June 2020

It is time to be strategic.

As we prepare for next semester, it seems as if there is more to do and less time than ever before.  Managing increasing academic misconduct caseloads with limited budgets and few staff can seem especially daunting. Faculty managing academic misconduct may feel removed from the process, relying on online tutorials and remote communication to resolve issues. Students are overwhelmed and making sense of an altered learning environment.

There is an ongoing, meaningful conversation about the increases in sophistication of computer-assisted tools designed to pass off unattributed academic work, or to provide test and assignment answers. An immediate response is to be as vigilant as possible, to prevent the perception of academic dishonesty. In response, software and curriculum designed to respond to cheating is also created at a rapid pace. It can be time consuming to keep track of the updates, products, and offers. For those of us who prioritize academic integrity, the time for an effective strategy in refining our tools and product decisions is now. Christian Moriarty offers important suggestions to update or create a new policy. While tools and products are great resources, consider these tips as you refine and refresh your strategy to manage academic misconduct.

Education –No tool can replace targeted resources to provide faculty and students with clear policies, guidance, and support in maintaining academic integrity. Need help? Consider ICAI’s top 10 ways to improve academic integrity (without much money).

Consistency– Does the strategy, tool, or product you are considering align with your mission? Do the processes align with policies of the academic units you serve? What are the educational supports available beyond the technical considerations? Consider restorative practices designed to align with the mission of your institution.

Logistics-products and curriculum look great on paper, but what are the challenges these processes have, and how will they be resolved? Is your strategy effective in the online environment? Is the product easy to use? There is never a one-size fits all approach.

Stakeholder buy in- Consider who will use the tool. Does the product interface with current faculty systems? What is the learning curve? Are all instructors encouraged and supported in using the product? Do administrators understand the decision-making behind the choice?  How will students engage with the product? A purchase of a program that no one uses means that everyone loses.

Equity- How do we make equity universal? Consider carefully what the data shows.  Are there disproportionate reports from a particular course, a particular student demographic? Look for trends as an opportunity to educate, and to interrogate the why of the violation. What is the behavior in response to, and how can the institution be a part of mediating the issue? Lead with care, and care by understanding the data and the nuance behind the numbers.

Sustainability– Will the program be institutionalized, or will this remain a stop-gap measure? What are the additional costs (time and otherwise?)

Contract cheating- Does the program plan account for the nuances of contract cheating? Symbolic events like supporting the International Day against Contract Cheating is a way

Student voice– Is the program vetted by a student advisory? To what extent do students feel as if they are a trusted part of the academic community? Centering the student perspective helps us to be as responsive as possible to their needs and concerns.

There has been little control over the past semester. Intentional strategy building will make all the difference.

Spotlight: The Alberta Council on Academic Integrity

 Statement Against Racism in Matters Related to Academic Integrity

On June 4th, 2020, the Alberta Council on Academic Integrity released a Statement Against Racism in Matters Relating to Academic Integrity. The group formed in 2019 to promote and advocate for academic integrity across Alberta.

The Alberta Council on Academic Integrity stands united against systemic racism and discrimination in all forms. As such, they have released a statement recognizing and opposing the racism evident in the manner in which particular students are identified, reported and sanctioned for breaches of academic integrity based on race, colour or language.

The council issues a call to action for other academic integrity networks and organizations to develop similar public statements against systemic racism. The full statement follows:

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Academic integrity cannot co-exist with injustice. The Alberta Council on Academic Integrity denounces racism in all forms.

 This includes:

  • Negative stereotyping of students from particular countries or cultures.
  • Racially biased reporting of academic misconduct that either implicitly or explicitly targets students of colour, students for whom English is not a first language and other racialized minorities.
  • Excessively harsh sanctioning of academic misconduct among racialized minorities.

We call upon all educators, administrators and institutions to:

  • Acknowledge that particular groups of students are over-represented in academic misconduct reporting.
  • Speak out against racial stereotypes that persist against Black, Asian, Latinx, and Indigenous students with regards to academic misconduct.
  • Ensure that reporting of academic integrity violations is consistent across the student body and breaches are addressed in fair and equitable ways.
  • Collect institutional academic misconduct data on racialized minorities in order to identify, prevent, and pro-actively address racial bias in reporting and sanctioning of students who are not white or for whom English is not their first language.

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Questions about this statement can be directed to members of the Steering Committee.

More information on the council can be found here https://albertaacademicintegrity.wordpress.com/

Steering Committee (Members listed alphabetically by institution):

  • Margaret Toye, Bow Valley College
  • Melanie (Mel) Hamilton, Lethbridge College
  • Marg Olfert, Mount Royal University
  • Nazanin Teymouri, Norquest College
  • Sheryl Boisvert, Norquest College
  • Cheryl Kier, Athabasca University
  • Sarah Elaine Eaton, University of Calgary

The Importance of Research Integrity in a Global Pandemic

David Ison
PhD Professor 
Graduate School
Northcentral University

While much of the attention of ICAI and its many members focuses on academic integrity from the student side, we have to remember – and advocate for – integrity in the work of faculty and researchers as well. What better example can we lay forth for students than for teachers and professors to “practice what they preach.” Unfortunately, retractions of research articles occur regularly, sometimes for honest errors and, for others, due to egregious breaches of ethical standards. No place can misleading or deceptive research cause more real harm to the general public than medical research. This genre of research has the potential to impact our lives and those of our loved ones, leading doctors who care for us to prescribe specific pharmaceuticals or perform other types of treatment based upon the findings of writers.

In times of crisis, such as within the global COVID-19 pandemic within which we all have been living for the past several months, it is not surprising – and we all are glad to see – that medical researchers have been frantically trying to find treatments, vaccines, or cures for the deadly virus. Yet these are the times in which we must guard against rushing to conclusions based on pseudoscience, poorly executed studies, or worse, ethically questionable research and conclusions thereof. Sadly, there have been examples of spurious or illusory research on COVID-19 treatments.

The danger of misinformation in medical research cannot be underestimated. One significant example of ethical misconduct at the hands of a researcher was the claim of a link between vaccines and autism. In Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 article in the Lancet, he claimed that, in short, vaccines caused autism. This created a wave of outcries concerning vaccine safety and subsequently led many parents to forgo vaccination of their children. It was determined that Wakefield’s study was paid for and crafted by a group of lawyers in the process of suing vaccine companies in Britain. Moreover, the findings were dubious, contrary to previous research, and based upon inadequate research design and ethical standards. It took 12 years, but the Lancet eventually retracted the article and the science community has dismissed the claim linking vaccines to autism. The impact of Wakefield’s false claims cannot be entirely measured but has potentially played part in the trend of more unvaccinated children and even recent outbreaks of measles in the U.S.

Recently, we have seen medical researchers following similar paths of presenting questionable findings with real and significant potential public impact related to COVID-19 treatments. Headlines quickly highlighted the results of a study titled “Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as a treatment of Covid-19: results of an open-label non-randomized clinical trial” appearing in the March issue of the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, which touted the use of an antimalarial drug to lessen COVID-19 symptoms. Further recommendations for this treatment were advocated for by President Donald Trump. Not surprisingly, many people scrambled to get their hands on the drug and an unknown number of patients likely received the drug as part of their treatment. An example of the deadly results that may ensue from specious research findings is that an Arizona couple poisoned themselves while taking a form of chloroquine, under the assumption that it would protect them from COVID-19. The IJAA article was eventually retracted due to a slew of confounding variables, possible ethical issues, missing patient data, and a peer review process that was expedited more than necessary. Around the same time, the FDA recommended extreme caution in the use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 patients. Many infectious disease doctors have concluded that the drug has a low likelihood of making a significant positive impact on the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

While it is understandable that in time such as these, rapid and aggressive research tactics must be employed to try to identify treatments or possible cures to COVID-19. In fact, the rapid pace at which scientists have been ramping up their understanding of the virus is astounding and laudable. The aforementioned, however, serves as a warning and reminder of the importance of maintaining ethical and honest research practices even in light of this adrenaline fueled COVID-19 sprint to the finish line. Research can have substantial influence on society which cannot be underestimated. Thus, there is no place for fallacious research in academic or other media. We as academics must guard against these transgressions, as researchers, peer-reviewers, and consumers of such media, and take action if we see that something is amiss.

Lee Ann Clements, PhD Director of Academic Integrity, Professor of Biology & Marine Science, Jacksonville University

The move to remote learning in the wake of the pandemic has produced some unusual trends in the incidents of academic integrity violations at Jacksonville University. The data show that people of all ages when presented with stressful, uncertain times make bad decisions based on lack of information. This includes reaching out to others for comfort and reassurance, even when they do not have the answers. Professors and administrators need to be aware of the ways our course design, our reaction to the rapid shift to distance learning, and our reliance on familiar assessments of student progress may have contributed to the trend.

The number of offenses I have seen in the last two months of the semester exceeded both the number and percentage of incidents predicted for the semester. Based on the five previous years of data we should have seen between 44% and 52% of the annual cases in the spring semester (average of 47%). However, this academic year 61% of cases were in the spring, and 60% of the spring term cases occurred after students began remote learning. A normal semester would have approximately 50% in the last half of the term, starting to increase at mid-terms. This year the increase was dramatic and correlated with the move to remote learning, 3 weeks after mid-terms.

The types of academic integrity violations also shifted with plagiarism declining (2018-2019 68%; 2019-2020 47%) and cheating on tests increasing (2018-2019 7%; 2019-2020 21%). None of the faculty assigned more papers after the shift, and students write papers regardless of the mode of delivery of content. The bulk of cases were among traditional student population forced to transition when the pandemic forced closures of classrooms. The population of exclusively online students did not show any shift in number, percentage, or types of incidents.

Students expressed their difficulty understanding instructions in the virtual setting, and difficulty contacting professors. When confused, they reached out to their classmates via group chats (typically snapchat) rather than emailing the professor. Many students applied rules of collaboration that were standard for homework and other types of assignments to testing situations. Still others blurred the lines for communicating with classmates during tests delivered in online format.

Faculty struggled with moving rapidly to online delivery of content AND online assessments. We made assumptions that students all had the necessary skills and technology to do complex work on the LMS platform. What can we do in light of the likelihood that distance instruction and testing may become more commonplace in future semesters? The first answer is to take a lesson from our colleagues who have specialized in online course development. At Jacksonville University, the Academic Technology Office is running a series of webinars including best practices for delivery of content, assignment design, feedback, and assessments. This is timely, as many courses may need to be fully or partially online in the fall term. Secondly, we should think about our course objectives in terms of essentials for individual attainment, and preferably mastered in a collaborative setting. Finally, we need clear instructions with examples, and we must be available in multiple formats to our students.

Being an academic integrity advisor has been one of the most rewarding and challenging tasks I have ever practiced as a professional in recent years. Students who come to me are those that are involved in a reported incident of academic misconduct. The professors I advise are those who have reported cases of academic dishonesty and whom, in one way or another, are part of them. But what does being an academic integrity advisor mean?

Let me start by telling you that at Universidad de Monterrey, we have an Honor Council composed of students, professors, and staff from the Center for integrity who are in charge of reviewing academic dishonesty cases. This Honor Council holds hearings to listen to the parties involved, consider all the evidence presented, and determine consequences according to our academic integrity regulations such as the Honor Code, always with a formative and learning purpose for the students.

In this context, it is my role as an integrity advisor begins to support the Center for Integrity in the process before the hearings to review the reported incidents.  In my role, those incidents reported from the School of Education and Humanities. I contact the students and/or professors involved to gather information, guide, and advise in relation to each case. This is why the role of an integrity advisor is all about communication, ethics, and responsibility.

An integrity advisor should establish communication with all stakeholders, that is, students and professors involved in incidents of academic dishonesty; must also consider the university organizational background and the contextual variables of their audiences: stress, schedule problems, grades, family, work and /or economic problems, overwork, lack of training, among others. In this complex scenario, the integrity advisor must communicate with empathy, seek dialogue to understand the situation of the other, an "other" who can sometimes be vulnerable, troubled, or worried. Through communication, calm and confidence must be provided so that the student or professor sees not only the problem but also the solution. In this sense, the integrity advisor fosters communication and builds bonds of trust.

The integrity advisor must be an ethical person, must promote the values that the university declares in its philosophy. In this sense, the integrity advisor constructs himself as a model human being, not by being perfect, but by being and carrying out his task with humility, honesty and with the awareness that ethics has an individual dimension but also social, collective and cultural, which is put into practice in the university context in which it is precisely his turn to advise.

As an integrity advisor, you also have the responsibility to be cautious and open-minded, as you cannot and should not, judge the facts and situations that those involved entrust to you; there is a responsibility to be impartial, discreet and respectful; to be fair in the valuations and evaluations.

This responsibility has, like ethics, an individual dimension for itself and a collective one for the other; the integrity advisor must take care of himself and the other, and in that care, he must help the person involved to improve his professional/student practice, as appropriate.

In my career as an integrity advisor, I have built this profile that, based on communication, ethics and responsibility, helps to establish a constructive dialogue of new possibilities for action for students and professors. In this development process, the first one to learn is me.  I learn by listening to the problems of others and trying to care for them, to protect those involved, and to visualize the common good, the supreme good that is what leads us to be a better educational community.