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Murali Krishnamurthi
Murali Krishnamurthi

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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

March 20, 2006

NIU professor creates online tutorial
to teach students about academic integrity

DeKalb — Dan Brown, author of the controversial and best-selling “The Da Vinci Code,” stood in a London courtroom this week and insisted he had not plagiarized ideas from a non-fiction book published in 1982.

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of highly publicized allegations or acts of dishonesty, some of which have tarnished newspapers such as the New York Times and USA Today and rocked companies such as Enron, Arthur Andersen and WorldCom.

Cheating and plagiarism can end careers, ruin reputations and, in some cases, beget prison sentences. At Northern Illinois University, academic dishonesty can produce an invitation to the Judicial Office and, for some, a letter of dismissal.

Murali Krishnamurthi, director of the NIU Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, has developed an online tutorial on cheating and plagiarism to raise students' awareness about the causes and consequences.

“This is not all about the penalties. This is to become proactive: to understand what exactly academic dishonesty is, the reasons students do these things and the consequences of them,” said Krishnamurthi, who also is an associate professor of industrial engineering in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

“Many students don't understand that, in the long run, it becomes habit-forming,” he added. “If you do it here, you can do it there. You can do it in relationships. You can do it in a job. You can do it at home.”

The self-paced tutorial – http://www.ai.niu.edu/ai/students – features easily viewable content of quizzes, games, cases and FAQs. Students who correctly answer 70 percent of the quiz questions earn a certificate of completion online.

It covers modern technology issues, including the cell phones and handheld devices that some students use to cheat on tests, and provides students with advice and strategies to protect themselves from dishonesty and accusations.

One tip: Students who use computers in a public lab should make sure they delete all files before leaving and not toss their unwanted printouts in the lab's garbage can.

“A lot of times, students get into trouble because they don't closely read the syllabus or the course policies. The Writing Center staff was helpful by describing to us seven different types of plagiarism, and regardless of whether you do it intentionally or unintentionally, it is still plagiarism,” he said. “To protect themselves, students have to be responsible for their own homework and their own exams.”

Funded partially by the Committee for the Improvement of Undergraduate Education's Project for the Improvement of Undergraduate Education Grant, Krishnamurthi and colleague Jason Rhode designed the tutorial with support from NIU Writing Center staff Lynda Nance and Melina Bar and graduate assistants Sathappan Santhanam and Vijay Bhaskar Reddy Kancharla.

Krishnamurthi also interviewed Larry Bolles, director of the NIU Judicial Office, and NIU Ombudsman Tim Griffin for ideas of what information to include.

“We wanted to understand some different perspectives, and it was an interesting perspective to have,” he said. “Students accused of dishonesty are referred to the Judicial Office, and an equal number of cases are going to Tim Griffin's office, where students are complaining they've been falsely accused.”

Faculty members are encouraged to point their students to the tutorial or even to require their participation during class time. Statistics drawn from the pre-test and post-test features prove its impact, Krishnamurthi said.

“Everybody would agree that the instances of academic dishonesty are going up on campuses. Anything we can do to help the students realize what's appropriate and what's not appropriate is helpful,” NIU Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver said.

“I do honestly believe sometimes there is a miscommunication between the expectations of the faculty and what a student feels to be appropriate. We need to be very clear … because sometimes it's not always a willful act on the student's part to cheat or plagiarize.”

Meanwhile, Krishnamurthi has won a second grant to develop a tutorial for faculty on how they can design course activities to prevent cheating and plagiarism. He expects to complete that work this fall.

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