Faculty and Student Perceptions of Unauthorized Collaborations in the Preclinical Curriculum: Student or System Failure?

H. Carrie Chen*, Kirsten Brown, Yvonne M. Hernandez, Laura E. Martin, Catherine T. Witkop, Aleek Aintablian, Arianna Prince, Anthony R. Artino, Terry Kind, Lauren A. Maggio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose Unauthorized collaboration among medical students, including the unauthorized provision of assistance and sharing of curricular and assessment materials, is a reported problem. While many faculty view such sharing as academic dishonesty, students do not always perceive these behaviors as problematic. With the trend toward more small-group and team-based learning and the proliferation of resource-sharing and online study aids, collaboration and sharing may have become a student norm. This multi-institutional, qualitative study examined faculty and student perceptions of and student motivations for unauthorized collaboration. Method Using a constructivist approach, the authors conducted scenario-prompted semistructured interviews with faculty and students in the preclinical curriculum. Participants were asked to reflect on scenarios of unauthorized collaboration and discuss their perceptions of student motivation and the influence of personal or environmental factors. The authors performed inductive thematic analysis of the interview transcripts using open and axial coding followed by abstraction and synthesis of themes. Results Twenty-one faculty and 16 students across 3 institutions were interviewed in 2021. There was variation in perceptions among faculty and among students, but little variation between faculty and students. Both participant groups identified the same 3 areas of tension/themes: faculty/curriculum goals vs student goals, inherent character traits vs modifiable behavioral states, and student relationships with their peer group vs their relationships with the medical education system. Student behaviors were perceived to be influenced by their environment and motivated by the desire to help peers. Participants suggested cultivating trust between students and the education system, environmental interventions, and educating students about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors to prevent unauthorized collaboration. Conclusions Given the various tensions and positive motivations behind unauthorized collaborations, institutions should consider explicitly preparing students to make thoughtful decisions when faced with competing priorities in addition to developing mitigation strategies that address the environment and its interactions with students.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S42-S49
JournalAcademic Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes


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