3.4 Collaborative group answers
Submitting a collaborative group answer is only acceptable if it is explicitly asked for as part of the assessed task or question.
In such cases, a group answer often forms part of the assessment and is linked to additional questions or tasks where each individual has to describe their contribution to the group task and/or present their own thoughts and ideas on the process or topic of discussion.
Even when you are required to submit a collective group answer, it is important to clearly indicate where the group’s work starts and finishes, and what your individual thoughts, ideas and answers are.
If you are required to complete an assessed activity or question on your own but have found discussions with one or more individuals helpful in understanding how to complete this task (without obtaining the final or near-final answer), it may be acceptable to cite the group contributions or those from another individual as part of your final answer. In such cases, always check with your tutor first.
‘As part of a study group discussion (4 June 2008), the group collectively agreed that …’
In this type of scenario, as well as in the citation in your answer, you must include a reference at the end of your work. This should include a distinguishing name for the group, a note that this was a ‘personal communication’ (e.g. not written down anywhere), what the discussion was on and the date.
S250 Northwest study group (2008) Discussions on the human genome, 4 June 2008 (pers. comm.).
‘During an online discussion, Mark Jones (S250 general forum, 4 June 2008) described …’
For this type of online citation you should give the author’s name, the forum name and the date of the message (where the month is stated as a word, not a number). If you refer to more than one message posted by the same author on the same day, use ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’, etc. after the year to distinguish between each posting. You then need to include a full reference at the end of your work, including the author’s name, the title of the message, the name of the forum and the full date.
Jones, M. (2008) ‘Understanding genomics – does this help?’, S250 general forum, 4 June 2008.
Click on the media player below to listen to a student who has been plagiarised.
Transcript: A student who has been plagiarised
Well, I’ve been with the OU for seven years now so fairly experienced in the way the OU works and on each course you often get together with a group of like-minded people. When I say get together, it’s usually online, possibly with the odd phone call, but mostly online through FirstClass. And a group of us all working on a course and would discuss around essay time various questions. And then I moved on to the next course, some of the people moved on to the further course with me and we continued – I’d say collaborating, but collaborative learning is very useful but it’s a long way from plagiarism. The way I got plagiarised – I suspect – I hope it was accidental because I don’t think the person that did it – I really wouldn’t. This was their very, very last essay at the very end of their degree – so whether it was laziness, whether it was just an error, I don’t know, but on two questions, apparently, the last essay our papers matched very closely.
I got a very pleasant phone call from one of the people who deals with this kind of thing and just being contacted absolutely makes your stomach hit the floor. You feel the hair rise on your back and the absolute terror of thinking that you may have done something wrong is quite unparalleled actually because there you’ve been slogging away for years, heading for a degree – or even on one course, even if it’s your first course – the idea if you’re pretty certain that you haven’t plagiarised. That you might be accused of it is absolutely gutting. And then you start thinking how am I going to prove that I didn’t? Did somebody else copy my work? What were they doing if they copied my work? Because, in all honesty, obviously I’d have to have given them my work for them to copy. The way that it happened with this particular essay was that, heading for the deadline, I was working with a colleague on the same course and they told me there was no way they would get an extension. So when we both hit midnight and I’d sent mine off and I assumed they’d sent theirs off; I then sent them a copy of mine and then found they’d got a week’s extension after all and I guess they just picked a couple of my questions and wrote them in. I mean, more fool me for trusting anyone, but this is somebody I’d worked with over two years. It wasn’t the first course I’d worked on them with and I was just absolutely baffled that they’d do anything that would get either of us in trouble. I can totally understand if they just took an easy option but it’s my fault for giving – for putting temptation in their way I feel, because I know they’re a very able student and they’re the ones who’ve been penalised, not me, because it was my work that they plagiarised. I feel a very strong sense of guilt for it because I let them see my work and, you know, the OU tells you not to do that and I did it. I thought I’d done it beyond the deadline but I still must take some responsibility for this.
The greatest fear of what may happen to you is that you’ve put your whole degree at risk. Fortunately, that isn’t the case in my case. It’s tainted my degree to a certain extent but not – I’m comfortable that I’ve done nothing hideously wrong and my degree will be genuinely earned but– just – it’s really hard to explain how … it’s just I’ve blotted my copy book and I’ve let the University down, I’ve let myself down, I’ve let other students down. It doesn’t feel great.
I would say to other students it’s very tempting sometimes. We’re all under pressure. We’ve all got often very complicated lives. We’re all doing other stuff. We’re trying to earn a living. There are family interruptions. There’s endless things that can interfere with your work. Don’t think you won’t get caught if you plagiarise. I can only imagine that’s what this person thought. That: ‘Oh, it won’t make much difference.’ And sure enough, the plagiarism software caught them out.
Don’t get caught out. What’s the point? You could really – you won’t feel great – believe you me.