Academic integrity is a fundamental principle in universities, ensuring fairness, honesty, and trust among students and faculty members. As an instructor of first-year students in a university perspectives course, I like to create a discussion of academic integrity. My primary focus is to define academic integrity by creating discussions around situations that may constitute violations and ask students for their opinion. One incident that transpired in my class a few years ago continues to spark discussions among my current students:

In a business math course that I taught, students have four tests during the semester. Each test has a two-day period reserved in a testing center for the student to drop in to complete their one-hour test. The dates are given at the beginning of the semester, reinforced verbally in class and through email. The syllabus states that if a student is going to miss a test, they must give 3 days’ notice and it must be for a qualifying event. If this is not done, a zero will be assigned to the test grade with a make-up opportunity at the end of the semester, to retake one of the four tests assigned during the semester (which is open for all students to utilize). This is a coordinated course. There are many instructors teaching multiple sections. However, every section has the same assignments, syllabus, and course regulations to follow. The coordinator creates the course and is responsible for ensuring fair implementation of course regulations across the multiple sections.

On the first day of the testing period, I received an email from a student along with an attachment of approved travel dates for the university's softball team. In the email, a student explained that they were leaving for Virginia that night and would return on Sunday for an approved softball tournament. Participation in this tournament would result in them missing Exam 2. They inquired about taking Exam 2 upon return of the trip since they were unable to complete Exam 2 that day due to their class schedule and sports commitments. Would you let this student take the test soon as they returned from their tournament, or give them a zero and suggest they make-up the test during the period at the end of the semester?

Since this was a gray area (a qualifying event, but not enough time was given), I consulted the coordinator. The coordinator found a two-hour period between the student's class and their departure for the tournament. An email was sent to the student, informing them to take Exam 2 during the two-hour period or utilize the make-up opportunity at the end of the semester. Does this response seem fair? Would you accept it?

The student continued to request for a test makeup upon their return. The subsequent emails between the student and the coordinator led to the student misrepresenting their schedule, prompting the coordinator to file an academic integrity violation. Ultimately, the student chose to withdraw from the class. Why did the student misrepresent their schedule? What could they possibly have been thinking and feeling?

This situation, when it happened, prompted many hours of self-reflection. When the event was unfolding, it never occurred to me to look at the student’s schedule. Should I have conducted more extensive research to identify alternative test-taking times? What can I expect myself to be able to do with 200 or more students a semester? What best aligns with my university’s academic integrity policy? I have come to the conclusion that the glass is half-full, at least for me.

Personally, I would have asked the student to meet with me in a face-to-face setting upon return. Discussed the late notice of the email and how it would be difficult for me to get an accurate response from the testing center so quickly for an alternative date. Then let the student take the test a week later, and possibly complete the course. I prefer to assume positive intent and honesty from my students. Engaging in constant suspicion and verifying every claim of illness, personal issues, or life events would be an arduous task that contradicts my teaching philosophy.

Would the student have learned a lesson about honesty and integrity? Is the student now more likely to complete assignments on time? Did the student benefit in any way? By assuming negative or positive intent in students’ emails can dramatically alter the subsequent line of events. So, do you think the glass is half-full or half-empty?

 

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