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Imperative Issues and Elusive Solutions in Academic Integrity: A Case Study

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Issues in Academic Integrity and the Value of Portfolios, Case Studies, and Supportive Programs

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

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Paper Authors


Scott R. Hamilton Northeastern University

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Scott Hamilton is the Director of Graduate Professional Development at Northeastern University’s College of Engineering. He is a registered Professional Engineer and has both a MS and PhD in civil engineering and a MS in engineering management from Stanford University and a BS from the United States Military Academy, West Point. He is a retired US Army Corps of Engineers officer who has had assignments in the US, Germany, Korea, and Afghanistan. During his military career he spent over 10 years on the faculty at the US Military Academy at West Point teaching civil engineering. He is a Fellow of ASCE.

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Issues in academic integrity: An in-depth examination of a case study

Sessions: 8. Graduate student needs and experience, 10. Best practices in graduate engineering and technology education, or 12. Potpourri

For the past year, I have been teaching multiple sections of a large enrollment, multi-instructor, 1-credit course entitled Career Development for Engineers. This is a required course for graduate engineering students who desire to go on co-op as part of their studies. In the first semester, I noted a large number of cases of plagiarism, which the other instructors also experienced. By the end of the year, we had seen between 10% and 20% of the students having one or more incidents of copying without citation in each semester. This seemed like an abnormally high number of plagiarism cases, especially in a course with short assignments that largely are about the individual student’s own background, experiences, and goals. At a minimum, this seemed worthy of further research and discovery, and raised the question is this an issue about which graduate engineering programs should be concerned?

This paper looks at the issue of academic integrity, specifically plagiarism, as it affects graduate engineering students in-depth. It does this through both a review of the research on the topic and an in depth analysis of a real life example in a university course, using the experiences in the Career Management for Engineers course as a case study. I attempt to answer the question: should we be concerned with plagiarism in graduate engineering? I look at the demographics of our graduate engineering student population and its trends, largely and increasingly international as well as growing rapidly in size, and compare that to US trends over all in graduate engineering. Through a review of the literature on plagiarism and international students, I explore the complex relationship between the two and share the lessons discovered to help explain and better understand this phenomenon. The results of this discovery are then related to and compared to the types of incidents seen in the specific experiences of the course I am using a as case study in this paper. As part of this study I examined and categorized over 80 cases of plagiarism in this one course, over a two semester period, and compared them to findings from the literature.

In an attempt to examine the broader implications of this case study, a survey was constructed and given to all graduate engineering faculty and students university wide in the Fall of 2015. The survey attempts to ascertain attitudes, experience with, and perceptions of plagiarism as an issue in graduate school. Finally, I take serval lessons from this case study and pose questions to the larger graduate engineering community concerning the issue of plagiarism and graduate engineering students. Based on the literature I make several recommendations concerning the boarder nature of this issue and possible ways to address it, in the belief that other programs may benefit and learn from our experience.

Hamilton, S. R. (2016, June), Imperative Issues and Elusive Solutions in Academic Integrity: A Case Study Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25554

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