Academic integrity is a difficult topic of conversation. While every campus is different, most of employ plenty of individuals who are asked to have one-on-one conversations with students about academic integrity. Instructors may need to ask a student about a suspicious incident. Staff members may need to interview a student about a potential violation. Conduct board representatives may have to discuss incidents with students. These conversations might be in person, by email, in a classroom, during a hearing, etc. Most institutions are very intentional in how they go about ensuring academic integrity – how can we be equally intentional when we converse with individuals involved with or affected by potential acts of academic dishonesty?

I arrived at this topic after considering my own experiences working with academic integrity on my campus and what might be worth sharing. My role as it relates to academic integrity is to serve as an intermediary of sorts by investigating incidents, interacting with both students and instructors, explaining policies, and ultimately making a recommendation as to whether a violation occurred based on available evidence. One of my other roles on campus, however, is as an academic advising administrator. I have worked with academic advising in various capacities for my entire career. Academic advisors spend most of their time having conversations. Good advisors, as you might imagine, also spend reflecting on those conversations to ensure they are meaningful and effective. I can easily recognize how much influence this experience working one-on-one with students in an advising capacity has had on how I approach my academic integrity duties.

If you are someone who routinely engages in one-on-one conversations with students about academic integrity and you were so inclined, you could explore a myriad of resources related to developing conversational skills provided directly from the largest professional organization for academic advising, NACADA. You could also explore the adjacent field of academic coaching or jump right into fields you might already be familiar with such as counseling, education, communication, social work, etc. If you have time to borrow ideas a profession or discipline that centers on interpersonal communication then it would be worth the effort. However, examining your conversational approach does not have to be a time-consuming endeavor. You might start by taking fifteen minutes to reflect on the conversations you have had so far. Develop more intentionality by just asking yourself some basic questions:

  • What is my role as it relates to academic integrity?
  • What am I typically trying to accomplish when I converse with students about a potential act of academic dishonesty?
  • What unintended consequences could result from these conversations?
  • How should I have these conversations (in-person, phone, conference software, etc)?
  • Where should I have these conversations?
  • Is there language I should always include or avoid in my conversations?
  • Should I implement a consistent structure to my conversations?
  • What assumptions, perspectives, or biases do I bring to these conversations?
  • What assumptions, perspectives, or biases might students bring to these conversations?
  • If I do have a gut feeling about whether an act of academic dishonesty has occurred, what if I am wrong?

Precisely which questions you ask yourself may not be as important. The goal is to make some time to reflect, decide, try it out, and then reflect again. Conversations about academic integrity can be emotional and may have a lasting impact on everyone involved. By examining our own approach we can ensure that our conversations are intentional and effective.