About a year ago, I had a conversation with a colleague regarding academic integrity.  The catalyst for this conversation was a situation the colleague had experienced in class that day.  In her class, students were given weekly in-class quizzes for which the questions were available in advance.  As the students were taking the quiz, she noticed a student attempting to surreptitiously view answers on his phone.   Although my recollection of the situation has faded, I remember that she was devastated by this discovery.  The student was a “good student” who always participated in class and submitted assignments.  Whether or not to report the incident weighed heavily on the mind of my colleague and I know that I was not very helpful at that time in alleviating the stress she felt in deciding how to handle the situation.  The student did engage in academic dishonesty, but my colleague was worried that filing a report may lead to feelings of shame and a loss of motivation for the student.  While I can certainly sympathize with her feelings in this case, I now believe it is important to take such situations seriously. 

 Reporting cases of academic dishonesty makes it clear to students that academic integrity is something to be taken seriously.  If a student realizes that the instructor will simply let these things slide, the door is left open for an increase in such activity.  Why take the time to study and prepare for an assessment when it is apparent that other students can take an easier route with the same resulting score?  Have you ever participated in a rule violation just because you saw other people doing so?  If other people are doing it and getting away with it, then it must really be allowed, right?  It would be a short leap for students to develop the mentality that the instructor sort of expected them to cheat on the assignment and so they weren’t really doing anything wrong.

Reporting can also help to create a fair and impartial learning environment.   If I were called out or punished for breaking a rule or a law that I knew others had broken with no enforced penalty, then I think I would feel singled out.  If my colleague had chosen not to report the “good student”, but then later reported someone else for a similar infraction, this could certainly be viewed as an inequitable situation.  It is important for students to know that class and institution rules and regulations apply to all.

Reporting incidents of academic dishonesty should also be viewed as opportunities to help support students and certainly not as a vehicle for embarrassment or dishonor.   We know that sometimes students are compelled to engage in academic dishonesty when they are stressed out or under a great deal of pressure.  They may not fully understand the material, or they may feel the burden of a demanding course load.  By filing the report, we are in a better position to connect the student with available resources and the student may be more likely to take advantage of such resources.  Our goal in reporting should be to help the student to see why the behavior was undesirable and to help them to develop strategies to avoid such behavior in the future.  It may not feel like it at first, but this is a chance to show the student that you care about their learning and their well-being.

In short, were I again to interact with a colleague in such a situation, my advice would be to file the report.  The potential benefits to the student and to the class far outweigh the negative feelings that may be associated with doing so.