Academic Dishonesty in the Digital Age- A Rural Perspective

The rural influence is a vibrant, distinct educational environment that is underresearched, with few qualitative studies that provide a voice for the lived experiences of rural general education  high school teachers as they navigate the changing landscape of academic dishonesty.  I sought to address that issue in the study “Academic Dishonesty in the Digital Age- A Rural Perspective.”

The purpose of this hermeneutical phenomenological study was to describe high school general education teachers’ experiences with academic dishonesty in the digital age in rural school districts in southwest Ohio. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) provided a framework to place academic dishonesty in the digital age in the context of meaningful relationships and shared experiences, thus laying the groundwork for further theoretical consideration to study the implications in greater detail. After engaging the data using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), five common and interconnected themes emerged. This post describes the themes found as a result of this research.

Purposeful Pedagogy

The first and most dominant theme to emerge from listening to the voices of the 13 teachers was Purposeful Pedagogy. In addressing academic dishonesty in the digital age, every educator pointed to the importance of being proactive and purposeful in structuring their classroom and instructional practices. Terms such as accountability, creativity, diligence, personalization, proactive, and purposeful were used by the teachers as they recounted how their pedagogy had evolved due to 21st-century technologies. The participant described such technology being used as legitimate learning tools, changing the dynamic in the 21st-century classroom.

A sample of thirteen high school general education teachers in rural school districts emphasized the need to be proactive in methodology and practice. This need for purposeful pedagogy was described as requiring authenticity, adaptation, diligence, and a student focus. Such a shift to meet the modern needs of the classroom takes time and can be demanding. However, the accountability measures of purposeful pedagogy lie in the relationships that are formed to engage the 21st-century learner.

Culturally Conditioned

Each of the educators I interviewed emphasized a need to recognize how a changing culture affects 21st-century teaching and learning. In all instances, whether teachers pointed to technology, the rural setting of their schools, or other influences, the shifting dynamic they faced in their classrooms highlighted this changing culture. In considering culture shifts, the teachers first turned to their students. Each reflected on how students today, born into a digital age where technology is part of their daily lives, are culturally conditioned.

The teachers went beyond technology to speak to cultural conditioning based upon a rural identity. Their perceptions described a level of apathy within the rural community, which makes its way into the classroom and to a lack of perceived support found in the homes of their students. The teachers also described a poverty mindset that impacts attitudes on the importance of education. Similar to the first theme, the educators point to the importance of building strong, genuine relationships in their classrooms to counter this cultural conditioning.

Blurred Lines

I describe this theme as the eyeglasses with which to view the previous two themes. It is the very nature of the data found here that calls for clearer vision on the assimilation of 21st-century technologies into the classroom as legitimate learning tools and its effects concerning academic dishonesty. Although each of the teachers described an excitement concerning the capabilities that technology brought to teaching and learning, all expressed uncertainty of the creation of the gray/hazy pedagogical situation. Thus, the risk created by the incorporation of 21st-century technologies into the classroom of these 13 educators blurred their vision to what now constitutes academic dishonesty and where their responsibilities lie as an educator.

Knowing Their Voice

This theme, at its core, represents the student-teacher relationship mentioned in the first two themes. In reflecting on this fundamental strategy, the teachers described a pedagogical framework in their classrooms to engage with students to listen to those conversations that guide instruction. Each of the educators put forth a need to change what they did in their classroom to hear the voices of their students – getting to know their touch. This engagement speaks to the underlying factor of building relationships – to getting to know the voices of their students – motivation. However, as noted by these rural educators, creating strong relationships with students provide a motivational influence within their student but is also pedagogically demanding and time-consuming. However, all attested to the need to know their students’ voices due to the changing climate of the 21st-century classroom.

The final theme to emerge spoke to what is needed moving forward concerning academic dishonesty within the changing dynamics of the 21st-century classroom.

Clarity and Consequences.

Accountability, consequences, common language/vocabulary, and commitment were used by the educators as they discussed the need for a clearer understanding of academic dishonesty for staff and students. Although all the educators in the study acknowledged the difficulty of creating such change, this struggle did not deter their call for uniformity and clarity on what academic dishonesty means in the digital age, and what the consequences should be for such misconduct.

The three guiding research questions formulated for this study investigated four areas of the phenomenon that included how teachers experience academic dishonesty, how they define it, how their role has evolved, and the connection of this experience to their pedagogy.  

The interrelated nature of the five emergent themes provided guidance and insight to respond to the three research questions.  The figure illustrates the relationship of the research questions and the five common themes.

Conclusions

The experiences of the participants in this study suggest that the rural influence on academic dishonesty in the digital age is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon.  The themes point to the importance of building strong, genuine relationships in rural classrooms to counter academic dishonesty in the digital age. Proactive and purposeful measures are necessary to create instructional practices that promote academic integrity.

About the Author
Dr. Nathan C. Hamblin is 30 year veteran educator from Southwest Ohio. He is also a Doctoral Professor, Editor/Consultant, Subject Matter Expert, Educational Researcher, and a Rural Education Advocate. His research interests have focused on academic integrity, experiential learning, educational leadership, 21st century educational models, 21st century educational technologies, and rural education.
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