Skip to main content

Instructor's Guide to Collaboration

Instructors have widely divergent definitions of, and policies about, students “working together” and the relation of such collaborations to academic misconduct. These differences often confuse students due to their wide variation and the fact that they are rarely made explicit.  The range of potential collaborations between students include: studying together, sharing lecture notes, working on homework together, and doing collaborative (or team) projects.

To better assist students in understanding these differences, the Office of the University Ombudsperson strongly encourages faculty to include a statement/policy about collaboration in their syllabi.  Please consider the following:

  • Instructors should specify in writing the type of collaboration they allow and the expectation for a student’s individual performance.
  • If collaboration is not allowed or is considered academic misconduct, this too should be made explicit.  
  • Instructors should stress the student’s responsibility for understanding these boundaries and for asking for any needed clarification.

The syllabi for courses within which students are expected to engage in group learning, team projects, or other collaborative, course-related activities are encouraged to provide explicit explication of how individual student performance will be assessed in such shared learning activities. Requiring as part of the group assignment that the team must explain the involvement of each member in the project and/or actually assess the contribution of each other to the final product may encourage balanced and active participation and contribution by all group members. If student peer assessment is included, it should not be the only evaluation made of individual student performance.

Clear expectations and guidelines about collaboration will help you and the university handle incidents related to academic misconduct fairly and swiftly. For example:
You are encouraged to study with other students, and to discuss questions on the homework assignments in general terms (“do you understand what we’re supposed to do on Problem 8?”). However, the work you turn in should be your own.  Any form of copying or cheating on quizzes or exams is strictly forbidden. You should abide by Michigan State University's policy on academic integrity and the Spartan Code of Honor.

Or...


If you find it helpful to collaborate on assignments, I strongly encourage you to do so. However, you should write up and hand in your answers individually. Otherwise, I am unable to determine your level of understanding of the material. If you work with other students, please indicate with whom you worked. In quizzes and tests, you should work independently in accordance with Michigan State University's policy on academic integrity and the Spartan Code of Honor.

Or...

In this class, students are not allowed to collaborate with others on homework, labs, and other graded assignments. Do not share your work with others or ask others to see their completed assignments since both are considered academic misconduct. If you need help, please meet with the TAs during the course’s many review sessions or stop by during my office hours. Students are responsible for understanding this policy; as well as Michigan State University’s policy on academic integrity and the Spartan Code of Honor.  If you have questions, ask for clarification.

You may also provide your students with a link to the Office of the University Ombudsperson’s handout on collaboration as a resource in addition to your course policy.