October 2018

Two weeks ago, I talked about the Bystander effect and how it contributes to the spread of cheating and contract cheating. This week, I’d like to spotlight what we are doing at UC San Diego to train people to stand up and speak out for integrity.

Our Bystander Intervention Training (BIT) was developed by adapting training to prevent sexual assault and by incorporating understandings from the ethical decision-making and acting literature and removing information that isn’t normally paramount in cheating situations (like safety).

Our training begins by educating people on the 4 tests that can be used to recognize ethical issues. This is a critical step in the training because without the ability to recognize an ethical situation when facing it, people fail to act. In other words, in order for people to act ethically they must be able to see ethically.

Briefly, the four tests are: gut feeling, values, standards, and exposure. The gut feeling test is intuitive and instinctive. While we can’t train people to have “gut feelings”, we can train ourselves to pay attention to our gut feelings. The tight shoulders, the sweaty palms, the clenching fists or jaws, or the insatiable need to either fight or flee are all signals our bodies uses to say “hey! Pay attention! Something is terribly wrong here!” And, once trained, we can use the values, standards and exposure tests to quickly check our gut instinct. Asking oneself simple questions can run our brains through these tests rather quickly:

    1. is what I am seeing undermining honesty, trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, or fairness? (values test)


    1. Is what I am seeing a violation of standards, rules, codes or laws? (standards test)


    1. If others saw what I am seeing, would it (or my inaction) be approved or condemned? (exposure test)

Once we can see ethically, we will be able to come up with IDEAs on acting ethically. These IDEAs for acting ethically can also be best described with questions:

    • Interrupt - is there a way that I can interrupt the unethical behavior in progress or interrupt the situation so an unethical action doesn’t occur?


    • Direct - can I direct the actors to an alternative ethical action instead of unethical ones?


    • Engage - would it be useful to engage others in the situation to help me resolve the situation ethically?


    • Authorities - do I need to act by reporting this to the relevant authorities?

It should be easy to see how these IDEAs could be useful actions for a student, a teaching assistant (TA), or even a staff member to take in the face of cheating. For example, if a student feels that their neighbor is trying to copy off of their test, they could interrupt the behavior by hiding their test or they could report the situation to the authorities (their teacher). Or, a TA who sees cheating during a test could interrupt the behavior by taking away the cheating aid, engage with other TAs to make sure of their observations, and/or report the behavior to authorities. Finally, if a student tells their resident hall advisor that they are feeling better about their ability to succeed in the course because they found a tutor online to "help" them with their homework, the resident advisor can interrupt by asking important questions to clarify the ethicality of the tutor or direct the student to alternative sources of help on campus like the TA, supplemental instruction, or the instructor. 

Once people have IDEAs on how they can act ethically, they are trained to think through the best IDEA by running them through the 4 tests again (see above). Again, a rather simple question can be useful - of all of the possible IDEAs, which will best uphold the applicable values and standards, and which one would pass muster if exposed to others (like the media or institutional leadership)?

And finally, our training ends by helping people develop the courage to act. We do this by educating them on the typical rationalizations for NOT acting ethically and having them pre-script responses to these rationalizations. This idea of pre-scripting is critical to building courage because it helps people feel prepared and the possible objections will not shock them into psychological paralysis.

The UC San Diego Bystander Intervention Training illustrates why acting ethically cannot be left to chance or by appeal to people’s better natures. To act ethically, one needs to see ethically and then have the courage to do something about it. And, in many ethical situations, one has to act rather instantly with little to no time for thinking. Thus, training and practicing can help prepare one to be able to act in an instant. So, using this BIT along with case studies and role plays can help people practice and develop their acting muscles. But ultimately, we cannot provide sufficient practice in the short training sessions we are usually afforded. However, at least with the BIT training, we've provided them with a tool that they can learn and practice in their daily lives until they become sufficiently skilled to see and act ethically when the moment presents itself, which it always does.

We achieved some small wins on our 3rd international day of action against contract cheating providers. We had our largest number of registered institutions since we started the DOA in 2016 - 88 institutions in total. And these participants were global - located in Africa, Australia, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, North America, South America, and the UK. We reached thousands of users and made thousands of impressions on the DOA with the #defeatthecheat and #excelwithintegrity hashtags. 800 people signed our first ever Pledge Against Contract Cheating (thanks to Turnitin’s collaboration), and we were only shooting for 500! And the activities across the world looked engaging and worthwhile. Just check out our page or search in twitter using #defeatthecheat and #excelwithintegrity hashtags to see news and photos of some of these events.

At institutions around the world (e.g., American University of Nigeria, Bow Valley College, Majan College, Rio Salado College, Seneca College, University of Waterloo), students were educated on contract cheating, signed the pledge against contract cheating, and declared their own intent to #excelwithintegrity on whiteboards which were then snapshot and posted.

Faculty were invited to workshops or presentations to help them understand, prevent and detect contract cheating and create cultures of integrity at institutions like UC San Diego, Universityof Calgary, European Network for Academic Integrity, University of Wollongong (both in Australia & Dubai!). Our DOA received attention from the news media as well as celebrated publishing outfits like University Affairs (Canada), Times Higher Education (UK), and BioMed Central (UK).

And, GSM London even published a board game under a creative commons license for us all to use on our own institutions!

These small wins on the DOA do not stand alone in their significance. There are small wins continually occurring all over the world in our fight against contract cheating providers. There is some important and useful research coming out of Australia thanks to funding from the Australian government and the research team led by Tracey Bretag of University of South Australia. The UK petition against the contract cheating providers (what the Brits call “essay mill cheating services”) has over 55,000 signatures. And Turnitin is getting ready to release a product that should help faculty detect contract cheating.

And yet, contract cheating providers are still operating. Students are still paying them to write their papers, sit their exams, and complete their theses and dissertations. And so business is good for these providers. Dismantling the contract cheating industry will be hard. It will be contentious. And it will be tiring.

So, dismantling the contract cheating industry will be the BIG WIN. We won’t achieve that BIG WIN in one day of action per year, or within one country’s efforts to tackle the providers. Instead we will achieve that BIG WIN with one small win at a time.

Rosabeth Kanter - author of “when a thousand flowers bloom” and a great influencer of my own thinker reminds us that “If world problems feel too big to tackle, think small. Step by step. Small wins build confidence, lead the way to change.” We cannot institutionalize academic integrity by only acting on one day. But, this one day push may cause a thousand more flowers to bloom than would have bloomed before. And when thousands upon thousands of flowers bloom, the landscape will change.

Together, our small wins will change the landscape of education. Together, we will continue to plant the seeds of integrity within our communities. Then together we must condition the teaching and learning soil so the seeds have nourishment off of which to feed. And finally, if together we foster institutional environments that support integrity propagation, we will be able to fight the forces that seek to destroy true and meaningful education.

On that note, let us continue to seek small wins in our fight for the integrity of education around the globe. Sign up today to participate in the 4th International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. And, document your small wins at our website so others can glean ideas and inspiration from you.

I’ll end with this quote with an important reminder from notable organizational theorist and “small wins” guru Karl Weick that small wins do matter:

A small win is a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance. By itself, one small win may seem unimportant. A series of wins at small but significant tasks, however, reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals. Small wins are controllable opportunities that produce visible results.

On Wednesday of this week, ICAI will host its 3rd International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. The purpose of the day is to share one day, around the world, where every educational institution will stand up and speak out against contract cheating. While we've not yet reached the goal of “every institution”, our hope is that each year a growing number will join a loud chorus of unified voices who aim to shine light on this disease invading educational systems. We also hope that this day of action will force action by political and educational leaders to finally take actions to eradicate the pervasive pathogen of the unscrupulous, unethical and unhelpful contract cheating providers.

In other words, this 3rd Day of Action is our global call-to-action - it is our call for educational institutions and politicians to stop being bystanders to the spread of this disease. So, in this post, I explore this concept of the "bystander effect" and how it explains the struggle of getting people to stand up and speak out against cheating and contract cheating.

This bystander tendency to stand back and watch something horrible unfold in front of one’s eyes while doing nothing is not unique to the contract cheating phenomenon. Psychologists have been studying the bystander effect for decades and for most of that time, it was thought that apathy (that is, “I don’t care about the situation/person I’m observing and therefore I won’t act”) led to this inaction. However, psychologist Scott Lilienfeld and colleagues suggest that apathy is not the most common cause of the bystander effect. Rather, Lilienfeld and colleagues argue that the bystander effect is more likely a psychological paralysis brought on by a “diffusion of responsibility” (that is, “I’m not going to act because it is someone else’s responsibility”), “pluralistic ignorance” (that is, “I’m not going to act because no one else is, which must mean that everyone else thinks there is no need to act”), or just the fear of looking foolish.

On an episode of the Freakonomics podcast, Lilienfeld argues that this fear of looking foolish is particularly influential in ambiguous situations where “it’s not entirely clear that that something is an emergency”. As you might recall from an earlier blog post of mine, it seems evident that most people do not view cheating as an emergency, primarily because cheating in school doesn’t typically cause immediate harm to basic needs like safety, security and physical sustenance. Cheating situations may not just be ambiguous because they lack urgency, but because they lack clarity. Take a student who sees another student using their cell phone during an exam. It is difficult for the observing student to know whether their peer is checking the time or are cheating with the cell phone. Or, consider a teacher who reads a paper that just seems too good to be true and written at a level much beyond the student’s normal writing. Did the student contract cheat or did they simply work really hard on the paper, get help from the TA or the writing center or just not try hard enough on the earlier papers?

Both of the preceding scenarios are ambiguous because they lack urgency and clarity, and it is easy to imagine both the student and the teacher being paralyzed by a sense that they might look foolish. It’s also easy to imagine the student believing it is not their responsibility to intervene or the teacher believing that if the student was contract cheating, some other teacher in another class surely would have noticed it before and the student would have been expelled by now. In other words, it is easy to see why both the observing student and the teacher might choose to be bystanders rather than actors in these scenarios. Ironically, the lack of action will not bring the bystander the clarity and urgency they so clearly need (and perhaps even desire). It is only by acting (e.g., interrupting, investigating, inquiring) that one can discern the truth of the situation. It is only by acting that we can relieve the stress caused by the unknown.

To be sure, it is not easy to force action from inaction, to move an inert object like a person who thinks they may (or may not) be observing something that may (or may not) be a problem upon which they could (or should) exert influence. But we can train ourselves to act in the face of potential integrity or ethical violations, whether that be cheating in school or any other ethical scenario. The Giving Voice to  Values curriculum is but one popular training method for doing just that. Regardless of the specific training model, we, as educators, have an obligation to do something when we think that integrity might be in jeopardy. It is our moral obligation. As educators, we also have the moral obligation to train our students how they can act in response to an unethical situation - at school, in work, and in life. We must prepare them to be able to act as ethical citizens and professionals.

At UC San Diego, we conduct our own Bystander Intervention Training. In this training, we train people to recognize ethical issues when they’re facing them, choose an action in response, and then act (partly by rehearsing the scenarios that will paralyze them from acting). We work to equip them with the skills and knowledge so that they will feel confident to step out from the bystander role and into the role of interruptor, redirector, engager, and/or reporter. In other words, we try to help them build the courage to uphold fairness, honesty, responsibility, respect and trustworthiness, even when it is difficult to do so. I’ll follow up in the next couple of weeks with an instructional post on the specifics of the Bystander Intervention Training we conduct for students, Residence Assistants, TAs & Tutors, faculty and staff, so that you can replicate it at your institution if you choose to do so.

Until then, I implore all of us to use this 3rd International Day of Action as our source of courage (knowing we have friends and allies) to step out of the bystander shadows and into the glaring light that will come when we truly tackle the burgeoning contract cheating industry. It will be a fight to be sure. Many educational leaders do not want us to speak up and out because doing so shines light on the practices that we must change in-house. Many politicians do not want us to speak up and out because doing so shines light on their failure to address corruption in business and government. And certainly the contract cheating providers do not want us to speak up and out because our doing so will threaten their million dollar industry.

But our students need us to stop being bystanders. Our students count on us to partner with them in upholding the integrity of higher education so that their degrees, their work, and their learning will have meaning and a lasting, positive impact on their lives. Let us turn a blind eye no longer. We must interrupt the unethical practices of contract cheating providers and we must demand action by ourselves, our students, and our educational, political and business leaders. Enough is Enough.

It is time to stand by no longer. We must #defeatthecheat and help our students #excelwithintegrity.

In this second edition within my blog series on academic integrity policy, I want to address three common questions that arise when developing or revising institutional policies and procedures.

Are we going to have a Zero-Tolerance approach to cheating?

Zero-tolerance policies, once a popular experiment in educational behavioral modification starting in the 1980s through the early 2000s, can still be found in many institutional policies across the world.  Zero-tolerance typically means that the institution will expel a student for their first reported policy violation. Such a policy is considered to have a two-fold deterrence benefit: a.) general deterrence, persuading anyone against even considering cheating due to the possible ramifications; and b.) specific deterrence, that a student will never cheat again and may never practice the art or science they were training for if they are removed from college all-together.

For an effective and ethical zero-tolerance policy, enforcement requires robust and ever-present awareness and advertisement mechanisms at the institution. Students must hear about this policy from orientation day to every class syllabus to each individual assignment so thats students are effectively put on notice.  Such policies often create a community atmosphere, where students and faculty join in a civic-minded approach to academia. An honor code regularly (but not always) coincides with the policy, asking students to report the transgressions of others to maintain responsibility and honesty in the institution. For an example of such a system, see the University of Virginia’s Honor Committee..

There are some drawbacks to this approach.  Some have questioned the equity involved, noting that those without robust socio-economic resources are more likely to be caught and put through the process.  These students are then ultimately expelled, without a possible benefit of the doubt that would be granted to a more connected student. Others note that while cheating should not be tolerated, some students under pressure may make poor choices and should be granted the lesson of failure and learning from one’s mistakes.

Who should facilitate the resolution of academic integrity violations?

An ongoing concern with all academic integrity policies is the equity or fairness of the process for reporting and resolving suspected violations..  Instructors sometimes well-meaningly do not report instances of cheating that they consider to be first-time offenses, when the student is sufficiently repentant, or the transgression is of low-enough egregiousness.  Towards the opposite side of the potential problem, some instructors may be inadvertently too harsh on some populations of students or is unknowingly uneven in their punishment from instance to instance.

To make enforcement more consistent and the rights of the student maximized, some institutions have moved to a facilitator model.  Whenever a report of an instance comes in, a neutral third-party is assigned to provide assistance for the case. They can serve as a mediator, explain the policies, and bridge to next steps if required.  This assures students remain aware of their right to appeal, feel empowered to take advantage of it, and instructors are free to make judgment calls with reduced chances of prejudicial treatment.

A challenge to this approach is its requirement for additional staffing, training, and follow-through.  Facilitators need to be trained, as do all faculty and, to a certain degree, students. Faculty may also be incentivized to not report instances of integrity violations, as doing so takes significant time and effort.  And it may lead to their decisions being appealed and decided against their opinion on the matter.

For more on this approach, see such an example as Ryerson University.

What’s an alternative to the zero-tolerance approach?

A modern approach to academic integrity has led to an increased desire for restorative justice.  Instead of traditional punishment, restorative practices look to see students not only learn from their mistakes, but to simultaneously re-establish their standing and give back to the institutional community.

In many versions of this method, the process begins with the student admitting to, and seeking to pay back, for their offence.  The student then meets with members of the community, including faculty, administration, and other students to verbally work through what they have done and how they can give back to the community.  In addition to a remedial assignment, a student may also volunteer their time to the process itself by helping others through similar situations or through other, varied opportunities. The process looks to rebuild trust and take public accountability for their actions. For more on this approach, see such an example at the University of Minnesota’s Academic Integrity Matters (AIM) program.

Some question the practical deterrence effect given the lack of real punishment. Without that punishment, the student may not feel the full ramifications of their transgression and the process may incentivize recidivism.  Opponents to a restorative approach tend to think that harsh punishment is deserved for wrongdoings, that a person deserves a failing grade, suspension, or expulsion for breaching the trust of an institution.


As always when considering developing or revising an academic policy, make sure to seek feedback from all of your institution’s stakeholders on which features will  be a good fit for your unique community.

For the blog post this week, I asked Dr. Camilla Roberts, Kansas State University, to describe the Development & Integrity Course that many K-State students take after a violation of academic integrity. The course has existed since 2000 and provided inspiration to other Universities that now also offer similar type courses (e.g., University of California, San Diego). While coordinating and teaching such a course in-house requires some resources, the in-person, in-context learning after a violation can be extraordinarily beneficial for leveraging the cheating moment as a teachable moment. This might be experiential learning at its finest hour. ~ Tricia Bertram Gallant, Editor, Integrity Matters Blog


When students are academically dishonest in higher education, the institution has the choice to sanction the student with or without removal from the institution.  Kansas State University (K-State), as well as many other institutions, will often sanction a student with a grade, but will allow the student to remain in classes; however, the administration at K-State want to ensure that students learn from their choices and will strive to not repeat them.

Therefore, Kansas State has been sanctioning many students with an eight-week, one-credit hour course entitled “Development and Integrity.”  The DI course as it is more commonly known is taught seven times during the academic year (both face to face and online). Not only does this class give the sanctioned students the ability to learn from their mistakes, it also gives a variety of graduate students (traditionally in the student affairs/college student development program) the opportunity to teach in the classroom as the primary instructors of the course.

The course has evolved some since it’s first offering in the spring of 2000; however, the following main components are still discussed during each session:

    1. Plagiarism: What is plagiarism? What are citations? Why do I need to cite?


    1. Unauthorized collaboration and unauthorized aid: What are these and why can I not work together with another person or have outside assistance?


    1. College student development and moral development theories: The focus is mainly on the theories of Chickering, Kohlberg, and Gilligan, allowing the students to explore their own development.


    1. Personal Values: What does each student value inside and outside the classroom and how does that tie into respect for others?


    1. Integrity outside the classroom: What do we see on a daily basis on the news that lacks integrity? What ethical dilemmas might they face upon graduation in the workforce?


    1. Technology and academic integrity: How has technology changed violations in academic integrity?


    1. Reflection and refocus on the student’s individual violation: After examining their own morals and values and understanding academic integrity, how have their thoughts about their own violation changed since the beginning of the course?

During one of the final assignments for the course, the students are asked what one thing they would say to the person or persons who sanctioned them to take this class.  While we of course do have the few students who might still want to argue with the professor or say the class was not worth their time, the overwhelming majority of the students wish that they would have been able to take the class when they first came to campus and then they might not have been in the position which caused them to be required to take the course.  So now, Kansas State is working to determine what kind of proactive education can be used to help students before a violation occurs.