Managing student academic misconduct cases can be challenging and frustrating for practitioners and faculty alike, and case resolution may come to an impasse with a student for no clear reason. When these issues arise, we often rely on mediation techniques from other disciplines. Neuroscience may be used to assist in mediation and is transferrable to the management of academic integrity cases. When practitioners and faculty approach academic misconduct with an open mind, they may find they resolve cases with understanding. The SCARF Model* and the Ladder of Inference** are two such theories.

The SCARF Model was popularized by David Rock in 2008. Rock argues that people respond using their fight or flight response when confronted with threats to the five domains of our social behavior,:

Status: how people view themselves relative to others.

Certainty: understanding the possible outcomes of a situation.

Autonomy: control over a particular situation.

Relatedness: connection and safety with others.

Fairness: perceptions of fairness.

When applying this to academic integrity case management, we can see why students may deny cheating in the face of clear evidence of cheating. The threat to their perception of themselves as a good student and a good person may be challenged when faced with the label of “cheater.” Similarly, they may feel the situation is out of control and that they have no clear idea of what was going to happen next. With an accusation of cheating, they may be facing a disconnection with their faculty and peers, like an island standing alone in the face of a process they do not understand. Finally, when face-to-face with their faculty or academic integrity practitioners, a student may react poorly if they perceive unfairness. We must strive to be open and to allow students to share their experience to fully understand their perspective on what occurred and whether it constitutes academic misconduct.

Another model for consideration is the Ladder of Inference. At the bottom of the ladder is the data and facts, and the next rung includes perceptions of that information. This is followed by assumptions, beliefs, and actions. Essentially, it is a model of decision-making. When handling cases of academic misconduct, be aware of where you are on the ladder. When practitioners and faculty walk into those meetings, start back at the lowest rung. Present the information you have and allow the student to share their data. Once you have all the information, then you should evaluate your perceptions and assumptions. Were they correct? Did the new data change your perceptions? Once everyone is on the same page with the data and assumptions, you can move up the ladder to determine what you believe happened and how to handle it.

Have you used any neuroscience to help with difficult cases? Tell us about it on Twitter @TweetCAI or by using Facebook or Instagram.


*If you are interested in learning more about SCARF, this YouTube Video provides some useful background information.

**If you are interested in learning more about the Ladder of Inference, this YouTube Video provides some useful background information.