2019

 6(Adorable and creative, not at all like the picture I actually drew)[/caption]

 

“Draw a picture of your house.” I remember hearing those words as a student. I paused before looking up and realizing that the instructor was indeed serious.


I giggled.

“Draw a picture of your house,” she said again. I cannot draw. I remember first mocking the instruction to myself, then looking at the blank paper. Feelings of shame, then fear emerged as I realized the time for the exercise slowly ticked away.

In a rush, I drew a shoddy representation of home. It was a quick blueprint with little personality and less heart.

The next instruction came. “Now, introduce your classmates to your home using your drawing.” Our blueprint was to represent our home so that others might interpret where and how we live. There was a shame. I had not taken the time I needed to focus. The poor drawing barely represented my home.

We continued. I quickly described some features, taking great care to make fun of my artistic limitations to add levity to what was an embarrassing moment. Eventually, we went around the room.

The writing lesson was simple. Our blueprint provided scaffolding for the details of our own story. Then the artifacts within help to shape meaning. What others take from that shaping is the direct result of a synthesis of our authentic selves.

I remember how personal writing is. We often experience shame, excitement, passion, and fear when writing authentically. The act of writing is vulnerable, often at first imprecise and messy. However, it is our own. The blueprints of theory and practical experiences shape our ways of knowing. The critiques and competition of academic work add a sense of urgency. Nevertheless, it is ours. It belongs to us, and in the best of cases, can be shared as a glimpse of synthesis and an invitation to think.

Academic integrity does not always begin with respect for the work of others. It starts with respect for and confidence in your work. Your thoughts can compare to your house. We design the framing, the items that make it our own, and the unique features that are unmistakable to our styles and ways of being.

I wonder how often students feel empowered to celebrate their unique voices. In an era of curated images from the Home and Garden Televisions (HGTV) Dream Home, to a curated set of selfies on Instagram, the unique is often diluted in favor of a brand. How can a student be authentic when there is immense pressure to be a highly marketed version of their developing selves?

Tomorrow, October 16th, is the 4th Annual International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating.

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As someone who researches academic integrity, there is a never-ending question: Why are students are so easily susceptible to companies and individuals who offer contract cheating services? I encourage you to join ICAI for this annual event to increase awareness, offer solidarity, and promote integrity. While institutions and individuals who stand together to educate students and combat contract cheating motivate me, I find equal inspiration in the opportunity to enhance the conditions that generate authentic, independent writing.

Independent writing is brave. It requires the trust of the instructor or classroom environment, careful time management, vulnerability, and honesty. It requires an understanding that the best stories are authentic.
The learning that comes from this type of writing may not reveal itself immediately, but it is lasting. As with the writing process, creating a home takes time. We have stories of meaningful artifacts that represent the best and worst parts of ourselves. Much may be ordinary, but it is ours. We personalize it, we protect it, and when we feel comfortable, we share it with others.

It is essential to give space and time to students learning to find their authentic voices. In doing so, we should take care to offer comfort. Are we finding source material that speaks to a diverse set of students? Do translated texts keep the nuance of original meaning? Do students see themselves as capable in the classroom? How much time do students have to write authentically?

I have never learned to draw well, but these days I recognize it was never about that. What is important is to spend more time creating art that is my own.

How do you inspire students to authentically share themselves with others?

The cheating dilemma. To Faculty, reporting a case of academic dishonesty may seem like an ineffective time sink, but students see this as something to exploit. Some instructors believe that they have created a course where students are unable to cheat. This mentality or belief that you are too busy to educate your students may be why they are continuing to cheat in your class. 

If you are teaching this semester, when is the last time you looked up your class online? No, I’m not talking about the course number, but seeing what is out there on Quizlet, Course Hero, or even just Google? If there are materials online you don’t want students to access, have you requested they be removed?

Are you addressing cheating and ethics in  your course? Or do you leave a university mandated statement on your syllabus and think that its enough? If you catch someone cheating in your class, are you following your university’s policy on Academic Honesty, or are you just ignoring it because it’s easier that way? 

Forbes recently released an article that addresses some concerns administrators are facing when it comes to upholding university standards, stating  "What’s also common, and more damaging, is that same report found that many teachers simply don’t believe cheating happens in their classes. Administrators are nearly twice as likely to say cheating happens than teachers. The truth is that cheating happens in every class, with every teacher. Those who don’t acknowledge it are in denial and, frankly, part of the problem."

If you aren’t a part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Not reporting student’s does not help them avoid unethical behavior in the future. Instead, it creates an atmosphere where cheating is not only acceptable, but expected. 

The New York Times recently ran a piece on contract cheating in the United States. The article points out that as early as 2015, Australia faced issues involving mass scale contract cheating. But while Australia and the United Kingdom are facing the issue, the United States lags behind. The article points out that “contract cheating is illegal in 17 states, but punishment tends to be light and enforcement rare. Experts said that no federal law in the United States...forbids the purchase or sale of academic papers, although questions remain about whether the industry complies with tax laws.” 

Even the USA Today is reporting on the ease of student cheating given the rise of technology in the last few years, going as far as pulling tweets from students that read “someone tell me how to cheat on my math test tomorrow with my apple watch“. 

Students want the accountability and the honesty. No one wants to feel like they are losing out to cheaters. Students have responded to their peers requests for cheating assistance with disdain, tweeting back “If you have to use your Apple Watch to cheat on all of your exams maybe you shouldn’t be in college”. When you hold your students to a higher standard, they might actually surprise you. 

What are you doing to fight cheating at your institution? Comment and let us know!

 

Something known previously by a select few is getting serious attention of late - Kenya is a big player in the contract cheating industry. While certainly not all contract cheating providers reside in Kenya, there are signs that a great many of them do. Why? According to some sources, the country is rich with highly educated people who have few available employment opportunities

It is easy to neutralize our cheating when what is at stake are basic human needs of physiology and safety (think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). The contract cheating providers in Kenya often talk about how they have no choice - they need an income, there is demand for contract cheating, and they can provide the supply. We bemoan their immorality, but in fact, this type of ethical dilemma is so common that it has a name - the Heinz dilemma. Indeed, how do we ask people to choose honesty over shelter, responsibility over safety, or fairness over food? 

To be sure, one could argue that people always have choices. They could find another job, perhaps. With a lot of effort and perhaps years of waiting, they could emigrate from Kenya to a country where there are jobs. They could provide legitimate educational support services. But let’s be honest - the real demand is for custom written essays, not for legitimate educational support (typically offered by the higher education institutions themselves).

So, there are really two questions - how do we curb demand for custom assignments and how do we reduce/eliminate the supply? To answer the curbing demand question, the focus needs to be on the educational institutions themselves. Should we offer legitimate 24/7 educational support services to our students so they are in less need of these other services? Can we better design our assignments so contract cheating is less possible and/or likely? Should we detect contract cheating and issue consequences so students realize that there are consequences and the option becomes less attractive? 

The answer to all of the previous questions is probably “yes and”. In other words, there is likely no one-size-fits-all response.

But are there other ways we can decrease supply while we are working on decreasing demand? Some of us have argued that we should make the contract cheating industry illegal. In that debate, we have acknowledged that it is difficult to establish the laws when the businesses operate internationally. When a company exists in Kenya, but sells custom assignments to students in countries like Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United States, how do we stop them?

To stop the burgeoning industry in Kenya, it seems obvious that cooperation from Kenyan authorities would be necessary. However, so far, it seems that such cooperation has been non-existent, despite an apparent promise issued a couple of years ago that the Kenyan authorities would “crack down on essay writers”

Here’s a bold proposition to the countries being damaged by contract cheating - threaten to withhold aid to Kenya until Kenyan authorities do something about the contract cheating industry that is thriving under a lack of regulations and laws.

I am no foreign aid expert, and I know that it is complicated, but I also understand that sometimes only money talks. So, how much money are we talking about here? In 2017, the United States gave over $1 billion in aid to Kenya. In 2016, the UK gave Kenya about 134 million pounds. In 2018, Canada gave $83.4 million in aid to Kenya

Withholding aid may not be the most ethical solution, but if any government leaders are serious about tackling the supply side of the industry, they have got to start thinking about ways to bring the “supply countries” to the table to sit and discuss with the “demand countries”. We can’t realistically tackle this problem otherwise.

In this week’s blog post, I want to highlight a worthy opinion published in the Gulf News by Dr. Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi

Dr. Al-Suwaidi is a Nobel Prize nominated intellectual leader based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) whose most recent opinion piece lamented the problem of fake degrees in the Gulf region. Dr. Al-Swaidi accurately notes that the proliferation of fake degrees “reflects a serious moral crisis” created, in part, by the obsession that a degree (rather than experience and competency) is considered the only pathway to personal and professional successes. The good doctor ends his opinion piece with a call for others to join him in a “campaign against this epidemic”.  

I have stated before in my writings on contract cheating that if it is left unaddressed, it has the potential to turn all of our otherwise legitimate educational institutions into diploma mills. In other words, those of us in accredited institutions will be the ones issuing the fake degrees that Dr. Al-Swaidi warns us against. So, the issue of fake degrees is related to contract cheating - in fact, one could argue that securing a fake degree is the climax of contract cheating. So we must not fool ourselves - while Dr. Al-Swaidi is talking about the extent of the problem in the Gulf region, we have heard in the news about the prevalence of the disease across multiple regions throughout the world including in India, Kenya, LebanonMalaysia, Ukraine, and the United States of America. So, this is not a “cultural”, regional, or otherwise isolated problem. This is a problem with the over commercialization of higher education where the grades and degrees have gained more value than the underlying education, skills and knowledge they were invented to represent.

I hear Dr. Al-Swaidi’s call for a “campaign against this epidemic” and I repeat that call for others to join in. A good place to start is our 4th International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating this October 16th, 2019. Please join us.

The International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating is due to run for the fourth time on Wednesday 16 October 2019. It’s an event that I feel is needed now as much as ever.

The International Day of Action, an International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) initiative, brings together universities, educational establishments, staff and students from around the world to discuss contract cheating and the benefits of working with integrity. I’ve been involved with the International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating since it first ran in 2016. Back then, I was working at Coventry University with Dr Irene Glendinning. We ran a successful event alongside the Coventry University Students’ Union. Irene was instrumental in making sure that the event was effective, the information provided to students was helpful and the entire endeavour gained the right type of media publicity.

Although we’re no longer based at the same institution, Irene and I have continued to collaborative to promote academic integrity. We came together online in August 2019 to present a webinar discussing the International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating, why it continues to be so important and how institutions and individuals can get involved on 16 October 2019. The webinar was supported by the International Center for Academic Integrity and by Turnitin. You can watch the webinar recording here.

On the webinar, we discussed why contract cheating is such a problem today, probably more so than when I first published on this area in 2006, or when the first International Day of Action took place in 2016. Contract cheating has become a sophisticated industry. Essay writing firms are doing everything they can to make sure that students know about the services they offer. It is so important for us to warn students the danger the industry poses and to work with students as partners for integrity. Many students themselves feel just as strongly about contract cheating as we do.

The International Day of Action lets individual institutions generate a buzz around their own campus, but also to tie into all the activity going on internationally. Whiteboard declarations, where students and staff declare on a whiteboard why they do not contract cheat, then share the results on social media, have been an incredibly powerful tool to help people to think about academic integrity. You can see the results posted under the student selected hashtags #defeatthecheat and #excelwithintegrity. It’s fascinating to watch the collection of social media posts build up as the day rolls on in time zones around the world. The fantastic ideas for activities to use with students are too many to list, but many of my favourites involve games and puzzles. Anything to get students engaged and talking about integrity. Dare I add, it’s often useful to get staff engaged and talking about integrity too?

One of the webinar attendees shared a great idea for a contract cheating escape room, which I really hope comes off. We’ve seen institutions creating videos, asking for the International Day of Action to be discussed during teaching sessions, getting students to act out performances, bringing in guest speakers (last year I remotely delivered a keynote from London, United Kingdom to Calgary, Canada) and many places involving the local TV, radio and print media to get positive publicity about their day. A lot of the most powerful activities have been ones generated by students themselves.

There is still time to get involved with the fourth International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating on 16 October 2019. You can find out more and sign up with ICAI. If you have any questions about the day, or thoughts to share, Irene and I will be running an updated version of the webinar on 16 September 2019. Do virtually come along even if you attended the first webinar or watched the recording. We will be using some different examples and the discussion during the first webinar was one of the most useful parts.

When I visited Nanyang Technological University in Singapore a few years ago, I was sufficiently fortunate to discuss academic integrity with several people from across campus - including a group of graduate students. I distinctly remember my meeting with the graduate students because while we were talking about academic integrity, their struggles and their feedback on teaching, one graduate student said to me “we focus too much on the technicalities of citation and not enough on the spirit of citation”.

I loved this phrase because if we are concerned about students writing with integrity, how they cite doesn’t matter, but why and when they cite, does. Of all of my memories of writing as a psychology undergraduate, I recall most vividly my complete obsession with doing my APA citations correctly. This, in fact, caused me great stress and anxiety - far more than did the actual writing. I also believed it smothered my creativity; the girl who used to have poems and short stories flow out of her became the adult who could only write in certain structures (intro, body, conclusion) and formats (specifically APA).

So, if academia is interested in teaching students to write with integrity, and with independent and original thought, why are we so obsessed with teaching citation systems like APA, MLA, and Chicago? 

Jennie Young argues that it is because it is easy, much easier to focus on citation styles than the writing itself. This might be why, over time, the use of specific citation systems became a proxy for good, honest, academic writing. Education side-hustle businesses (like citation tools and editors-for-hire) even popped up to support this citation system obsession. 

To be sure, it’s likely that citation systems were developed for very good reasons, to solve one problem or another. But, like anything developed with good intentions, unintended and negative consequences can follow. And I think it is time to take back the spirit of citation from the systems and rules created by very “small powerful [and] influential groups”small powerful [and] influential groups”. After all, the rules, at times, seem arbitrary and capricious and nothing to do with what we might call “good writing”. One year we have to put two spaces after each period, the next, only one space. One citation system requires footnotes, the other, in-text citations. Do we put the first name of the author first, or the last name? Do I italicize the journal article title or the journal title? What’s the proper format for books versus book chapters versus journal articles versus websites versus...ad nauseum.

I’m not the only one who thinks we should focus on the spirit and not the technicalities of citation. Barbara Fister, in her piece “Learning Why, Not How”, admits that “sources matter” but the academic citation systems are only way way of describing or notating sources. Jennie Young argues that our obsession with citation systems has been so destructive to teaching writing that we should immediately cease and desist from teaching citation systems to undergraduates.

This is for certain a tough argument to be made within an academy steeped in tradition and the 20th century ways of teaching. As Barbara Fister notes, some will argue that we must teach citation systems otherwise our students will not learn how to respect intellectual property, the importance of copyright or how to give credit where credit is due. This is a spurious argument though as there are other ways to teach students how to write with integrity without teaching them academic citation systems. After all, the author Jennie Young argues, “the vast majority of our students will never use an academic citation system after they graduate...it hogs time from teaching the more important (and far more practical and transferable) aspects of writing...there are other ways to attribute credit…[and] the citation systems change from style to style and update to update”

To be sure, if you paid attention at all to this blog, you’ll notice I cite everything I borrow from others, all without a care for the stylistic guidelines promulgated by any of the academic citation systems.

It’s time to move on from using citation systems as a proxy for integrity and quality and start focusing on teaching students how to speak and write honestly, respectfully, responsibly, and fairly so they can become trusted sources of knowledge and information within and outside the academy.

I recently had the good fortune of giving a keynote at the 20th anniversary conference of the National College Testing Association (NCTA). The conference is attended by people who work in educational test centers on school, college or university campuses or in independent testing centers, as well as those who work in the broader testing industry. 

I was there, of course, to talk academic integrity. And I was surprised at how resonate the message was with the attendees.To be sure, testing centers were created to protect the integrity of exams and therefore the integrity of our degree and diploma certification process. Yet, 

I got the feeling that those who work in testing centers on our campuses often feel underappreciated, perhaps even excluded, as valuable contributors to the academic integrity conversations. 

So, the question for those of us who run academic integrity systems on our campuses is this - how do we harness that passion for academic integrity and the energy of folks who desire to be part of the solution?

It’s clear - we include them. We ask them about their experiences with cheating and their solutions for enhancing academic integrity. We include testing professionals in our conversations about how we can create cultures of integrity on our campuses. We publicly acknowledge and appreciate the work that they do to protect the integrity of the certification process. And we invite them to work with us to make cheating the exception and integrity the norm.

To those testing center professionals out there reading this post - what can you do to create cultures of integrity on your campuses?

First, testing centers must communicate integrity. The meaning of integrity is not commonly understood. So, you must help the students who use your services understand what academic integrity and cheating means in your particular context. You can do this by:

    • Posting a clear academic integrity statement or policy for your center

 

    • Having students sign an integrity commitment when they first use the center, and then reaffirm that on every test thereafter

 

 

    • Provide students with a clear orientation to what integrity versus dishonesty looks like in the testing center context

 

    • Send annual reminders to the campus about the value the testing center places on integrity

 

    • Mention integrity in your social media postings and on your website.



Second, testing centers can create space for integrity by:

    • role modeling integrity (e.g., does your testing center have a code of ethics for their staff members and does the staff model integrity when they are proctoring?)

 

    • reducing cheating temptations and opportunities (by proctoring, by checking IDs)

 

    • creating an integrity infrastructure (i.e., do your students and staff understand how integrity violations will be responded to and according to what process?)



Third, testing centers can reach out to campus partners to work together on academic integrity. For example:

    • Volunteer to serve on an academic integrity campus communities 

 

    • Create an integrity advisory council for the testing center and invite faculty, staff and students to join in the dialogue with you

 

    • sponsor a campus integrity contest

 

    • Extend your proctoring services into the classrooms to supplement classroom proctors

 

    • create “testing with integrity tips” for students (e.g., “how to maintain integrity during stressful testing situations”) and faculty (e.g., “how to proctor for integrity” or “how to ensure integrity in large class testing situations”)



Collaborating with your campus partners in this way builds bridges but also helps to remind people what testing centers are really in the business of - protecting the integrity of our certification process.

Finally, testing center staff must report integrity violations when they occur. Ignoring violations simply encourages a cheating culture, along with undermining the integrity of your center and the possible future of the student. When you respond to cheating, you create a teachable moment for the student and your protect the value of the test and the integrity of the center. When cheating is not responded to, honesty, fairness, respect, responsibility, trustworthiness and courage are undermined.

Testing professionals are key partners in the global academic integrity movement and we should not forget about them - especially the colleagues on our own campuses. So, I challenge every reader of this post to think about what they can do create campus pathways for greater collaborations between testing professionals, academic integrity practitioners, faculty and students in quest of our shared goal of enhancing  integrity cultures.

Have you ever started a new job and thought “I wonder what they expect of me?”, “how will they evaluate my performance?” or “what does it take to be successful here?” Or, perhaps you have tried to play a board or card game with others only to realize that you all play by different rules so the official game rules must serve as the official arbitrar of the disagreement?

When we begin anything, it is natural to want to understand and digest the rules of the particular situation, as well as be on the same page as others. Not just the others with whom you might be competing (to win the game, to get the promotion) but the others who will be evaluating your performance and dolling out praise (or criticism).

To be sure, it’s almost impossible to understand all of the rules of the game or the expectations of your employer. After all, cultural norms and values are often elusive and difficult to articulate and understand, even for those who created the culture or established the values in the first place. In other words, cultural expectations often operate below our conscious awareness.

However, it is critical that we try. Not just as employers, but as classroom instructors.

The students in our classrooms are like the new players to the game and the new employees in the organization. Even those who are experienced students step into a new culture or organization every time they begin a new class or experience a new instructor. And, I might argue, students have to work even harder to understand expectations because they might have 3-5 different instructors in a term, all of whom might have different expectations and rules that the student has to decipher and act according to.

Thus, it seems only fair, responsible, respectful, honest and trustworthy, for each instructor to not only bring their own expectations to the clarity of their consciousness, but then to clearly articulate those expectations to their students. Otherwise, how can we truly ask students to meet those expectations and act with integrity?

So, what to do? 

First, instructors should back-up to the original design of their class and ask “what are the learning objectives or overall purpose of this class? What do I truly expect students to walk away from this class knowing what they didn’t know before or doing what they were unable to do before?”. An instructor cannot possibly articulate expectations without first succeeding in articulating learning objectives.

Second, once those learning objectives are clear to the instructor, the instructor should interrogate their own curriculum and assessments to ensure alignment with the learning objectives. Do your lectures, readings, classroom activities, assignments, exams (etc) really facilitate the reaching of those learning objectives or enable you to evaluate the meeting of those objectives? If not, change them. This alignment between learning objectives, activities, evaluations and assessments is critical for articulating expectations and realizing integrity.

Third, once the curriculum and assessments are matched to the learning objectives, instructors should drill down into the expectations they have on how the curriculum and assessments can be operationalized. For example, which activities and assignments must be individually completed versus completed in pairs or groups? What kind of “help” are students allowed to seek out for each activity or assignment? From whom can they seek out that help and are they expected to acknowledge those sources of help? What counts as “working individually” versus “working collaboratively” on each assignment or activity? Do you expect students to come to class? If so, can you articulate how attendance is related to the learning objectives? What are your expectations for classroom behaviors, not just for the students but for yourself and, if relevant, your instructional assistants?

These are just some of the key questions that instructors must ask themselves if they want to operate on the same page as their students. After all, it is the instructor who has the power to set the expectations and culture in the classroom - they are the role model and the leader and we know that people pay attention to what the leaders pay attention to it (shout out to Edgar Schein for that tidbit).

To be sure, students set culture too, but the environment in which they are situated has a disproportionate impact on their culture-setting abilities. So, whether you are just starting your academic term this month, starting later this fall or are in the midst of assignment and exam completion time, now is the time to make sure that you are clear on your expectations and you have clearly articulated them to your students.

When you do this, you will help your students learn with integrity.

We know that student leadership can shape academic integrity cultures on our campuses, and we’ve known this for a while. Much of this knowledge has been gleaned from the research and writings of Don McCabe, the founder of the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI). Don, best known for studying the impact of honor codes on cheating, repeatedly found since 1993 that students can influence their peers’ perceptions of cheating but this influence is most likely within the honor code context, or at least schools with existing academic integrity cultures. While there are quite a few higher education institutions around the world that tout their honor codes, many of these institutions are not what Don would have called honor code schools. The real student-led honor code schools (where students are in charge of the system, adjudicate cases, and assign sanctions with little to no involvement from faculty or administrators) are quite rare and largely unique to the United States, and particularly to elite and east-coast universities. So, we cannot necessarily generalize what we know about student integrity leadership in honor code schools to student integrity leadership writ large.

However, students can exhibit integrity leadership and impact integrity cultures in non-honor code schools as well. Don and Gary Pavela talked about the idea of the “modified honor code” school in 2000 and the ways in which students can be given leadership roles in such environments. For example, Don and Gary suggested a student academic integrity council where students can voice their opinions about academic integrity and cheating and can give input into policy, student involvement in case resolution, and a student role in delivering academic integrity education. These are all great suggestions and, I argue, still applicable today but in any type of academic integrity system, whether an honor or modified-honor code system, an academically distributed system (where faculty resolve integrity violations in their own departments), a conduct code system (where academic integrity violations are reported to a student conduct office), or an academic integrity system (where academic integrity violations are reported to an academic integrity office staffed by professional and/or academic staff). 

And, student leadership is occurring in all kinds of institutions around the world. An Australia university is experimenting with Academic Integrity Ambassadors, a Canadian university has studied the impact of residential life student leaders on academic integrity, and at the University of California, San Diego Academic Integrity Office, we have students leading academic integrity as Academic Integrity Review Board (AIRB) members, Peer Educators, Proctors, Integrity Mentors, and soon as AIRB advisors. 

So, it is clear there are growing examples of student integrity leadership, but what we lack is extensive research that demonstrates if and how these student leaders are making a difference. There has been some research that suggests student leaders, even outside of honor code schools, are likely to have a significant impact on student perceptions of cheating, but we know little else about student integrity leadership. For example, what short and long-term impact does the experience have on the student integrity leaders themselves? Are student integrity leaders more likely to become ethical leaders in industry once they gradaute? Does the integrity leadership experience alter the student leaders own beliefs about the fundamental values of integrity? Do students who have peers involved in the case resolution process believe that the process is more fair than when there is no peer involvement? Are academic integrity policies better constructed when students give input than when they don’t? Does student involvement in education really change students’ academic beliefs and actions, resulting in less cheating and more integrity? What kind of leadership, structure and oversight is needed to support these student integrity leaders and help them be successful? Are student integrity leaders different in any fundamental ways from other student leaders on campus? The list of possible research questions goes on and on.

To start to fertilize this research desert, I am issuing a call to budding and existing researchers looking for their next interesting area of study. Come study student integrity leadership at UC San Diego. We’d welcome you. If you can’t come to us, find a campus close to you - or even look at your own campus - to see if there are student integrity leaders whom you could include in a study on academic integrity culture creation or in a general study of student leadership or activism. These student integrity leaders deserve our attention, our understanding, our support, and our applause. Let’s thank them by getting to know them and figuring out how we can help them and how we can work with them to make cheating the exception and integrity the norm.

I love reading about educators who are continually trying to improve the process and the environment for teaching and learning. It is inspiring and refreshing, I think especially for those of us who more often deal with the aftermath of teaching or learning gone awry. When teaching goes awry, students become frustrated, disempowered, or angry and in response, may act out bad choices implemented in an attempt to right what they see as a wrong. When learning goes awry, faculty become disenchanted, disheartened or tired and in response, may stop trying to reach their students. Neither of these scenarios serve our educational missions well. 

So, when I hear about nuggets of good teaching and learning being tried out in practice, I am naturally drawn to extrapolate to how the practices might help to enhance cultures of integrity in the classroom. You see, I believe that academic integrity is a teaching and learning issue, which means that cheating can be made the exception and integrity the norm when we make changes to pedagogy, assessments, activities, assignments and, yes, even to teacher practices. This does not mean that I don’t see the responsibility of the student within the cheating scenario; I do. However, I also believe that if we shift from asking “how can we stop cheating?” to asking “how can we improve or facilitate learning?”, we can both reduce cheating and enhance integrity, thus facilitating learning. You can read more about this philosophy here.

What’s got me thinking about this today? A recent piece written by an educator who experimented with “ungrading” - the practice of removing grades, otherwise known as extrinsic motivation, from the learning process. Now, Susan Blum, the educator featured in this story is not the first to talk about ungrading. Just google “ungrading in higher education” and you’ll see what I mean (NOTE: google will likely change it to “upgrading” so make sure you pay attention!). However, Susan has also written about plagiarism, so I’m particularly drawn to what she thinks and has experienced when it comes to ungrading or other teaching strategies intended to enhance learning. 

In case it’s not clear, the premise behind ungrading is that grades actually hinder, rather than facilitate, learning. While there are many reasons for this type of grade effect, perhaps the most simple explanation can be stated as follows - intrinsic motivation is more likely to lead to learning, grades are extrinsic motivation, thus grades can interfere with learning. So, if we want to facilitate learning and reduce cheating, the question remains - is getting rid of grading the answer?

To be sure, this is a tough concept to sell within our grade- and degree-obsessed global education system. Get rid of grades - are you crazy? How will we certify to external audiences what our students know and can do? How will we compare candidates for graduate school? How will we interpret learning, knowledge and skills? These are good questions - it’s probably impractical to think that we can, en masse, replace grades-as-currency with some other measure of student knowledge, skills and learning. And, even people experimenting with ungrading throughout the term, like Susan Blum, admit that they still have to submit grades at the end. 

Despite grading being a difficult issue to tackle, I think it is impractical and frankly unethical to continue to rely on grades with an almost religious zealousness that is impenetrable to questions, critique and reconsideration. After all, if students (and parents) were not so focused on extrinsic motivators like grades and degrees, learning might be able to take the front seat in their lives and within our educational institutions, and this would be for the betterment of all of us.