This January, all graduate students will sit down to take a new test — but this one will be ungraded.
The Online Academic Integrity Module — the new online questionnaire that will be required of all graduate students — will consist of 10 questions designed to test student knowledge of scholarly issues such as correct citation, plagiarism and collaboration, Graduate School Associate Dean Pamela Schirmeister said.
The online module continues the focus of last year’s first-ever Academic Integrity Week, a week-long series of non-required panels and department discussions emphasizing academic honesty.
The week, which Graduate School deans said was largely ignored by the graduate student body, will not continue this year, Graduate School deans said.
All graduate students will be required to complete the online module before registering in January for spring classes, but each student will only need to complete it once throughout his or her graduate career at Yale, Schirmeister said. Beginning in the next academic year, only new students will need to complete the module before registration. The questionnaire will not be graded and is meant to serve an educational, rather than punitive, function, she said.
“Every graduate student should be able to answer all 10 of these questions,” she said.
One example question asks which of several scenarios constitutes unauthorized collaboration between students. A student taking the test will choose a response and then see an explanation for the correct answer before moving on to the next question.
Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said the module is inspired by last year’s Academic Integrity Week, which was co-sponsored by the Graduate School and Yale College. The Graduate School is unique among its peer institutions in its focus on responsible scholarship, Butler said.
“I think Yale is much more forward on this issue than other graduate schools,” he said.
Butler said the 2005-2006 school year saw five cases of plagiarism and one case of research fraud at the Graduate School, while last year there were three cases of plagiarism, all of which led to “substantial penalties,” he said.
Drawing inspiration from a similar program used by Columbia University, Schirmeister said she began developing the Graduate School’s module in the summer of 2006 and completed it after meeting with representatives from Information Technology Services. The questions are based on ones submitted by Graduate School deans.
The online questionnaire will be more convenient than Academic Integrity Week was for individual departments, Schirmeister said, because faculty will not be required to hold discussions related to their disciplines, as they were last year. Schirmeister said she recognized that by tying the online module to course registration, the depth and scope of the questions are necessarily limited. Students cannot be forced to spend hours registering for classes, she said.
“It has to be something people can go through quickly and synthesize,” Schirmeister said.
Butler said while he was pleased the Graduate School held Academic Integrity Week, he wanted a change of pace this year.
“I can’t claim that it attracted a great deal of attention. We can’t just keep doing the same thing,” Butler said.
Evrim Ayden Saher GRD ’08 said neither she nor any of her friends were very aware of the week last year. Ayden Saher said although she would have liked to have learned more about plagiarism when she was an undergraduate, the issue is often more important for graduate students.
“Graduate students have to take it more seriously, because there’s more on the line,” Ayden Saher said.
Graduate Student Assembly spokesman Nicholas Goodbody GRD ’09 said the mandated nature of the questionnaire may make it more likely that students will pay attention to the issue of academic honesty.
“It seems like if you want to get your message across, making it required is definitely the best way to do it,” Goodbody said. “[Academic Integrity Week] didn’t get the message out as well as [the Dean’s office] wanted.”
Schirmeister said other schools within the University have expressed interest in adapting the module for their own use, including the School of Nursing and Yale College.
Alfred Guy, the director of the Yale College Writing Center and co-author of the University’s current regulations on plagiarism and academic scholarship, said the College is looking into preparing its own questionnaire.
“I think the College is at least going to develop a similar kind of thing, but I’m not at all sure that it will be implemented,” he said.
Guy said the module would not replace any of the College’s current efforts against plagiarism, but would instead serve as a supplement. Guy said one main challenge of implementing the module is to make sure students do not view it as “busywork.”
“That would potentially undermine the reinforcement,” he said.
Guy said if the College were to develop its own academic integrity module, it would involve at least some student feedback in the form of focus-group testing.