SafeAssign promotes academic integrity

Erin Reback

SafeAssign, a plagiarism deterrent loaded on Blackboard, was recently made available to faculty and students to check for proper citation within papers.

Craig Wheeland, associate vice president for Academic Affairs, said that the University’s academic integrity policy is not solely punishment, but also deterrence and teaching.

“It is my responsibility to work with Villanova’s colleges to enforce the academic integrity code and educate students about Villanova’s code,” he said.

The University has attempted to raise awareness on the importance of academic integrity in three ways, according to Wheeland.

First, faculty are supposed to detail the academic integrity policy in their syllabi each semester.

Second, incoming students are taught about what constitutes cheating and plagiarism during New Student Orientation.

Third, the Office of Academic Affairs, in partnership with Falvey Memorial Library, has launched Academic Integrity Gateway online.

The site, created last spring, includes a quiz to test a student’s knowledge about Villanova’s academic procedures.

“The faculty, Orientation and the Academic Integrity Gateway are all ways to teach students about Villanova’s policies,” Wheeland said.

The Office of Academic Affairs deals with students cheating during exams, students collaborating with others when instructed not to, and of course, plagiarism.

SafeAssign is rising in popularity among faculty.

Introduced last fall, SafeAssign detects unoriginal content in submitted papers.

Faculty members have the option of asking students to submit their work directly through SafeAssign.

Once submitted, the application checks a student’s work against four sources: the Internet, the ProQuest database, the SafeAssign database and a global reference database.

Students who submit their work to SafeAssign can add their work to SafeAssign’s database, as well.

By adding their own work, students are protecting themselves from being plagiarized.

When a student submits a paper to SafeAssign, the program highlights any phrases that may not be original to the work and indicates where those phrases can be found in other sources or papers.

“Since it just reports the percentage of a paper’s content that matches other sources in its database and online, it leaves it up to the instructor to determine whether a paper contains actual plagiarism or not,” said Instructor Michael Norton of the ethics department.

Students have a chance to submit a rough draft of their work to make sure they are properly citing their sources and paraphrasing correctly.

With the chance to submit a rough draft and see SafeAssign’s results, students learn how to avoid accidental plagiarism.

“SafeAssign is part of an effort to educate students,” Wheeland said. “We treat SafeAssign as an academic learning tool to help with proper documentation.”

Faculty can share the results of the SafeAssign search with the students, according to Richard Wack, instructional technology analyst from the University’s Instructional Technology Department.

Even though SafeAssign is free and available to all professors, it is not mandatory.

“We encourage all classes to use SafeAssign, but not all assignments are SafeAssign appropriate,” Wheeland said. “Also, [Blackboard] is not mandatory so SafeAssign cannot be, either.”

“We expect to see fewer cases of plagiarism in the future because of SafeAssign, the Academic Integrity Gateway and because of what students learn during freshman orientation,” Wheeland said.

If a student is accused of violating Villanova’s academic integrity policy, there are a series of steps that he or she must undergo.

First, a student has the opportunity to appeal responsibility for the allegation.

If the student appeals the instructor’s claim of a violation, a panel of two students and three faculty members hears the case.

The hearing takes place in a conference room where both student and professor are given the opportunity to present their cases.

After listening to both sides, the panel deliberates and votes by secret ballot. All information presented during the hearing is confidential.

“The goal is to make sure the panel has all the information necessary to render an appropriate decision,” Wheeland, who presides over all hearings, said.

If a student is found in violation of the University’s academic integrity policy, measures are taken depending on the specific circumstances of the case.

For a student’s first offense, the student’s grade will be lowered at the discretion of the accusing professor.

Additionally, the dean of the student’s college will keep a record of the incident.

This record is internal and is destroyed upon the student’s graduation.

Lastly, the student will undergo an educational program on the University’s academic policy.

“We want students to learn from their mistakes,” Wheeland said. “We do not have a big problem with infractions now, though, which is great.”