As researchers and practitioners of academic integrity, we often find ourselves in a reactionary position, redressing situations that severely impact courses, institutions, and morale. Research on proactive efforts is essential in redefining what is possible in policy and efforts to improve practice. Measures to address these inclusively are especially significant. Academic communities are more diverse than ever, and comprehensive policies that consider learning differences, cultural values, and universal design still need to be improved. Intellectual integrity demands inclusive practice.

Dr. Mary Davis, who is in the unique position of studying inclusivity in academic integrity, conducted a study while actively informing the change she hopes to see on her campus. 

Dr. Davis

In her role as Academic Integrity Lead and Principal Lecturer for the Student Experience in the Business School at Oxford Brookes University, Dr. Davis addresses gaps in research with opportunities to engage in policy change with multiple constituencies. She recently wrote about her experiences with university-level policy change in the International Journal of Educational Integrity. Her article, Examining and improving inclusive practice in institutional academic integrity policies, procedures, teaching, and support, challenges institutional partners to expand expectations of an inclusive approach to academic integrity policy design. Her case study included students, staff, faculty, and university administrators, a review of policy documents, and a thematic review of the steps, challenges, and outcomes of the inquiry, development, and implementation of the policy. This work is ongoing but offers practical considerations for higher education more broadly. 

Inclusive policy change

I was fortunate to discuss the case with Dr. Davis in detail. Here are some of my biggest takeaways:

This study emerged from a recognized “lack of inclusion in academic integrity.” Dr. Davis notes disproportionate outcomes for underrepresented populations, despite the value we find in diverse student populations.

“What has been particularly noticeable has been the over-representation of certain groups of students in academic conduct investigations… My goal has been to raise awareness within my institution and make changes to the policy in my institution (which I achieved), but I also want to raise awareness more widely for institutions and staff elsewhere involved in academic integrity policies and practice and help them see that changes are needed and possible to implement.”

Universities are changing, and academic integrity policies should be responsive to these changes. Dr. Davis frames the study in response to increasingly necessary practices mindful of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Her goal was “to examine the perspectives of all of the stakeholders in academic integrity to discuss inclusion, as well as examine policies under the same lens.” She notes the considerations made across higher education institutions in response. Despite this, a gap remains in our policy language. While many argue that integrity is a straightforward concept, prior research reminds us that there are differences in understanding and applying academic integrity.

Critical Considerations

Policies often represent legal requirements, cultural norms, and negotiated terms. When refining policy, opinions are as varied as experiences. Time, experience, role, and consequence significantly impact how changes are received. This was evident in the article. Despite this, many find comfort in tradition; staff may feel like they are letting go of familiar things, assigning comfort to traditional processes. Dr. Davis describes these challenges, stating that

institutions and staff need to agree to what academic integrity is, what breaches are (policy), then agree about what is taught, making sure it is available to all, and also ensuring support is available to all students, especially those who may be disadvantaged. 

An overreliance on legal language is work Dr. Davis’ seeks to address; she very strongly emphasized “that judgement should be left out of policies and legal terms should not be used as they magnify academic conduct breaches and make students feel like lawbreakers that do not belong in the system.” 

Staff and Student Voice

While much is made of issues that threaten success, policy change requires care and nuance for all participants, including those with institutional memory of past practices. Policymakers should be careful not to label the past practice as simply inadequate or harmful but as a basis for refinement based on new knowledge and context. Dr. Davis’ meaningful professional relationships with varied stakeholders, her longstanding tenure in her roles, and her continuing commitment to her research agenda have benefits. The article includes direct quotes and honesty not always seen in policy studies. 

The student context is an exciting element of this study. Dr. Davis captured the experiences of students who had gone through the process yet had time and space to reflect on the experience. Students commented on the stress and anxiety they experience in understanding academic integrity policies. The legal and punitive language suggested that academic integrity borders on the criminal. This data was supported by staff who work with this population. Their experiences and plans for improvement offer opportunity and clarity. Prior changes to the policy do not appear to be consistent in this study, evidenced by inconsistencies in guidance documents. This presents compliance and interpretation concerns. The findings prompted the policy change. First-time breaches of the policy are met with ongoing educational responses instead of punitive responses.

Education First

Inclusive education is the overarching goal and measure of success in this case study. Another innovation includes an analysis of policy documents using the comprehension guidance of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Dr. Davis identifies opportunities for change, also supported by staff feedback. Findings indicate that issues contributing to confusion and anxiety include language, information processing, inconsistent documents, and unhelpful layouts. As a result, policy changes included adjustments to internal and external documents and communications.

Dr. Davis reminds us that change is not immediate, and that academic integrity policy change is a process that requires intention, relationship, and readiness. Fortunately, the staff at Oxford Brookes University are open to change and critical reflection. As Dr. Davis notes, to be inclusive, more education is needed for students, and a move away from investigations and punishment, especially with minor breaches.

 

Want to read the article? Use this citation:

Davis, M. (2022). Examining and improving inclusive practice in institutional academic integrity policies, procedures, teaching and support. International Journal for Educational Integrity18(1), 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40979-022-00108-x