At the beginning of this semester, I went to a program orientation for new doctoral students at my university to speak about the university’s academic honesty policy. I had a rich discussion with the students about different cheating scenarios based on those that occurred at our institution, including the complexities of prohibited and permitted conduct. Upon concluding my presentation, I thought it went really well, and I was satisfied.

After the presentation, I was invited to have lunch with all students and the present faculty. As I stood in line with some students to grab lunch from the buffet, I began a conversation with two of them. They thanked me for the presentation and told me that now they are scared enough to be careful. I was a little surprised by this response. I realized that I might have scared students rather than empowering them. This was not my intention. I wanted them to feel informed about the academic honesty policy and more confident to do great academic work without accidentally getting into cheating territory. Instead, I had to wonder whether these students now saw the academic honesty policy as a complex law that can be easily violated and the Office of Academic Honesty as some sort of a law enforcement agency that would track their every written word.

A couple of weeks later, I attended a training session for new academic honesty student panelists at my university. At the beginning of the training, the new panelists were asked what academic integrity means for them. Here are of what their responses:

  • “Academic integrity is about equity.”
  • “Academic integrity is about commitment to your own work.”
  • “Academic integrity is about not cheating your way through med school.”
  • “You wanna know what you’re doing in your job.”
  • “You have to do the work if you wanna apply it at some point.”
  • “I joined this university because it has a great reputation, and I don’t want this reputation to be spoiled.”

Most notably for me, however, was what wasn’t said. Nobody in the room talked about academic integrity as avoiding conduct that could be seen as a violation of an arbitrary policy, and nobody expressed fear of being punished by the Office of Academic Honesty when doing something wrong. Instead, everybody spoke about academic integrity in positive terms. The students connected academic integrity to the value of a degree, fairness and equity, one’s own reputation and that of the university, and being prepared for their careers. Although some research suggests that most students do not care much about academic integrity or only follow academic integrity policies if it is beneficial to them (Christensen Hughes, 2017; Packalen & Rowbotham, 2022), some seem to not necessarily think first of a policy they must obey to when asked about academic integrity. Apparently, they rather think of an ethical standard that elevates the value of their education, gives them pride, and prepares them for their professional roles in the future.

In the following days and weeks, I thought more about this issue, and I started to formulate guidelines for myself and for the work that I am doing at the Office of Academic Honesty. These guidelines, I thought to myself, need to focus on the positive aspects of academic integrity education, and not on the administrative aspect of sanctioning students if they commit academic misconduct. Here is what I developed:

  • The goal of academic integrity education is to empower students and faculty, and it must avoid scaring anybody of the academic integrity policy and the Office of Academic Honesty.
  • Instead of potentially scaring students of the consequences of academic misconduct, they need to be motivated to produce their best work by upholding the Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity (ICAI, 2021).
  • Students must not fear potentially plagiarizing if they make a mistake in their writing. Instead, they need to be educated (or motivated to educate themselves) on how to cite sources and paraphrase information correctly.
  • Students must not fear potentially colluding when they work with others. Instead, they need to be engaged in conversations about the differences between collaboration and collusion and taught how to collaborate in the most effective ways.
  • Instead of warning students of stealing the academic work of others and fabricating or falsifying data, they need to be encouraged to contribute to research and the global knowledge base, and they need to be reminded of the pride that comes with producing original academic work.

I’m not trying to say that students don’t need to be warned about the consequences of academic misconduct, but the positive aspects of academic integrity should always be front and center when educating students about academic honesty.

If you have formulated guidelines like the ones above for yourself, share them with us by tweeting @TweetCAI or sharing with us on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

References:

  • Christensen Hughes, J. (2017). Understanding academic misconduct: Creating robust cultures of integrity. Paper presented at the University of Calgary, Calgary, AB. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/110083
  • International Center for Academic Integrity [ICAI]. (2021). The Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity (3rd ed.). https://academicintegrity.org/images/pdfs/20019_ICAI-Fundamental-Values_R12.pdf
  • Packalen, K. A., & Rowbotham, K. (2022). Student Insight on Academic Integrity. In S. E. Eaton & J. C. Hughes (Eds.), Academic integrity in Canada: An enduring and essential challenge (pp. 353-375). Cham: Springer.