Academic Integrity

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Collaborative Learning

(see also Laboratory and Studio Environments)

Collaborative learning is an educational method that is frequently used at Ryerson and that can offer many benefits to the student.  Students are encouraged to form study groups; assignments are frequently group projects; and classroom activities often involve group work.  However, as a learning method, it can have pitfalls associated with it if not used wisely.

The following suggestions can enable you to incorporate cooperative learning into your classroom activities and evaluation methods and help create a culture of academic integrity in the class.

  • Discuss academic integrity with your class during lecture time at the beginning of the term, stressing the importance of academic honesty Clarify your expectations with your students, explain what constitutes unacceptable behaviour within group work. Refer to the Ryerson Student Code of Academic Conduct (Section C1.b.) and make the penalties clear. State that a student plagiarizing or cheating on the portion of their assignment can put all members of their group at risk of being charged with misconduct.
  • Provide students with clear guidelines on what is permissible within groupwork and include this policy in your course syllabus and on assignments. A good example of a policy on unauthorized collaboration is available from the Centre for Academic Integrity
  • Be clear and open about the criteria you are using for assessing group work.1
  • Prepare students to work in groups by discussing the group behaviours essential to group work; have students brainstorm positive behaviours such as remaining focused, being respectful by listening to others, offering criticism constructively.”2 Discuss methods of conflict resolution with the class.
  • Consider designing group activities that practice strategies and responses and will help groups deal with dissension and recognize that conflict can yield creative solutions. Have students do some form of cooperative learning in each class, for example, sharing in dyads to achieving consensus on an issue under discussion.2
  • Individual accountability within the group needs to be factored into the completion of an activity or an assignment to prevent the risk that one or two students will do all the work and the others will take unwarranted credit from their efforts.2 Consider the following:
    • “Set up assignments in such a way that each individual student has to produce a separate part of the overall task.”1
    • Mark the group’s submitted report as a group effort, but require each member to submit a “metalearning essay” or reflection, to be marked separately, of what they learned during the process of doing the assignment and working within the group.3
    • Randomly select a student to discuss their group’s work to that point.2
    • In the group’s introduction to their submitted report, have them describe which members were responsible for particular parts of the assignment.1
    • “Have group members reference their own work in the report in the same manner as other resources.” (e.g. APA style)1
    • Use an online discussion board (e.g. through Blackboard) for students to conduct group discussion so that individual contributions can be monitored.
  • If possible, keep group size small (four). Larger groups require a great deal of skill to be successful.
  • Be visible and interactive and provide feedback. Work with the students in offering encouragement, clarifying misunderstandings, promoting interactive skills and coaching on group behaviours.2
  • Assign group members to groups to avoid friends always working with friends.2
  1. Flinders University. Designing Out Opportunities for Academic Dishonesty. Retrieved July 28, 2005 from:
  2. York University. (2005). Collaborative learning and academic integrity. Retreived July 25, 2005 from
  3. Harris, R. 2002. Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers. Available from
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