student receives confirmation of the meeting in writing in addition to any verbal arrangements.
  3. Take an exploratory approach instead of accusatory.
  4. Maintain a neutral tone of voice. Avoid showing anger.
  5. Provide the student with an opportunity to explain themselves.
  6. Be aware of a fight or flight reaction. Students may react/respond in unexpected ways.
  7. Focus on the exploration, next step decisions can happen later.

A confession is not required to proceed with documenting academic misconduct. Academic misconduct can be determined based on the ‘balance of probability,’ the standard of proof in an academic misconduct investigation. A finding of academic misconduct is supported if, based on the available evidence, it is more likely than not that academic misconduct has occurred.

Make sure to document the exploratory meeting results in writing. Video recording is not required or recommended. If recording, receive permission first.

Exploratory Meeting Questions and Probes

  1. Tell me about your work. Why did you choose this topic?
  2. Tell me about your process for completing the assignment. How long did it take?
  3. Tell me about the sources you consulted for your assignment. Where did you find these sources? (Digging deeper, ask follow-up questions such as: Which journals? Which books?)
  4. Why did you choose these particular sources? When you think back to the sources you read for this assignment, can you tell me verbally what your key learnings were from what you read? Who are the most influential researchers in this field? How did their work contribute to your paper?
  5. We did not use (insert source here) in our class discussions at all and it was not on our reading list. How did you find it? Why did you choose it?
  6. Tell me about your conclusion. How did you arrive at this conclusion?
  7. The assignment instructions ask for X, Y, Z. You addressed X, but why didn’t you address Y?
  8. Your work mentions these terms (insert terms here). Can you tell me verbally what these mean?
  9. For coding assignments: What does this function do? How does this code work? What does this code make happen?
  10. Is there anything else you want to tell me about your work?

Adapted from: Eaton, S. E. (2019). U Have Integrity: Educator Resource – How to Lead a Discovery Interview About Contract Cheating. University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta.

Challenging Situations

Using IP Address to Analyze Potential Academic Misconduct

LEARN logs the IP address of the user when participation occurs in a course. Reviewing logged IP addresses may show if they occurred from multiple locations or simultaneously from different locations. Keep in mind, IP address can be inaccurate and masked with a VPN.

Students can legitimately complete coursework from multiple locations or on multiple networks. On their own, irregularities in IP addresses do not present sufficient evidence of academic misconduct.

Ideally, ask students to declare ahead of time if one or more are on the same Wi-Fi network during an assessment. This may be for ongoing situations like roommates or temporary situations such as technical issues.

Students who write a test from the same IP address are not in violation of RRC Polytech policy. This observation on its own is not academic misconduct. Be aware that IP addresses may generate inaccurate locations. Students on an RRC Polytech campus may also share the same network for remotely delivered tests.

When concerned about irregularities of a student’s IP address, consider the student’s previous assessments to look for any sudden changes in capabilities. Also check the LEARN records to see how students moved through an assessment.

If there is reason for concern, talk to the student. Start with an open-ended question to get more information – such as, “I noticed you appeared to be writing the test from the same location as two classmates. Can you tell me more about that?” Talking to students can clarify issues or confirm there is reason for concern.

Student Chat Groups

Students commonly set up chat groups using WhatsApp, Discord, Facebook, or other servers or messaging services. These platforms help create communities for students to support each other. At times, students can over-support one another by sharing answers to assessments or completing work for one another.

Remind students that RRC Polytech’s policies apply wherever students meet, i.e. policies S4 Academic Integrity and H1 Respectful Workplace and Learning Environment. These policies allow RRC Polytech staff to investigate student reported incidents occurring in chat groups. Contact the Academic Integrity Specialist for support before following up on allegations of academic misconduct in virtual spaces. For possible violations of the Respectful Workplace and Learning Environment Policy, contact the Resource and Resolution Advisor.

Technology Clues

Some software, such as MS Office, tracks information on document creation and editing. This metadata may show a different author than the student which may indicate that someone else provided the file. However, the student may have legitimately made the document on someone else’s computer. Other warning signs include blank or wiped properties or very short editing times.

LEARN course analytics show whether students accessed assignment resources and information other than the assessment. Data also shows the length of time spent looking at information though, keep in mind, students may download information for reading offline.

Anything else? Trust your instincts if something appears off. Contact the Academic Integrity Specialist for a consultation or more information.


Eaton, S. E. (2019). U Have Integrity: Educator Resource – How to Lead a Discovery Interview
About Contract Cheating
. University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta.

Howard, R., (1992). Plagiarism and the Postmodern Professor. Journal of Teaching Writing, 11(2), 233-245.

TEQSA. (2020). Substantiating contract cheating: A guide for investigators.

Additional Resources:

Takrimi, A., Eaton, S.E. (2021). Exploring Rogeting: Implications for academic integrity. Canadian Perspectives on Academic Integrity, 4(1), 110-117.

Reporting Academic Misconduct

After determining academic misconduct, visit Finding Resolution for more information on reporting academic misconduct and finding resolution.