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It’s become more and more common to hear about academic integrity challenges among college educators. Whether it be a perceived increase in students’ academic dishonesty or instructors seeking out new ways to curtail any cheating, the pandemic and increase in remote learning has brought a heightened awareness to an issue that has concerned the industry for decades. With readily available digital tools -- like cell phones, group chats, and multiple tabs or screens -- it’s also brought increased suspicion within college classrooms.
While the challenges are new, the problem of academic dishonesty is not. International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) founder Dr. Donald McCabe found that more than 60 percent of students admit to cheating in some way while in college -- both in his initial research in the 1990s and in subsequent studies. There are, however, resources and tools available to teachers and institutions to encourage academic integrity and help dissuade students from cheating or being dishonest.
But what exactly is academic integrity? The ICAI defines it as a commitment to six fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage. Academic dishonesty, on the other hand, happens when there’s cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, or falsification, and it happens for a variety of reasons. While some students are worried about grades, others succumb to peer pressure and yet others just take advantage of an opportunity that is presented to them. There’s no one silver bullet to fixing the problem.
There is one other important category -- the students that may not even be aware that what they’re doing is dishonest; this has less to do with cheating and more to do with offering students the support they need in order to succeed. In a recent conversation blog about the state of academic integrity, Dr. Camilla Roberts, Kansas State University Director of the Honor and Integrity System, and Cindy Albert, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Associate Director Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning spoke directly about the support students need.
Teachers, colleges, students, and we at Macmillan Learning all want the same thing -- which is to see students succeed. Academic dishonesty can be a major barrier to accomplishing that goal, with consequences extending well beyond getting caught. For example, students construct an understanding of a topic, in large part, based on prior knowledge of it. When academic dishonesty is involved early on, students may not acquire the knowledge necessary to connect the dots with future lessons or more advanced courses.
Free & Low-Cost Tools and Resources for Academic Integrity
Some tools for detecting dishonesty have been around for quite some time -- like software that allows professors to identify whether or not students’ writing has been plagiarized -- others are quite new. But supporting academic integrity should be more than just finding an EdTech tool to catch cheating and punishing the cheaters. In fact, uncovering academic dishonesty is just one of several ways to consider the topic. The other, which may be even more effective, is to proactively support academic integrity.
With a goal of offering tools that educators can use to teach students about academic integrity and help create a learning environment that supports it, Macmillan Learning has compiled a list of free and low-cost resources and tools that support the journey:
Create support services. Writing labs or tutoring services encourage both academic integrity and student success by supporting persistence and helping to eliminate one of the causes of cheating -- students' low confidence in their understanding of the materials. With academic assistance, students are more likely to persist and succeed in college, according to recent research from the Council of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education Associations.
Events and activities that promote education and transparent dialogue around academic integrity. It’s not just instructors who can play a part -- colleges, non-profit organizations, and leading educational technology and publishing companies have a role to play as well. The International Center for Academic Integrity promotes and supports academic integrity & integrity of the academy, and often hosts events and activities on their social media, including Twitter. Other examples include UC San Diego’s series of events and activities in support of academic integrity, including a mentorship program, integrity awareness week, and contests. Macmillan Learning is also hosting three free webinars in October about the topic, which you can register for here.
Get to know your students. When instructors build a strong connection with their students, those students can be less inclined to engage in dishonest behavior because they’re more likely to ask for help when they need it most. A degree of trust and mutual respect is required for this, and it can be built with a little extra effort. Make it a point to get to know your students. Learn their names, encourage them repeatedly to attend office hours, and remind them that you are a resource for them.
Investigate misconduct. Unfortunately, proactive measures to support academic integrity don’t always work. There’s no way to eliminate every instance of cheating or prevent every form of plagiarism. It is important to report suspected violations to your institution for investigation. Students may engage in dishonest behavior at higher rates when violations go unreported because they have not experienced any consequences.
Low-stakes quizzing. Many students engage in dishonest behavior because they feel immense pressure to do well in a course or on a single assignment. Nearly every student wants to succeed but when so much of their grade depends on only a handful of assessments, they might turn to dishonesty in an attempt to ensure that success. Frequent, low-stakes assessments can be a great way to check students’ knowledge and progress to identify areas where additional review is needed and to provide them with more opportunities to make the grade. Another tool to consider is authentic assessment, which asks students to apply what they have learned to a new situation; many assignments within Achieve can be adapted to include elements of authentic assessment. Further, the student engagement system iClicker supports frequent, low-stakes assessment and student engagement through active learning.
Model behavior. Students look to their instructors for guidance, not just information. One way that you can encourage academic integrity in your students is to model it for them. Source and cite your course materials the way that you expect your students to on their assignments. Answer students’ questions with the same honesty and integrity that you expect them to answer yours. Show students how to cite their sources by teaching them to use documentation advice in their handbooks/textbooks and taking time to have specific lessons on citation practices in your discipline. And when you set an expectation with students, follow through as consistently as possible. We’re often surprised by how much our students don’t know about academic integrity. They may not understand the boundaries of plagiarism. By modeling integrity, you can help students learn how to be good, honest scholars.
Plagiarism review: This type of tool is available in modern courseware, including Achieve for English courses. It works two ways -- students can check their drafts for potential plagiarism and instructors can use it to check work after it’s been turned in. For example, if a writing instructor chooses to enable Achieve’s Source Check feature, students can check their drafts for possible issues with their use of sources and receive instruction that helps them evaluate and fix any problems. Services like Grammarly and Turnitin are also used by colleges and universities to check the integrity of students’ work.
Review your institution’s honor code and set your own class policies. Every institution has a code of academic integrity, an honor code, or a code of conduct that clearly outlines the college or university’s expectations of students, potential violations of the code, and consequences for violating the code. Whether you choose to include it in your syllabus or dedicate time on the first day of class to reviewing it, or both, it’s important to remind students that they have agreed to the honor code. You can take additional measures by setting your own class policies for academic integrity and making your students aware of them.
Students may have a great deal of motivation to engage in dishonest academic behavior, and possibly countless opportunities to do so. Techniques and tools that center transparency and academic honesty can help deter some of the most common forms of dishonesty. Have you used any of these techniques in your courses?