COVID as catalyst.

I heard this phrase at the virtual ICAI conference in March. It is an inspiring motto for educators in the midst of this pandemic moment.

The COVID-era has highlighted issues that significantly threaten our institutions, such as inequities in the remote-testing industry’s artificial intelligence and the rampant issue of contract cheating. As a result, there are important discussions in institutions around the world that should, in theory, effect lasting positive change in teaching, learning, and their related academic integrity subtexts. It can be daunting to know where or how to start any large-scale project which intends to address those academic integrity subtexts, especially when you combine the significant institutional threats with the old adage that big ships (i.e. institutions) turn slowly.

I am on a big ship here at Iowa State University, where there are 30,000+ students and over 6,000 full-time faculty and staff. I have started small initiatives and continue to foster partnerships that will help support more academic integrity initiatives as more opportunities arise on the other side of the pandemic.

Since mid-2020, I have been working on small-scale projects to amplify the importance of academic integrity. For example, I revamped our Testing Center newsletter that contains reminders about academic services (e.g. tutoring; Writing & Media Center (WMC) presentations to student clubs) interspersed with our usual Testing Center policy reminders. I have also worked with my departmental student services colleagues to right-size an early-semester text-message campaign that highlighted academic coaching services for students. However, I want to note that too many of any kind of text messages can cause mass unsubscribe events; so proceed with caution, choose what you decide to message carefully. Furthermore, I have used my relatively small Testing Center FAQ platform to prominently post academic integrity ideas for both students and instructors.

While there is nothing quantitative I am yet able to share about the degree of success these tactics have brought, it is part of a larger effort to make academic integrity an even larger part of the culture here. Due to a developing partnership with the Office of Student Conduct (OSC), that larger push has been signified this Fall by launching the McCabe Survey. My savvy partners in OSC arranged an interview with the school newspaper, which resulted in some good press.

There are still plenty challenges; some are endemic to educational institutions, while others are the result of social and economic changes brought about by two years of global upheaval. For one, working interdepartmentally has its pitfalls. As I hope to expand collaborations with other ISU departments like the Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching (CELT) and WMC, I need to be patient with and sensitive to their agendas. Other areas of concern are finance and workforce. The partnership with OSC is strong, but we have had to pump the brakes on our UCSD-inspired peer-facilitated Academic Integrity pilot program because not only are we searching for funding, we are also coming up against the possibility of student labor shortages: workers everywhere are demanding more money. ISU is not immune to this trend.

COVID can be a catalyst for change in an institution’s culture of academic integrity. The change can happen if we recognize the limitations of our workgroup, work within those boundaries, and patiently build relationships across departments.