Academic honesty in groupwork

Designing academically honest groupwork Plagiarism and academic dishonesty in groupwork can be reduced by task design and tuition.

  • Problems arise most commonly from free-riding which leads to unacceptable inequality in sharing the workload.
  • Students may be unclear about what constitutes academic dishonesty in groupwork or why e.g. free-riding is an issue of academic honesty.
  • Talking to students about group work honesty in class helps to form common understanding. This reduces unintentional dishonesty and motivates towards honest practice.
  • It is helpful to be clear from the beginning how group members will be treated if plagiarism or other types of dishonesty are found.
  • Introduction of individual accountability through reading reports, individual portfolios, learning journals, or knowledge tests reduces unequal contributions.


Academic honesty is important. Groupwork is fluid in its nature and it is natural to have confusion about what academic honesty means in different contexts.

Everyone benefits when students are not caught in unintentional dishonesty or plagiarism because they know what is expected of them.

Clearly outlining appropriate practice allows for students to make decisions to maintain honesty. This encourages the development of their intellectual autonomy.

Assignments designed to reduce the opportunities to carry them dishonesty are often good assignments for learning as well delivering better results for both staff and students.


  • Discussion with students about good group work skills can include reflection on free-riding. The student reflection can be guided to include that an assessed piece of work should fairly and accurately reflect the abilities of students who claim the work as their own. If students who have not contributed to group work and gain the same mark as those who have, the marks would no longer represent true description of students' abilities.
  • Stating general guidelines for honest groupwork can include:
    - The group may choose to give different types of tasks to each member as long as each individual contribution is of equal effort.
    - You should discuss details of the assessment task only with members of your own group.
    - You can share all material within your own group, but should not acquire or use materials prepared by students in other groups.
  • Consider asking groups to make a specific decision together and provide supportive evidence or decision-making process as their assignment. This reduces the possibility of dividing groupwork task unequally into discrete components.
  • Bring at least some group work into class. This is particularly important at the beginning of a group task. In-class time diminishes the obstacles of finding shared meeting times and brings groupwork into the public sphere. This will in turn reduce free-riding.
  • Introduce individual accountability through reading reports, individual portfolios, learning journals, or knowledge tests. This reduces unequal contributions.

Further resources