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5.1 Collaborative Learning Collusion Difference

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5.1 Is there a difference between collaborative learning, collusion and copying?

Is there a difference between collaborative learning, collusion and copying?

Working with others is a fact of life whether you are at school or at work. Learning is an active process which involves talking to people, sharing ideas, clarifying thoughts and building your own knowledge.

In this module we will be considering how you can continue to work with others during your HSC years, acknowledging their work as appropriate, and working ethically with them. How can you continue to work with others and maintain the academic integrity of your own work?

It's easy to get confused about collaborative learning, collusion and copying. Take a few minutes to make sure that you really do know the difference. The following definitions and examples will assist you in making sure that you don't cross the line.

Collaborative learning

Sometimes called cooperative learning, this where students work together in groups of two or more on a shared goal. You might be trying to deepen your understanding about an issue or brainstorm ideas in relation to a particular problem. Whatever the purpose, the collaborative effort is one in which all members of the group are expected to participate equally.

These groups are usually face-to-face but increasingly groups can operate online through discussion boards, chatlines, blogs and wikis.

Suppose in a Maths class, the teacher suggests that students work on a number of trigonometry problems in groups. There would be little value if each student chose to work on only one or two of the problems and then merely copied each other's answers. It would be much better if each member of the group worked each problem collaboratively and agreed that each person would undertake to explain their thinking to the group. This way, everyone has the potential to benefit.


When the teacher says, 'Go ahead and work together', the protocols of citation, referencing and acknowledgement still apply.

If you are like most other students, you would like to be sure that you get credit for the work you have done and not for what someone else has done. Having said that though, some honest and hardworking students have been found to copy out of ignorance. They are not aware of the correct citation or referencing procedures. However, this is not a defence. You should not allow others to copy your work. Allowing others to copy your work makes you as guilty of plagiarism as the person doing the copying. You may face the same penalties.

Copying is cheating. It is fooling a reader into believing that certain written material is original when it is not. Teachers and examiners treat copying or plagiarism very seriously. It may lead to a student getting zero for an assignment or a complete course being withheld.

For example, students are instructed to work as a group in a brainstorming session before moving to individual research for a PDHPE assignment. One student simply copies all the ideas of the other students and submits this work as his own, without additional work or attribution. This copying is cheating.


In its simplest form, collusion occurs when two or more people work secretly for the purpose of deliberately misleading others.

Collusion is a form of plagiarism that can occur as a result of inappropriate collaboration during group work. It involves working with someone with the deliberate intention to mislead. This could involve working with someone else to produce work which is presented as your own when, in fact, it was the result of secretly working with someone else.

Sometimes it is difficult to know whether you are colluding or not during group work. One way to avoid collusion is to make sure that each member of the group takes their own personal notes of what is happening during the group work sessions.

An example of collusion would be if you helped out a friend and let him copy your most recent assignment, even if you remind him to change the words to make it look like his own before he hands it in.

Consider this situation

Ms Hopeton assigns a research problem in a Year 11 class. The assignment is to be handed in as a single group assignment. The problem is quite difficult and will require the collaborative time and effort of a team. Ms Hopeton divides the class into groups of four students, gives them instructions, and tells them when the problem will be due.

Imran's group has an initial meeting and decides to divide up the work. Mia, one of Imran's group members, offers to write a particular section of the paper based on some great information she found on the internet. The other members of the group, including Imran, divide the remaining work and proceed with their respective research.

One week before the project is due, Imran finds out that Mia has chosen to 'copy and paste' most of her paper from the internet source. Imran picks up on Mia's plagiarism and knows it is wrong, but he needs a good mark on this assessment task. Imran confronts Mia and asks her to redo her paper without plagiarising, but Mia claims she is too busy with her other class work and her part-time job. She assures Imran that Ms Hopeton will never discover the plagiarism, and that if she does, she will take complete blame for it.

Imran finds himself in an extremely uncomfortable position. He feels partly responsible for the plagiarism because he has discovered it.

What should Imran do?

Should he confer with the other group members?