Academic Integrity and Social Responsibility in the Classroom

Academic integrity is not only about holding students to high standards and creating consistent expectations through course policies, but more fundamentally about helping students see the value in facing the learning challenges they are presented with so they can rise to meet those challenges. Academic integrity provides skills that are foundational to ethical growth, as well as skills for fair and responsible behavior that translate into responsible, ethical members of society and the workplace. Additionally, preserving academic integrity within an institution of higher education preserves the integrity of the degrees issued.

One might assume that academic integrity and social responsibility are concerns of faculty that aren’t shared by students. However, in Infusing Personal Responsibility into the Curriculum and Cocurriculum, Nancy O’Neil reports that a 2007 Inventory conducted across 23 institutions found both a majority of students and campus professionals surveyed “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.” This means that faculty and students are partners in the belief that academic integrity and social responsibility are important aspects of a well rounded education.

Setting the tone for your course helps clarify expectations early on in the term and has the potential to prevent the occurrence of academic misconduct. The key is outlining the structure and boundaries of the course using a community-building approach that avoids creating an adversarial relationship with students. This can be tough, but when achieved the rewards are tremendous, because community building encourages students to persevere and take risks when otherwise they may have considered taking a shortcut. Students who understand the reasoning behind your methods will be more likely to abide by your expectations and transfer your teaching to future learning situations.

Common Causes of Student Lapses in Academic Integrity

By aiming to understand where students’ motivations reside, we can turn a violation of academic integrity into a learning opportunity. Students are living complex lives and their reasons for making poor choices may not be simple, calculated, or even intentional. However, studies find that 95% of students have participated in some form of cheating by high school, which means it’s even more important to understand the underlying causes so we can work toward meaningful prevention.

So why do students violate academic integrity codes by participating in behaviors such as cheating on tests, plagiarizing writing, copying homework, etc.? In an interview, the author of the book Cheating Lessons, James Lang, noted that “cheating is an inappropriate response to a learning environment that’s not working for the student” (Golden, “Cheating Lessons.”)

  • Because they don’t see peers and faculty who value academic integrity. According to Donald L. McCabe’s research, students who see their peers cheating or faculty who ignore cheating, they are more likely to assume that cheating is necessary to succeed. Similarly, schools who have no honor code reported nearly twice as much cheating as those with honor codes (McCabe, “It Takes a Village”).
  • Because they want to gain a competitive edge. Students who are focused on getting the grade they want, gaining entrance into a competitive program, or pleasing parents or mentors may choose to take a shortcut to ensure they achieve their goal. This may take the form of using another student’s answers on a test or homework, stealing test questions before the exam, buying or claiming someone else’s writing as their own, etc. Conversely, students who are focused on growth, improvement, and mastery are less likely to cheat (Lang, Cheating Lessons).
  • Because 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 own writing. These students may have a vague idea of what plagiarism is, but understanding how to grapple with the complexities of accurately paraphrasing, quoting, and summarizing borrowed information requires skills they may not have mastered, causing them to inadvertently commit plagiarism.
  • Because they are ill equipped to face the challenges of college. Whether it’s poor time management skills or too many commitments or unforeseen family emergencies, students often find themselves in situations where work is due before they’re prepared to complete it with quality, and to exacerbate the issue, many students are afraid to contact their instructors about these issues or ask for help until it’s too late.

Ultimately, understanding students’ motivations will help you know how to proceed when a violation occurs.

Teaching Techniques to Encourage Academic Integrity

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

Encourage Academic Integrity in Your Syllabus and First-Day Practices

  • Your syllabus serves as a contract between you and your students and is often students’ first introduction to your expectations of them. It’s important to include a statement that specifically relates to your policies around academic misconduct that links to the official PSU Student Code of Conduct section on academic dishonesty. Your statement can be brief like this:”Academic integrity is a vital part of the educational experience at PSU. Please see the PSU Student Code of Conduct for the university’s policy on academic dishonesty. A confirmed violation of that Code in this course will result in failure of the course.”
  • Helping students consider from the first day of class the requirements of your course and the behaviors they can practice to meet those requirements successfully will contribute to that success. The Center for Teaching and Learning at UC Berkeley has developed an Academic Success Assignment that prompts students to break down the tasks necessary to meet their own goals in the class. This primes students to practice the behaviors that will lead them to meet those goals.

Practice Meta-Teaching

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

What does meta-teaching look like in the classroom? It 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 the learning experience, where students are encouraged to engage in discussion or activity that analyzes the why behind your teaching practice and how that practice is intended to engage students.

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

Foster Students’ Intrinsic Motivation

When students are motivated to learn, they have no desire to cheat or take shortcuts. According to the article “Motivational perspectives on student cheating,” when deciding whether or not to cheat, students often ask three questions:

  1. What is my purpose?
  2. Can I do this task?
  3. What are the costs associated with cheating?

Students who understand why their coursework matters, what steps they should take to be successful, 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 more 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.

Additional Academic Integrity Considerations for Online Classes

Because you will often never meet your online students in person, it can be a challenge to make the kind of positive connections with them that encourage ethical academic behavior, but it can be done. The article, “7 Ways Online Faculty Can Promote Academic Integrity,” details these seven techniques that foster academic integrity in online classes:

  1. Set expectations
  2. Build relationships with students
  3. Help students transfer face-to-face classroom norms to the online environment
  4. Keep groups small
  5. Use frequent and varied assignments
  6. Use technology judiciously
  7. Allow opportunities to play and explore

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

Use Turnitin as a Teaching & 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 an academic integrity violation has happened, but it assists faculty and students in deciding whether a text meets the standards of documenting borrowed information.

While Turnitin is designed as a plagiarism detection tool, it also has the capacity to be an important step in the learning process. With appropriate planning, you can give students ownership over their use of Turnitin, assist them in improving their ability to incorporate borrowed information, and incorporate Turnitin as part of the learning process.

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

How to Deal with Academic Integrity Concerns

If you suspect that a student has engaged in academic misconduct, your best resource is the Director of Conduct and Community Standards in the Dean of Student Life office. Communicating with the Dean of Student Life office is a good option for several reasons:

  • Only central program on campus that can track concerns, patterns of behavior, and incidents of academic misconduct
  • Only office on campus that offers a variety of educational engagement opportunities for sanctions that foster accountability
  • Knowledgeable staff experienced in academic integrity concerns and new or developing trends in academic misconduct.

Learn More Elsewhere

This article was last updated on Nov 12, 2020 @ 3:37 pm.

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