Teaching Assistants


Section 4.2 of the UNL Student Code of Conduct is specific about the importance of maintaining academic honesty and integrity in our classrooms. While integrity is expected of all members of the university community, teaching assistants are uniquely positioned to teach, model, and assure integrity in students’ academic assignments. Persons with academic integrity work honestly, ethically and accurately, taking full credit for their own work, and giving full credit to others who have helped, or whose work has been incorporated into their own. Your primary responsibility as a teaching assistant is not merely to react to incidents of academic dishonesty, but to prevent them from happening at all, and to instill in your students a healthy sense of integrity and pride in themselves, their work and their profession.

Before the semester begins
When you meet with your supervising professor to make plans for the semester, discuss strategies you can employ to let students know the value of academic integrity. Also clarify the procedures your department uses in responding to academic dishonesty (the UNL Student Code of Conduct describes several possible responses). Some faculty may delegate full responsibility for such matters to TAs, while others would prefer that you consult with them to determine how to proceed. Be sure your syllabus fully explains your policy on academic integrity and identifies the sanctions you will impose on any student who violates it.

On the first day of class
During the first class meeting in which you discuss expectations and structure for the course, include a discussion of the ethical standards for the course – and the consequences of non-compliance.

During the semester
As you present each assignment, reinforce how important it is for students to approach their academic tasks honestly. Make sure students know the criteria you’ll use for evaluating their performance. Describe acceptable and unacceptable behavior and give examples of plagiarism or improper collaboration. Make sure students feel they can succeed in your class without having to resort to dishonesty. Encourage students to come talk with you if they are having difficulties. Ensure equal access to study materials (assignments, exams, old homework assignments). Strategies for promoting honesty in written assignments:

• Tell students how to successfully research and write a paper or prepare a lab report.
• Teach students proper methods of attribution. Describe and give examples of plagiarism, paraphrasing and direct citation.
• Assign specific topics or give students a limited choice of topics. Become familiar with the literature in those areas, both in print and online. Require students to discuss paper topics with you before getting started.
• Be reluctant to allow students to change topics or hand in something that is off the assignment. 
• Have students submit an essay outline or first draft for feedback. 
• Discuss areas of difficulty in assignments. Meet with students to monitor their progress and offer feedback and support. 
• Provide specific guidelines for the format of written assignments and adhere to them when evaluating student work. 
• Prepare new assignments each semester. 
• To lessen the possibility of papers or assignments being lost or stolen, require students to submit assignments in class or directly to you. Strategies for promoting honesty in tests/exams: 
• Prepare new exam questions each time you teach the course. If a pool of multiple-choice questions is available, rotate their use. 
• When proctoring, circulate throughout the room, especially at the back. 
• Prepare a seating plan or have students sit in every other seat. 
• Ask students to leave their bags and backpacks at the end of an aisle or at the front of the room before sitting down to write an exam or test. 
• Collect examination papers individually. 
• To discourage any additions after exams or tests are returned to students, place a mark or dash at the end of each answer and/or a line through any unused sections of their examination papers or booklets.

If you suspect students of cheating or plagiarizing material, confront them directly. Deal with the problem immediately. Talk with the student about your suspicions and listen carefully to the student's response. If you still are convinced the student behaved unethically or dishonestly, pursue the matter according to your established policy. You always have two excellent resources at UNL to help you address problems related to academic integrity. The first is your supervising professor: talk to him or her if you suspect a student has cheated. The second is the Office of Student Judicial Affairs. Staff members there are available to answer your questions as well.

For a more comprehensive discussion of this topic, go to the University of California-Berkeley’s Tools for Teaching web page and read a chapter from the book Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis; Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco, 1993.