November 2019

As an academic librarian, I often explore academic integrity issues, including topics like avoiding plagiarism and evaluating sources, with students and campus partners. These explorations and conversations often cover a wide range of topics and take many different forms, from sharing resources and tips to help a student more confidently cite their sources in workshops to deeper classroom discussions about what it means to ethically engage in scholarship. But for the past few years, I have also been focused heavily on issues surrounding misinformation. This focus has involved everything from examining intersections between information and media literacy to exploring the historical evolution of misinformation to considering how source evaluation and fact-checking skills need to evolve in the Internet age. I’ve been particularly interested in how librarians, with their traditional focus on information literacy instruction, can contribute to conversations around misinformation and to educational initiatives that empower people to both better recognize and combat misinformation in their daily lives.

Our current age of misinformation has an effect on nearly every aspect of how we consume and produce information, from the ways in which health news is reported to the emotional impacts of social media usage to the ethical implications of deep fakes to the literacy skills needed to identify fake news. Historically, conversations around academic integrity often provided a way for librarians to connect with campus partners to more deeply consider the research process. Currently, it seems that conversations and challenges around misinformation provide an opportunity to deepen and complicate those conversations and to consider our entire information ecosystem, and the ethics of that ecosystem, much more broadly.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to recently present at the ICAI Southeast Regional Conference at Emory University (you can see my slides and lesson handouts online). In my presentation, I endeavored to explore connections between academic integrity and misinformation and to consider how instructional opportunities might emerge around these two areas. I’m still exploring and considering these issues, but I was excited to have the opportunity to examine these issues with a group of professionals who think deeply about academic integrity and to think about ways we can empower our students to be informed and ethical consumers, users, and producers of information.

Misinformation as a term has been heavily debated over the past few years. Essentially, it refers to content that is false, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Misinformation, as an umbrella, term, can cover a wide range of false information, from a deliberately created conspiracy theory to satire that is inadvertently taken seriously. Overall, misinformation is increasingly everywhere, can be difficult to spot, can lead to distrust and conflict, and can make it difficult for people to find the credible information they need. Academic integrity is about ensuring that you are using credible information and are sharing information in an ethical manner, so as not to mislead someone.

What is interesting to me is how research and scholarship and our information ecosystem more broadly is largely about conversations. And misinformation and things like plagiarism can disrupt those conversations by making it difficult to identify facts, to establish trust, to encourage civility, or to even stay on topic. Both misinformation and academic dishonesty have a tendency to suck up all the oxygen and to derail conversations, with people debating the misinformation or, say, the cheating scandal itself rather than the original topic or research. And both misinformation and issues of academic dishonesty, like plagiarism, can be extremely emotionally charged. In fact, misinformation is often deliberately emotionally provocative.

In terms of ways forward with exploring the connections between misinformation and academic integrity, and instructional opportunities for addressing these topics, I’ve been intrigued by a few different approaches. The first is more skills-based, with a focus on fact-checking and source evaluation skills. These skills are often covered in library instruction scenarios and I could see opportunities for merging these topics with lessons on ways to properly and ethically use and cite credible sources in research projects. At the ICAI Southeast Regional conference I shared some quick fact-checking games that help students start thinking about the types of information and sources they encounter. Next is a more reflective approach that encourages students to consider the emotional ramifications of things like misinformation and plagiarism. I’ve been intrigued by how aspects of mindfulness education can be used to explore misinformation and to encourage people to slow down and reflect on their response to the media they encounter. Something like unintentional plagiarism itself can often be driven by factors like fear, and I wonder if there are ways (perhaps with something like a reflection prompt or a log) to encourage students to be self-aware, emotionally attuned, and ethical consumer, users, and producers of information and scholarship. Finally, I’m interested in ways to encourage conversations around the ways in which research and scholarship are conversations and role students play in those conversations and in the broader information ecosystems we inhabit.

Misinformation is an incredibly challenging topic and I am eager to continue exploring connections between misinformation and issues of academic integrity and ways to empower students to navigate and thrive in increasingly complex information ecosystems.

In 1997, Sally Scott asked “how much is enough” in her article “Accommodating College Students with Learning Disabilities: How Much is Enough?” Noting the need to strike a balance between the student’s needs and the academic integrity of the course, Scott argued for a creation of a dynamic nondiscriminatory standard that, it must be recognized, is both applicable in a given moment, but is also subject to revision and re-articulation as new needs and challenges arise. Her advice remains more relevant than ever. Given that 5-8% of students, regardless of the institution’s size, utilize an office of disability services in the US, and given that this rate only seems to be rising (at my school, the rate is closer to 15%), the question must be: how do we approach situations related to academic dishonesty when a student’s disability is wrapped into the situation? How can we create inclusive, accessible spaces that consider the student’s mental health and/or physical needs, as well as the school’s academic integrity guidelines?

These questions mean two different concerns for academic integrity councils: one, how do we approach disability and mental health in the investigation and hearing or sanction process and two, how do we create meeting spaces that are accessible?

For our school, we often have students experiencing mental health concerns.  Thus, as chair of the honor council, I actively work with our Executive Director of Counseling, Outreach & Health Services Counseling and Disability Support Services Office and our Director of the Office of Accessibility to be proactive regarding the needs of students. The directors are aware of our investigation and hearing process and if they have concerns about a student, perhaps one undergoing a mental health crisis, we work to make sure our hearing process is not causing further, undo harm. This may mean that a counselor or trusted individual is present in all our meetings for the student; it may mean that we hold the hearing in a space that will not cause additional mental distress; it may mean that we pause a hearing if the situation is becoming overwhelming; it may mean that the hearing committee leaves the room for a few minutes to enable a student to feel ready to continue; it may mean that the student provides written testimony to the evidence presented; finally, it means asking the student how we can accommodate their needs. What it does not mean is that our investigation or hearing process is compromised, nor does it mean that mental health can be an excuse for academically dishonest behavior; instead, it is about recognizing and supporting the needs of our students so that they can (hopefully) move past the moment of academic dishonesty and have a successful student career.

Part of our responsibility is educating ourselves as directors, coordinators, chairs and our council members—faculty, staff, and student-- on how to respond to and be mindful of various disability concerns. To that end, I encourage academic honor councils to be versed in basic ADA law (the definition of disability, title II, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act). I also argue that members should learn about signs associated with a mental health problem, how to immediately respond to that situation, and who to call in that situation. Another consideration is the use of person-first language that focuses on abilities not limitations (for example, a person has a wheelchair, not that person is crippled).

In addition to creating accessible processes for determining academic dishonesty, we also need to consider our actual hearing spaces. Below are some tips that we have considered in terms of our actual hearing space, but a helpful, more exhaustive list is available here. . We recently moved our hearing location to a space on campus that was accessible for all students—that had automatic doors; literal space around the conference table for wheelchairs, canes and other mobility aids; space for a personal assistant; space for a service animal; that is distraction free; that has adjustable lighting; and that has no carpeting or other barriers. Finally, a related concern is formatting materials so that individuals have access to electronic files or large print materials.

I also hope to make it clear that while disability should not be an excuse for academic integrity, not being considerate of disability is inexcusable and discriminatory. At my institution, our procedures are flexible enough to accommodate concerns. Finally, we are composing an accessibility statement for our academic honor council to make clear what it considers “reasonable accommodations” in academic dishonesty situations. I encourage other institutions to do the same.


Works Cited:

Scott, Sally. “Accommodating College Students with Learning Disabilities: How Much is Enough?” Innovative Higher Education (1997) 22: 85.

We all face the same problem, and it’s a fairly intractable one. Incoming students don’t know enough about our local honor codes, the policies governing thresholds and processes regarding cheating or plagiarism, or why all of the above is important – but they also do not care about any of those things at precisely the only moment we have their attention; namely, as they undergo orientations and on boarding at their institutions.

In late October, we joined the Southeast Regional Conference to discuss how often institutions gamely try to use orientation to educate anyway. This could take the form of a face-to-face encounter, but that likely means a one-to-many circumstance, or in other words, a “talking head” on stage. We all sense that this format faces challenges in keeping student attention. Another common approach is an online module, where lots of information can be presented. Usually that information takes the form of introducing the policies and diving into the details, such as what constitutes cheating and what does not. The risk exists that students will skip the text entirely if there’s too much to read, and even compelling videos might not hold their attention if they are too long or too numerous.

At our institution, student orientation has historically been a fire-hose of information. We recently underwent changes to that event to focus on only those things the students care about at that time, such as parking, registering for classes, finding study spaces, or finding laundromats. In the context of such conversations, also occurring amid very intentional attempts to build excitement and affinity for the institution (and make early friends), neither a talking head nor a long online module seems a fit for this time period. And yet we must seize the time to do SOMETHING about academic integrity, as this is the only chance before they start classes.

We determined that the ideal experience would be online, short (no more than ten minutes), and driven by student voices, preferably in a video. The learning outcomes would need to be trimmed for such a short engagement, and we prioritize explaining that an honor code exists, why it’s important, and how to find out more. That’s it.

While this brief an encounter may match attention spans of today’s students, it leaves a lot left unexplained. We claimed earlier that students don’t want a large up-front education on topics like academic integrity, but they may need a resource at their fingertips at the moment they realize the need. Thus, we developed a Just in Time resource. In our case, it’s a “course” assigned to all new students as they join the institution, and it lives in the learning management system (Canvas, in our case) alongside their for-credit classes. It provides reminders on things they learned in orientation and forgot, but they’ll need later, like exactly where to click to register for classes. It also provides FAQ-type questions and answers, with links to appropriate resources, policies, and offices. Everything from “my midterm grades are low!” to “my classmate wants to collaborate on the research paper” can live here, providing help at the moment they care about it.

This approach has one key downside: it does not inoculate students against thinking about cheating to begin with. Generally speaking, students cheat for one of four reasons: convenience, desperation (for the grade), ignorance (such as what constitutes plagiarism), or feeling like they won’t get caught. In none of those four situations would students feel a need to consult the Just in Time resource, and there wasn’t time to dive deeply into those topics in the very short online orientation encounter. Still, our plans are to include FAQ questions on the Just in Time resource going forward, feeling as if the effort can’t hurt even if we are uncertain it will enjoy wide-scale success in prevention.

Once students have been caught cheating, they will undergo a remediation experience. At present our remediation effort is another online module—this one much longer, and with a rigorous cumulative testing schema that resists efforts by those skip the content and just take the tests over and over until passed. But we are looking at models for a face to face remediation instead, where much richer discussions could take place about scenarios and indeed the ethics of cheating. To enable scalability across the entire institution we are considering a model of peer mentors running these sessions. Many will volunteer to do so for the ethical rationale, but others may highlight the item on their resumes and applications to graduate schools. Obviously, we’d need to train these peer mentors heavily, but it’s an experiment we look forward to. It is the next phase of our evolution to right-size the message for today’s students, who themselves continue to evolve as well. 

Do you offer a Just in Time resource to your students? Comment below and share your experiences.

The University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education is launching a Master of Education Interdisciplinary four course topic (certificate or diploma) in academic integrity. The Master of Education Program is a fully accredited graduate program with a unique laddered structure in which students earn a credential after every four courses they complete. In the first two steps of the program, students choose from a selection of four-course topics. Those who wish to continue with a full Master of Education (MEd) degree can then complete additional research courses and a capstone project to complete their degree.

Here is an overview of the entire MEd Interdisciplinary program:


Academic Integrity four course topic will be offered, for the 2020 academic year. Students can enroll in one four-course topic and still earn a recognized graduate credential (e.g. certificate).


There are three overarching learning goals of this topic:

    1. Increase awareness of the role of academic integrity in educational contexts.


    1. Assist those who have academic integrity as a component of their professional portfolio in furthering discussion and learning about integrity, ethical decision-making, case management and policy.


    1. Assist current and future educational leaders to envision and develop a personal theory of integrity that enhances the learning experiences of students, while remaining cognizant of institutional policies and procedures, as well as larger systemic realities.

The four courses included in the Academic Integrity topic include:

    • EDER 619.28: Foundations of Academic Integrity


    • EDER 619.29: Macro perspectives on Academic Integrity


    • EDER 619.30: Teaching, learning and student supports for academic integrity


    • EDER 619.31: Implementing and Enacting Academic Integrity

Successful completion of all four courses is required to earn the graduate credential. The Academic Integrity topic will be offered in a fully online format. All courses in this cohort will be offered fully online, using web-based applications.  These courses are held in both an asynchronous environment (D2L) and a synchronous (real-time) environment (Zoom) which allows instructors to virtually meet and talk with students and experience a live exchange of ideas, hear class presentations and do group work with access to a whiteboard. There are typically no more than 5 sessions over a 13-week term (Fall and Winter) and fewer over a 6-week term (Spring and Summer).

The audience for this certificate broad and inclusive because academic integrity is transdisciplinary topic where no single individual in an institution bears full responsibility for it:

    • Higher education policy makers, leaders, and academics with a desire for deeper professional development in this area.


    • Student services professionals (including, but not limited to managers, writing specialists, and other student services staff).


    • Academic librarians and library staff.


    • Public school educators, administrators and student services professionals (e.g. guidance counsellors) with an interest in academic integrity.


    • Educators and consultants who work in the field of academic integrity.


    • Post-secondary students with an interest in cultivating their skills and understanding of academic integrity for their envisioned future careers in educational or academic contexts.

The program accepts Canadian and international applicants who meet the admission requirements. Applications are accepted through the online system from November 1, 2019 through March 15, 2020.

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD

University of Calgary