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Academic Integrity

Academic dishonesty describes a range of undesirable student behaviors including cheating and plagiarism. As instructors these types of behaviors can threaten many of our educational goals for students, but there are steps we can take to preserve the academic integrity of our courses.

Causes

Students describe a variety of reasons for academically dishonest behavior:  

  • Competition with other students
  • Lack of time or organization
  • Perception that “everyone’s doing it”
  • “Sink or Swim” environment
  • Mixed messages from instructors and peers
  • Disengagement with the goal of their program of study

Be Clear About Policies

The most basic step in ensuring academic integrity is to be sure you are familiar with the Institute’s policy and take steps to communicate those policies to your students.

Don’t assume your students have “heard it all before.”  As instructors we sometimes oversimplify things – we say “just don’t do it” when we could be more clear about what behavior is unacceptable and what constitutes academic dishonesty. In many fields important connections can be made between academic integrity and professional ethics.

In classes that alternate between group work and individual work it may be unclear when (or why) collaboration on some activities is inappropriate. In un-proctored settings, such as online or take home exams, be explicit about use of outside resources – i.e. is the assessment open book or not.

As with any course policies the amount of time you spend discussing it sends a message to students about the degree to which it is important to you.

Considerations for Planning Papers and Projects

The ideal projects are “realistic, original, and meaningful” - they require students to do original work that can’t be lifted from else where, they feel realistic and authentic in connections to what students will do professionally, and ultimately feel meaningful to students in terms of their education. When possible craft assignments that require original problem solving. These ideal projects will promote academic integrity by being of a nature that requires students to engage in original and authentic work that can’t be plagiarized, recycled, etc. Meaningful projects will resonate with students – the value will be clear to them – which contributes to academic integrity.

Designing assignments that meet these lofty goals is far from easy, but it is something to strive for in the design of your courses, both for the sake of engaging and motivating students, as well as the added benefit of minimizing academic dishonesty.

In addition to conceptualizing ideal projects, the structure of projects and papers can also contribute to academic integrity. Breaking down larger projects into pieces entails assigning individual deadlines to specific steps of a projects (topic selection, locating sources, draft, final paper etc.) When possible this is a good practice for any high stakes assignment: it improves the general quality of student work by encouraging them to work in stages, it allows for the possibility of peer or instructor feedback throughout the process rather than after completion, and it removes a variety of options or incentives for a student to engage in academically dishonest behavior. In large classes these need not necessarily be hand graded by the instructor; consider peer review or simply checking off that materials have been received etc.

Considerations for Exams and Quizzes

Exams and quizzes can be one of the more challenging aspects of your course to revise because it can feel like investing work simply to mitigate cheating rather than directly improving the quality of the course for all students.

In planning quizzes and exams that will maintain academic integrity it can be important to consider what role quizzes and exams play in a course. Some courses rely on large high stakes exams; when possible it can be preferable to minimize the role of such high stakes exams. The added pressure from high stakes activities can contribute to poor student performance as well as potentially academically dishonest student behavior. If you do make use of high stakes exams consider how students are prepared for them, i.e. do students have access to a practice exam or past exams that can prepare them for high stakes assessments?

Further Reading

See also: Teaching Challenges: Plagiarism

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