Course Design, Assessment & Integrity: Strange Bedfellows?

Topics: Blog, Research

I had the good fortune last week to attend the Association for American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) annual meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to “demonstrate why higher education is essential for students’ future employability and for democratic vitality”.  It seems clear to me that higher education can only demonstrate that it is essential to the private (individual) and public (societal) good if it attends to the integrity of its programs, curriculum, and assessments. So, I was excited to attend AAC&U in order to engage in such conversations with other attendees as well as to give a 10 minute TED-like talk entitled “Making Meaning from Cheating: How To Turn an Ethical Problem into an Opportunity”.

Many of the sessions I attended were about course design and assessment. This wasn’t a surprise given that the purpose of the meeting was to “demonstrate”. However, what I did find surprising was the absence of academic integrity within those design and assessment conversations, as well as people’s reactions to me attending the meeting. The conversation went something like this:

Them:  And what do you do at the University?

Me:      I am the Director of the Academic Integrity Office, and I’m also a Board Member for the International Center for Academic Integrity

Them:  Huh?

To be fair, my job is unique. But the real issue was their confusion over why I would attend such a conference. So, I spent much of the week helping people see the connection between course design, assessment and integrity. And I had to wonder – why was this necessary?

It seems clear that integrity does belong in the conversation. After all, our courses and assessments are meaningless if they do not have integrity.

Yet, the course design and assessment design models most commonly cited at the conference do not mention integrity at all. So, I wondered – what would it look like if we mapped integrity into these popular models?

Bear with me as I think out loud here – this is my first time putting these thoughts down “on paper”.

Let’s first look at the popular Wiggins & McTighe’s Backward Design. The premise of this model is that course design should begin with the identification of the desire results (aka learning outcomes) rather than with the planning of the course activities. This is called “backward design” because many faculty start with planning their lectures or class activities before they have thought about learning outcomes and assessments.

Integrity should be a key part of Backward Design because it is possible that an Instructor could insert some learning outcomes related to integrity. In an entry level writing course, for example, a learning outcome may be that “students will demonstrate ability to incorporate others’ words and ideas into their own work with integrity”. Also, in determining the best evidence to assess all learning outcomes, the Instructor should consider what threats might exist to the integrity of an assessment and what completion methods may need to be specified and monitored to ensure assessment integrity. For example, assigning problem-sets out of a textbook may appear to provide good evidence of problem-solving skills. However, when such evidence is examined through an integrity lens, it is easy to see that the ready availability of textbook solutions and the ease with which they can be copied means that such an assignment may be evidence of copy-and-paste, not problem solving skills.

Finally, in planning instruction and learning activities, the Instructor should consider how their plan will facilitate or inhibit their ability to role model integrity by, for example, showing up on time, citing their sources, and grading in a timely and respectful manner.

Now, let’s look at Maki’s Student Learning Objectives (SLO) Assessment Loop, which is a continual (looping) process of: asking how well are students learning; gathering and interpreting the evidence to answer that question; and then changing teaching/assessments to enhance learning where necessary.

Integrity should be a key part of this assessment loop because we must know if the gathered evidence will serve as a valid measurement of successful teaching and student learning. If the gathered evidence is produced by cheating or plagiarism, for example, then it will not be measuring what it was expected to measure. In other words, without an attention to integrity, the assessment loop is broken.

So, I am imagining that integrating integrity into the full process of course design and assessment use, could look like the following diagram. In this diagram, I have combined the Backward Design Cycle & the SLO Assessment Loop with Integrity-critical questions to ask at each phase.

In the end, what is most critical is that we continue to draw the connections between course design, assessment and integrity for faculty, students, instructional designers, assessment experts and others. Because, after all, without integrity, we cannot demonstrate why higher education is so essential to both the private and public good.

About the Author
Tricia Bertram Gallant, Ph.D. is the author of Academic Integrity in the Twenty-First Century: A Teaching and Learning Imperative (Jossey-Bass, 2008), co-author of Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), editor of Creating the Ethical Academy: A Systems Approach to Understanding Misconduct & Empowering Change in Higher Education (Routledge, 2011), and section editor for the Handbook of Academic Integrity (Springer, 2016). She is the Director of the UC San Diego Academic Integrity Office and Board Member of the International Center for Academic Integrity, and has been an ethics lecturer with the Rady School of Management. When Tricia blogs, the content is hers and should not be attributed to her employer or ICAI.
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