Academic integrity is not only about holding students to high standards and creating consistent expectations through course policies. More fundamentally, it’s about helping students find the value in facing learning challenges and rising to meet them. Academic integrity develops foundational skills for ethical growth, as well as skills for fair and responsible behavior in society and the workplace. Also, preserving academic integrity in higher education preserves the integrity of the degrees it issues.

Students share faculty concerns about academic integrity and social responsibility. An inventory conducted across 23 institutions found majorities of both students and campus professionals “agreed that personal and academic integrity should be a major focus of their institution” and “strongly agreed that developing competence in ethical and moral reasoning should be a major institutional focus” (O’Neil, 2013). Faculty and students are partners in the belief that academic integrity and social responsibility are important aspects of a well rounded education.

Building Community in Your Course

Setting the tone for your course helps clarify expectations early on and can help prevent academic misconduct. The key is a community-building approach that avoids an adversarial relationship with students. This can be tough, but the rewards are tremendous. Community building encourages students to persevere and take risks when they may otherwise have considered a shortcut. Students who understand the reasoning behind your methods are more likely to abide by your expectations and transfer them to future learning situations.

Why Student Integrity Lapses

By aiming to understand where students’ motivations reside, we can turn a violation of academic integrity into a learning opportunity. Students live complex lives. Their reasons for making poor choices may not be simple, calculated, or even intentional.

So why do students cheat on tests, plagiarize writing, copy homework, etc.? In an interview, James Lang, the author of Cheating Lessons, noted that “cheating is an inappropriate response to a learning environment that’s not working for the student” (Golden, 2013). Understanding students’ motivations will help you know how to proceed when a violation occurs.

  • They don’t find peers and faculty who value academic integrity. Students aware of peers cheating or faculty ignoring cheating are more likely to assume that cheating is necessary to succeed. Similarly, schools that have no honor code reported nearly twice as much cheating as those with honor codes (McCabe, 2005).
  • They want a competitive edge. Students who focus on getting the grade they want, gaining entrance into a competitive program, or pleasing parents or mentors may choose a shortcut toward that goal. Conversely, students who focus on growth, improvement, and mastery are less likely to cheat (Lang, 2013).
  • They haven’t been taught to accurately cite research. Many students enter college having never been adequately taught how to conduct research and incorporate sources into their writing. They may have a vague idea of what plagiarism is — but accurately paraphrasing, quoting, and summarizing borrowed information requires skills they may not have mastered, causing them to inadvertently commit plagiarism.
  • They are ill equipped to face the challenges of college. Whether it’s poor time management, too many commitments, or family emergencies, students often find themselves with work due before they’re prepared to complete it with quality. To exacerbate the issue, many students are afraid to contact their instructors about these issues or ask for help until it’s too late.

Teaching to Encourage Academic Integrity

As faculty, we need to collectively look in the mirror and realize we probably contribute to the cheating problem. Therefore we are at least partially responsible for fixing it. Faculty members are clearly a key to achieving academic integrity, because they are in the classrooms and dealing with students every day (McCabe et al., 2012, p. 144).

Your syllabus is a contract between you and your students, and is often students’ introduction to your expectations. It’s important to specifically state your policies on academic misconduct and links to the official PSU Student Code of Conduct section on academic dishonesty. Your statement can be brief:

“Academic integrity is a vital part of the educational experience at PSU. The PSU Student Code of Conduct lays out the university’s policy on academic dishonesty. A confirmed violation of that Code in this course will result in failure of the course.”

You’ll help students succeed if you encourage them to consider — from the first day of class — your course requirements and how to meet them. The Center for Teaching and Learning at UC Berkeley developed an academic success assignment that prompts students to break down tasks to meet their goals for a class. This primes students to practice behaviors that will lead them to meet those goals.

Meta-teaching is “teaching about teaching,” a practice that can help any instructor be more mindful about their own practice. Overtly practicing meta-teaching with your students is a powerful way to include them and promote academic integrity. Meta-teaching improves metacognition in students, but also helps them understand the reasoning behind your methods — which encourages them to internalize those methods and carry them into future learning.

Meta-teaching can be as simple as explaining why a certain policy or practice is important to you as a teacher or scholar. It can also be a deeper part of learning, where students are encouraged to analyze the why behind your teaching practice and how that practice is intended to engage them.

One example of meta-teaching is from a class where the instructor uses innovative grading. During the first week, the instructor defines formative and summative assessment for students and explains why she chooses to avoid summative assessment until the end of the term.

When students are motivated to learn, they have no desire to cheat or take shortcuts. When deciding whether or not to cheat, students often ask three questions (Murdock et al., 2006):

  • What is my purpose?
  • Can I do this task?
  • What are the costs associated with cheating?

Students who understand why coursework matters, what steps they should take for success, and what the consequences are for cheating are more likely to engage ethically in the class. When courses are built around problems, questions, and challenges rather than with the goal of covering content, students are more likely to be curious and motivated to complete the work themselves. Similarly, helping students connect the coursework to their own lives and interests will spark greater intrinsic motivation.

Students are intrinsically motivated to do well in their courses when they have a positive relationship with the instructor and content, when they’re given choices about how and what to learn, and when they have the resources they need to succeed.

Because you will often never meet your online students in person, it can be a challenge to make positive connections that encourage ethical academic behavior — but it can be done. The editors of Distance Education Report (2016) detail seven techniques that foster academic integrity in online classes:

  • Set expectations.
  • Build relationships with students.
  • Help students transfer face-to-face classroom norms to the online environment.
  • Keep groups small.
  • Use frequent and varied assignments.
  • Use technology judiciously.
  • Allow opportunities to play and explore.

Above all, remember to plan your course to foster engagement.

Turnitin as a Teaching and Learning Tool

Turnitin is a PSU-supported platform that allows students and faculty to determine whether student work is original or borrowed, and whether plagiarism may have occurred. Turnitin alone cannot determine whether academic integrity has been violated, but it assists faculty and students in deciding whether a text meets the standards of documenting borrowed information.

While Turnitin is designed to detect plagiarism, it can also help students learn. With appropriate planning, you can give students ownership over their use of Turnitin, helping them improve their ability to incorporate borrowed information.

  • Include a statement (such as this) about how you’ll use Turnitin in your syllabus so students know what to expect.
  • Introduce Turnitin to your students as a way for them to improve, not as a policing tool. Demonstrate how it works.
  • Build in enough time for multiple drafts. This will allow students to use Turnitin to detect potential plagiarism and make corrections.

Dealing with Academic Integrity Concerns

If you suspect academic misconduct, your best resource is the Director of Conduct and Community Standards in the Dean of Student Life Office.

  • It’s the only central program on campus that can track concerns, patterns of behavior, and incidents of academic misconduct.
  • It’s the only office on campus that offers educational engagement opportunities for sanctions that foster accountability.
  • It has knowledgeable staff experienced in academic integrity concerns and new or developing trends in academic misconduct.

Distance Education Report. (2014). Seven Ways Online Faculty Can Promote Academic Integrity.

Golden, S. (2013, September 11). ‘Cheating Lessons’. Inside Higher Ed.

Lang, J. M. (2013). Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty. Harvard University Press.

McCabe, D. L. (2005). It takes a village: academic dishonesty & educational opportunity. Liberal Education, 91(3), 26.

McCabe, D. L., Butterfield, K. D., & Treviño, L. K. (2012). Cheating in College: Why Students Do It and What Educators Can Do about It. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Murdock, T., & Anderman, E. (2006). Motivational Perspectives on Student Cheating: Toward an Integrated Model of Academic Dishonesty. Educational Psychologist, 41(3), 129–145.

O’Neill, N. (2013). Infusing Personal Responsibility into the Curriculum and Cocurriculum: Campus Examples. New Directions for Higher Education, 2013(164), 49–71.

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