April 2019

We are all by now aware of the recent “admissions scandal” in the United States. What you may not have heard, is that Lori Loughlin (one of the indicted) is claiming that she didn’t realize what they were doing was illegal. After all, she was simply paying a “consultant” to help her kids and it seems reasonable to assume that we should be able to trust professionals to only provide legal, even ethical, help. And isn't it reasonable that you should be able to trust your doctor, accountant, teacher, consultant and so on, to obey the rules and laws of the land?

While some may call Lori’s trust naive or her claims untrue, it is actually incidental to the actual problem at hand.

The actual problem we need to solve is this - there is no existing method for determining if a company, professional or service (herein called “provider”) claiming to help students access or advance in education is legitimate or ethical.

Providers purporting to help students or augment the formal education system are popping up everywhere today. Just recently, I was chased down by someone who says he’s developed a “learning support tool”. The tool, he said, transcribes the lecturer’s talk so that students no longer have to take notes. To be sure, this seems like a useful tool for some students who, for some legitimate reason, cannot take their own notes. But I asked the inventor how he can claim that it improves learning when many studies show that the process of hand note-taking is better for learning. He didn’t have a satisfactory answer for me.

This made me realize - there is no quality control (or assurance) on these Providers that operate as a “side-hustle” to the higher education sector. The higher education sector itself is subject to accreditation and, by extension, quality assurance (the quality of that quality is a discussion for another day). But these side-hustle Providers that claim to support or supplement education (like consultants, tutors, test-prep companies, editing services) are not.

It seems imperative, then, that we start asking some tough questions of these non-accredited Providers that claim to help our students. How do they define “helping”, “supporting”, and  “learning”? How do they measure when that has occurred? How do they monitor that and how do they respond if their employees do something that is a violation of standards?

In other words, I believe that the public deserves a quality assurance process and an accreditation “stamp” for such side-hustle Providers so that they (and we) know who is legitimate versus who isn’t, who is operating ethically versus who isn't, and who will actually augment teaching and learning versus who will undermine it.

To begin this conversation, I thought it might be useful to brainstorm the categories of “side-hustle” Providers that exist. For now, I will do this without explicitly naming the company (so as not to give them free advertising or an implicit endorsement). 

Learning Platform Providers

There are some Providers who position themselves as “learning platforms”, that is, a site students can go to “enhance their learning”. These Providers generally offer two main services: file distribution and tutoring. The file distribution involves students uploading files (whether that be their own notes, a professor’s PPT, an exam answer key or even journal articles or book chapters) so that they get “credit” that they can use to download other files. The tutoring service is self-explanatory - tutors answer questions for students and “help” students with assignments. These companies usually have “honor codes” and they tell their clients not to share files that they don’t “own” and they tell their tutors not to complete assignments for the clients. However, there is evidence that these “honor code violations” happen regularly and it is unclear what actions the companies take to really prevent and respond to such violations. A quality assurance process would have to address these shortcomings.

Essay Writing Help Providers

There are other companies who position themselves as providing “essay writing help" or "model papers” or “reference papers”. We like to call these companies “contract cheating providers” because we know that this claim of “reference paper” provision is nonsense. However, are our students as clear about that? Recently I heard a story of how seductive these providers are - they use social media platforms like WeChat and Facebook to “friend” our students and offer them “help”. To be sure, our students should be more conscientious but a quality assurance or accreditation process might be able to provide students with the knowledge necessary to discern legitimate from illegitimate forms of essay writing help.

Editing Service Providers

I’ve previously written about the editors-for-hire phenomenon and believe that I’ve provided sufficient fodder for starting the discussion of quality assurance for editing services, so I won’t say any more here.

Tutoring Service Providers

There are still other Providers who only/mainly provide Tutors and Tutoring. The word Tutor carries a lot of weight and legitimacy with it. Without accreditation or quality assurance guidelines, can our students and parents tell the difference between legitimate tutoring and illegitimate? And, do we even agree on what makes tutoring “legitimate” or ethical?

Coaching Service Providers

Read “Operation Varsity Blues” - need I say more? Education consulting, particularly admissions consulting, seems to be a very lucrative and growing business yet I don’t even think we have a commonly understood definition of what this means. Students and their parents are spending thousands of dollars just to get into a school. Is this necessary? Are there legitimate reasons and purposes for these Providers to exist? If yes, what are those purposes and how do know who is delivering on those purposes honestly and in a trustworthy manner?

Test Prep Providers

This is the most well established side-hustle provider type and likely the most well-accepted in society. However, these companies are not really focused on helping students learn, but rather teaching students how to pass a particular test. Does this serve our students? Are all “test prep” companies the same? We have seen in “Operation Varsity Blues” that the integrity of these businesses is vulnerable with the way they are structured. So, do they need to be accredited as well?

Perhaps there are Provider types I haven’t even covered here, but the point is this - the side-hustle to the education sector is worth big money and it has a significant impact on the lives and learning of our students so shouldn't they have some accountability to the public?

I encourage anyone who is interested in exploring this idea further to email .

Adelphi is modern metropolitan university on Long Island with a mix of colleges and professional schools. We have approximately 5,400 undergraduate students and 2,800 graduate students.

Our Committee for Academic Honesty is composed of equal numbers of students and faculty members, along with representatives from key University functions. The Committee is charged to promote an atmosphere of academic honesty, including the development and distribution of materials to promulgate the Code of Academic Honesty. A review of violation data over the past five years indicated that an upswing in academic honesty violations occurs beginning in week 10 of a 15-week semester. The Committee therefore created coordinated programming during week eight of the semester in an effort to raise awareness of academic honesty and the resources available on campus to help students and faculty work together to minimize violations.

During the awareness week, student-focused events are held in the high-traffic area outside our University Center, and have included a 'Reach Higher’ game involving full-height and half-height basketball goals, a cheaters’ carnival with a dunk-the-cheater tank and 'most egregious cheater’ display, and an ice cream social with a choice of real or imitation toppings. Faculty-focused events have included local and invited speakers discussing small teaching and plagiarism-proof assignments, along with workshops for new and/or adjunct faculty. Events are consolidated over the middle portion of the day between 11:00 – 2:00, which includes the mandatory no-class time on W 1:00 – 2:00 that is set aside for student activities. The committee itself uses that time slot to hold an outdoor meeting during the event.

Awareness week events are supported by social media, website banner displays, and campus-wide, famous quotation lawn signage. Examples of the latter include “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity...” – Bob Marley, “Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted with large ones either.” – Albert Einstein, and “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” – Oprah Winfrey.

A unique academic honesty message pen was also created as an engaging giveaway and has become very popular with the students. The messages rotate between 'Plan Ahead to Prevent Cheater’s Dread,’ 'Academic Integrity Matters,’ 'Learn to Cite at the Writing Center,’ Academic Honesty Reflects My Values,’ 'The Truth Shall Make Us Free,’ (the University motto) and 'Be a Panther not a Cheat-ah’. The panther is the University mascot, and Paws the Adelphi Panther often makes an appearance at our event sometime during the awareness week.

Our first Academic Honesty Awareness Week was held during the spring semester of 2017 and we have now held five events including the most recent one held this past March. The Office of the Provost continues to provide earmarked funding for these events during the fall and spring semesters, with yearly funding equivalent to about $1 per enrolled student.

We’ve already begun planning for our fall 2019 event to be held in mid-October. The theme will be a 'Cheaters’ Graveyard’ and will engage students from our anthropology club.

What do do?

This is a refrain I heard often during my week in Kyiv, Ukraine.

I was there to participate in the final meeting of the American Councils for International Education’s Strengthening Academic Integrity in Ukraine Project (SAIUP) and Strengthening Academic Integrity in Secondary Schools Project (SAISS). These projects are impressive. In just over 3 years (so far), they have made significant movement on academic integrity across the country. In fact, just 4 years ago, few in Ukraine had even heard the term “academic integrity”! Now, there are academic integrity conversations happening in schools and universities across the country, there are universities with honor pledges and academic integrity policies, there are student awareness campaigns and professional development for faculty, there is a national law supporting academic integrity, and the government has set up a National Agency for Quality Assurance in Education.

To be sure, there is still work yet to be done in Ukraine, but these are all signs of progress. And this progress is to the credit of the significant dedication of the SAIUP/SAISS team, their allies in the government, and their colleagues/consultants in the trenches. Their passion for academic integrity and their belief in its ability to stem corruption in their country is inspirational. It very much reminds me of the passion and focus on quality in education that I witnessed in Montenegro with their Strengthening Academic Integrity project. I think that western educational systems have a lot to learn from Ukraine and Montenegro; in particular, that academic integrity is an instrument of educational quality and should not be ignored in order to pursue the status quo.

Now, it is important to note that the Ukrainian passion for the promise of academic integrity is not naive; it is contextualized and grounded in the challenges they have ahead of them. This grounding is heard in their refrain “but what to do?”. This refrain is not so much uttered as a question looking for an answer, but rather a variation of “it is what it is” or the proverbial sigh that indicates an acceptance of reality. So, I heard this “what to do?” refrain uttered at the end of a passionate exposition on the challenges they are facing such as the acceptance of cheating by parents, students and teachers alike, the resistance to change, or the difficulty of talking about integrity when the Ukrainian translation of the word doesn’t really resonate with the people.

I found that this grounding of passion served as a sort of reprieve from the extraordinary work that they are doing. It didn’t represent resignation or capitulation. Rather, it represented a reality-check, an acknowledgement of the power that culture and institutions exert on human behavior and their ability to change. It represents the pause that change leaders must take to remind themselves to not push so hard or so fast that they push people away from, rather than draw them toward, the challenge of change.

This “what to do?” reminded me that we have to be kind to ourselves and others as we push for change. We must recognize that change is difficult - we cannot ask people to change their behaviors, their values, and their goals without assistance, time, and compassion. We must learn to simultaneously accept and challenge our current realities. Perhaps we accept a little and then push a little, artfully navigating back-and-forth between these two levers of change to create small wins along the way to the big win - the institutionalization of academic integrity within the fabric of our culture and our institutions.

So, what to do?

Speak honestly to address the obstacles to integrity cultures, but be respectful of existing traditions and proceed fairly in a responsible manner. When we do this, people will trust us and be more likely to join us in the movement.

All of us involved in education are rightfully alarmed at the contract cheating industry’s growth. In our educational institutions, we hopefully seek out different opportunities to promote academic integrity to our varied stakeholders - particularly our students – and communicate how vital it is to uphold integrity, regardless of the challenges. Today, challenges posed by contract cheating, particularly, make it even more critical that we are vocal about where we stand.

Such reasons are central to why Deree -The American College of Greece, has participated in the International Day of Action against Contract Cheating (IDoA) for the last 3 years. Like most participating institutions in 2016, we too relied fundamentally on students’ making whiteboard pledges to #excelwithintegrity and #defeatthecheat. But in 2017, a student creative idea made us sit up and take notice of the potential for impact. The cost involved in contract cheating was the literal but mainly metaphoric inspiration of a student’s theater installation, performed in a very public venue of our college. A couple of other students also created a simple version of Snakes & Ladders, a Contract Cheating version, with a meaningful caption (pictured above).

Student creativity and potential for engagement were in place to spur the next IDoA, but it required commitment from as many stakeholders as possible if a powerful message was to emerge.

For 2 years’ running, we have initiated the actual event day with a combined student-faculty presentation of student-team analytical reports examining aspects of contract cheating (e.g. extent; legal challenges), thereby allowing student work and voices to be heard directly by faculty.

Additionally, this past year, Student Government introduced an idea similar to the whiteboard pledges – but as video testimonials of student leaders advocating for integrity/against contract cheating. Used as countdown technique and uploaded on social media to draw attention to the IDoA, potential for further impact - stemming from combined visual and auditory stimuli as well as timing and outreach through communication channel - was evident (see one such testimonial here)

A video of what we accomplished – as well as its short trailer – showcases well what occurred at our IdoA – even if not all activities are visible.

What you can hopefully see is that by no means was it the activities alone that made the event successful or memorable; it was the spirit of collaboration among students, faculty, and administrators that particularly made a difference. Some of the success achieved may be due to the (more) intimate atmosphere that can exist in a small institution. That the theme of uniqueness, however, emerged naturally and rather spontaneously from some activities showcased a critical message about each of us, our worth, and acquired skills. Directly or subliminally, this is a critical message to pass.

Deree raised its voice strongly for IDoA 2018 and passed a collective message: committing to the advancement of AI values and persevering in outreach efforts harnesses strong possibilities. We can only hope that this coming year’s success will be as memorable – and wish it for other institutions, too.

The 27th Annual International Center for Academic Integrity Conference took place March 8 to 10 in New Orleans.  I, along with my colleague Arturo Becerra, presented on our experience of creating a magazine about academic integrity at Universidad Panamericana (UP ) in Mexico City and expanding this magazine beyond UP to the Latin American landscape.

I work for the  Center for Innovation in Education (CIE) at UP. CIE has the mission of enhancing the teaching talent of faculty by innovating in learning environments. It is a place where faculty can talk about their courses, spread ideas, and confront new challenges.

You might wonder, then, why a faculty innovation-focused-driven center would be interested in creating an academic integrity magazine? The answer is that we got gradually involved in the task because some professors approached us seeking for content about writing and citing skills for their students. Consequently, we researched and found out about academic integrity and its importance in academic life.

Hence, we created a digital magazine with the central objective  to foster academic integrity within our institution. We worked independently on the first issue, titled: “El plagio académico”El plagio académico (Academic plagiarism). We published it in October 2016 through Joomag, a digital publishing platform. Although this publication did not have any sponsorship, it had good acceptance within our institution.

Afterward, we established contact with Universidad de Monterrey (UDEM) in Mexico, and they invited us to their 4th National Conference of Academic Integrity. We met academic administrators and faculty who were working in different initiatives to promote academic integrity within their universities. As a result, we decided to expand the Magazine beyond the UP audience to members of academic communities across Mexico and Latin America. So, we invited representatives from UDEM, Universidad EAFIT (Colombia), Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico) to join the editorial committee for the Magazine.

The challenge now was to obtain resources and formalize the magazine so we could publish further issues. We needed a sponsor, so we contacted  Turnitin. This sponsorship helped us open new possibilities; for example, allowing the magazine to move to a new publishing platform (ISSUU). We also obtained ISSN registration and were able to print the next issues.

It has been three years since the first publication, and now we have six published issues and are currently working on the 7th. The results of editing the magazine have been gratifying. Primarily, I witnessed how the relevance of academic integrity has grown through Latin America. Therefore, I believe the magazine is an excellent channel to generate dialogue and reflection. It has had 6,349 reads; 40,138 impressions; and 7,000 printed copies.

I have also learned through this initiative as it hasn’t been without its challenges: managing the editorial board, selecting the main topic for each issue and searching for different authors, just to name a few. However, the challenges have advanced me as a scholar, and it has made me more conscious about living the values of academic integrity: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage (ICAI, 2014). Furthermore, these challenges have driven us to be more perseverant about promoting academic integrity on our own campus.

If you would like to consider creating a magazine,  I recommend searching for institutional and external support, being clear about each role needed to run a magazine and the different types of talent involved. I also encourage you to create a good strategy that emphasizes not only content but also design.

I invite everyone to support the Latin American consortium by reading the magazine, reflecting about it, and sharing its content.