Cheating and Plagiarizing: What Can Educators Do?

by Lindsay Samuel, PharmD PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Sibley Memorial Hospital

In early February 2013, I was stunned to learn that nearly 70 Harvard University students were required to withdraw from the university due to cheating on a take-home exam.1  Events such as this remind me that cheating and plagiarizing are an ongoing issue which hurts students, educators, and the integrity of the educational process.  I continue to wonder what prompts students to cheat and what can be done to prevent it?  In searching for the answers to this question, I discovered an insightful 2011 study completed by Dorothy Jones which explored academic dishonesty through student surveys.2  The results were then used to provide educators instructional strategies that address academic integrity.  The Jones study also caused me to reflect on my views on the topic. I have come to recognize that the instructional strategies have the potential to empower educators to promote academic integrity so that the learning process is not hindered by dishonorable work.

Why do students cheat?
To gain insight into why students cheat and plagiarize, Jones surveyed forty-eight undergraduate students about academic dishonesty.  When the students were posed the question “Why do students engage in academic dishonesty-cheating and internet plagiarism?,” the top reason was grades (92%). Other reasons cited in the study were: procrastination (83%), too busy (75%), lack of understanding (58%), no interest in the subject or assignment (50%), workload/schedule (33%), everyone does it and get away with it (25%), no big deal (17%), and peer pressure (17%).2  It is probably no surprise that students primarily cheat to get better grades but what’s perhaps most disturbing: once students receive better grades through cheating, they began to feel that they have earned these grades through their own academic merit.  Thus a cycle of cheating and self-deception can develop.3

What can educators do?
I once participated in a plagiarism workshop at a college preparatory conference.  The goal of the workshop was to provide students with the tools to recognize the various types of plagiarism and to openly discuss the consequences of dishonest academic work.  During the workshop, the instructor gave real-life examples of plagiarism and asked for participants’ ideas regarding ways that students can avoid putting themselves in these situations.  According to the Jones study, this type of direct instructional is a strategy that may lead to a reduction in academic dishonesty.  She noted that about seventy-five percent of the students surveyed in the study received information about academic dishonesty, cheating and plagiarism through informal mechanisms.  In addition to direct instruction about academic integrity, other instructional strategies that could reduce academic dishonesty including: including a written academic integrity policy or honor code as part of the course syllabus, a review of academic integrity policy during course orientation, providing a quiz on the academic integrity policy, including a learning activity or game, incorporating hyperlinks to internet tutorials on cheating or plagiarism, using plagiarism detection software, requiring students to cite sources in presentations, using the internet to teach about plagiarism, teaching students how to use citation tools, and encouraging ethical behavior and a “Do the Right Thing” attitude. Even though some of Jones’ instructional strategies cannot be implemented in every course, following one or two of these strategies can heighten awareness about the importance of this issue.

The workshop on plagiarism that I participated is a great example of what instructors can do to promote academic integrity.  Each participant read about a situation involving academic dishonesty and came up with a prevention strategy that promoted ethical behavior.  By the end of the workshop, students felt more empowered to recognize different types of academic dishonesty and how to avoid them.

Here are some additional ways to promote academic integrity:
  • Require instructors to know the institution’s policies and procedures when cheating/plagiarizing is suspected and the potential punitive actions that can be taken.
  • Require students to sign the institution’s academic integrity policy before entering the institution.
  • Provide students with information and concrete examples of cheating/plagiarism including links to helpful internet sites such as:

  • Review how to cite other’s work. Proper citation is a learned behavior, and given the tools, empowers students to properly cite other’s work. This instruction will prevent plagiarism from unknowingly occurring.
  • Analyze your campuses culture by having an open discussion on cheating and plagiarism with students.  Formally evaluate why and how students cheat on your campus. This awareness may help faculty adopt preventative measures when administering assessments. 

Cheating and plagiarism does not have to be an inevitable student behavior.  While addressing academic dishonesty, educators should not focus on the negative disciplinary actions that may occur when it is discovered, but should focus on prevention.  Discussions about cheating and plagiarism can be ongoing and dynamic conversations that empowers students and instructors to recognize the ethical issues that make this behavior so destructive.  Moreover, students can work with faculty to develop strategies to prevent it.  Given that grades are the primary reason for cheating and plagiarism, changes in grading practices may help to reduce academic dishonesty.  But without more research, it’s hard to know what grading practices would work best. One thing is for certain.  Academic integrity is an important issue that we all need to pay attention.

1.   Perez-Pena R. “Students Disciplined in Havard ScandalThe New York Times. The New York Times, 02 Feb. 2013. Web. Accessed February 16, 2013
2.   Jones DR. Academic Dishonesty: Are More Students Cheating? Business Communication Quarterly 2011; 74: 141-150.
3.  Sparks, Sarah D. "Studies Shed Light On How Cheating Impedes Learning" Education Week 2011; 30: 1-16. 

Instructor Feedback

by Nina Cimino, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Suburban Hospital

As a recent pharmacy school graduate, a current student of educational theory and practice, and as an aspiring teacher, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the transition from student to teacher.  As a student, I relied heavily on feedback to improve my performance.  As I continue learning about educational theory and looking for strategies to improve as a teacher in the classroom, I wondered how feedback fits into faculty self-reflection and development.  This topic has been receiving attention in the media, with Bill Gates advocating for more meaningful and frequent feedback to teachers as a tool to improve classroom instruction and educational outcomes.1  Watch this video of Bill Gates discussing his ideas with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

During formal educational activities, students receive feedback from their instructors in a variety of formats:  

  • Graded assignments and examinations provide feedback about a student’s mastery of course material
  • Verbal feedback from faculty members provides suggestions for improvement
  • Guidance during classroom discussions encourages students to engage with course material
  • Encouragement from faculty members provides positive reinforcement and motivation
  • Re-direction (when necessary) helps student identify areas for improvement

These sources of feedback all help learners determine if they understand course materials, are thinking rationally about concepts, and promotes self-reflection on ways to improve learning and understanding.  Once learners are no longer formal students in a classroom and assume the role of teacher, what are the sources of feedback to help them improve?

While many instructors receive feedback from students in the form of course evaluations, issues other than the effectiveness of a particular instructor may influence student evaluations.2  Students are admittedly biased by their own performance.  Their perceived success can impact their course evaluation, even though factors other than instructor effectiveness contributed to their performance.  While student feedback is one source of valuable information for teachers, other sources can also be valuable in promoting instructor self-reflection and improvement.

Northeastern University School of Pharmacy recently implemented a tool for peer observation and evaluation of faculty members.3  Faculty members received formal training on how to provide peer feedback from the University’s Center for Effective University Teaching and were asked to serve as a peer observer for a colleague’s large-group teaching activity.  The peer observation and evaluation process consisted of four components:
  • A pre-observation meeting to discuss the objectives of the class session
  • Classroom observation (one observation annually)
  • A post-observation meeting to discuss the instructor’s self-reflection of his or her performance and the observer’s positive and constructive feedback (2-3 strengths and 2-3 areas for improvement were required)
  • A post-student assessment meeting to assess the students’ achievement after completion of examinations and/or assignments

Surveys of faculty members before and after implementation of the peer observation program indicated that instructors found the program to be beneficial for improving their teaching.3  The majority of instructors who participated in the program (87%) reported making changes to some elements of their teaching (e.g. content, teaching methods, and/or assessment). In addition, 83% of participants agreed or strongly agreed “peer assessment is a better measurement of teaching effectiveness then [sic] student evaluations.”  The majority of participants also agreed that the benefits of participating in the peer observation and evaluation program outweighed the time commitment required.

In addition to student evaluations and peer observation programs, focus groups may also be used to gather information from students regarding the effectiveness of a teacher, course, or an entire educational program.4  While focus groups are not as easy to administer as traditional student evaluation surveys, they are particularly useful for exploring patterns or issues that arise during students’ evaluation of a teacher.  In addition to identifying student perceptions of a teacher’s effectiveness, focus groups allow for a facilitator to ask follow up questions in order to gain insight into issues identified by students.3

It is well recognized that feedback helps students identify strengths and areas for improvement, as well as promoting student self-assessment of their learning.  Providing instructors with feedback from multiple sources would arguably have similar benefits.  Student evaluations of courses and instructor effectiveness is undeniably important, but peer observation and evaluation, as well as student focus groups, can provide additional information that student evaluations simply don’t capture.  Focus groups allow for in-depth exploration of issues identified by students.  Feedback from a peer who understands the challenges faced based by instructors and who can offer suggestions for improvement based on personal experiences and successes would be invaluable.  These alternative feedback mechanisms are useful not only for instructors who are new to the profession but also seasoned instructors.

1.  Miks J. "Bill Gates on What Makes a Good Teacher." Global Public Square RSS. Cable News Network, 1 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Feb. 2013.

2. The value and limitations of student ratings.  The Ideas Center, Inc.  Accessed on:  March 5, 2013.

3.  DiVall M., Barr J, Gonyeau M., et al.  Follow-up assessment of a faculty peer observation and evaluation programAm J Pharm Educ 2012; 76, article 61. 

4.  Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence. Using Focus Groups to Get Student Feedback. Carnegie Mellon: Enhancing Education. Carnegie Mellon University. Web. Accessed on:  Feb 25, 2013.

Why is a Pharmacy Residency Needed?

by Melonie Blake, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Sibley Memorial Hospital
The profession of pharmacy has evolved considerably over the past few years toward the provision of patient-centered care. It has been imperative to ensure that pharmacists can function in a capacity that will provide safe and effective medication use. In order for this to occur, there has been a lot of advocacy to support the premise that all pharmacists should complete a residency before assuming direct patient care roles. I have heard the arguments in favor of this notion, as well as rebuttals that residencies are not necessary.

Before starting pharmacy school, I knew that I wanted to become a clinical pharmacist and completion of a residency was a path toward that goal. It was apparent that some clinical pharmacists did not complete a residency, particularly those who graduated before the entry-level Doctor of Pharmacy degree became the norm. Unfortunately, in recent years, the job market has taken a turn and it has become more difficult and competitive.  But the professional is also more accountable and pharmacists are more involved with patients by using the expertise that has been gained from pharmacy school, experiential learning, residency, and other post-graduate experiences.

This evoluation has led to greater participation by pharmacists on interprofessional teams, performing as the “drug experts”, and optimizing medication use by ensuring safety and efficacy, tailored to each patient’s need.1 In order to fulfill this demand and to live up to these new expectations and standards, we have to be well prepared and confident in the decisions that we make. After going through the Introductory and Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (IPPE/ APPE) at my school, I did not feel fully prepared to take on the challenges of being a clinical pharmacist, even though I valued and gained a great deal from those experiences. They provided me the foundation, along with didactic instruction, to continue to develop my clinical skills after graduation and introduced me to the integral role that clinical pharmacists play in healthcare today.

In Securing and Excelling in a Pharmacy Residency, the value of residency training is discussed.  In one of the chapters, the author explains that pharmacy residencies build upon pharmacy school by expanding the new pharmacist’s knowledge base and learning to effectively apply our knowledge and skills to each patient.  Through these experiences it increases the new practitioner’s confidence. The residency program provides a structured process to develop clinical skills with an “effective preceptor.”2 By taking an active role to give efficient, individualized care to each patient, pharmacy residents become increasingly capable of delivering patient-centered care.  Like experiential learning, pharmacy residencies are necessary and cannot be replaced.

Organizations such as American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP) and American Society of Health-systems Pharmacists (ASHP) have advocated for requiring pharmacy residencies for pharmacist involved in direct patient care, especially as the role of the pharmacist continues to expand.3 ACCP noted that pharmacy residents contribute to the profession through research and innovation.  This demonstrates the positive impact residency training has on patients, the institution, and the future of the profession.

Pharmacy residencies present an opportunity for residents to perform analyses. Analysis can help to determine the priority of patient needs, leading to safe and effective care based on the patient, clinical guidelines, best practices and the policy of the institution. In addition, analysis allows for residents to self-assess. Being able to analyze their strengths and weaknesses seems to play an important role, as residents continue to develop clinically. It allows the resident a chance to deepen their knowledge and focus in areas that need improvement. A union between experience and analysis can help to bridge the performance gap of residents, as they acquire the tools for continuous professional development, and transition to becoming independent practitioners.

As a resident, I have had the opportunity to be involved in pharmacist-led protocols, provide services in drug information to patients and health care providers, and continue to help shape the profession of pharmacy through my experiences, research and involvement in the profession. As medication therapy management (MTM), ambulatory care and other specialty areas of pharmacy become commonplace, I look forward to being at the fore front of our profession. My experiences have not strayed me away from the view that residencies are needed in order to maximize our fullest potential to provide patient-centered care.

1.  Schommer, JC, Planas, LG, Johnson, KA, et al. Pharmacists contribution to the U.S. health care system. Innovations in pharmacy. 2010; 1:1-8. 
2.  Crouch, M. Securing and excelling in a pharmacy residency. Burlington: Jones & Barlett Learning; 2013. Chapter 2, the value of residency training andvision for the future; p. 9-14.