January 2019

I had the good fortune last week to attend the Association for American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) annual meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to “demonstrate why higher education is essential for students’ future employability and for democratic vitality”.  It seems clear to me that higher education can only demonstrate that it is essential to the private (individual) and public (societal) good if it attends to the integrity of its programs, curriculum, and assessments. So, I was excited to attend AAC&U in order to engage in such conversations with other attendees as well as to give a 10 minute TED-like talk entitled “Making Meaning from Cheating: How To Turn an Ethical Problem into an Opportunity”.

Many of the sessions I attended were about course design and assessment. This wasn’t a surprise given that the purpose of the meeting was to “demonstrate”. However, what I did find surprising was the absence of academic integrity within those design and assessment conversations, as well as people’s reactions to me attending the meeting. The conversation went something like this:

Them:  And what do you do at the University?

Me:      I am the Director of the Academic Integrity Office, and I’m also a Board Member for the International Center for Academic Integrity

Them:  Huh?

To be fair, my job is unique. But the real issue was their confusion over why I would attend such a conference. So, I spent much of the week helping people see the connection between course design, assessment and integrity. And I had to wonder - why was this necessary?

It seems clear that integrity does belong in the conversation. After all, our courses and assessments are meaningless if they do not have integrity.

Yet, the course design and assessment design models most commonly cited at the conference do not mention integrity at all. So, I wondered - what would it look like if we mapped integrity into these popular models?

Bear with me as I think out loud here – this is my first time putting these thoughts down “on paper”.

Let’s first look at the popular Wiggins & McTighe’s Backward Design. The premise of this model is that course design should begin with the identification of the desire results (aka learning outcomes) rather than with the planning of the course activities. This is called “backward design” because many faculty start with planning their lectures or class activities before they have thought about learning outcomes and assessments.

Integrity should be a key part of Backward Design because it is possible that an Instructor could insert some learning outcomes related to integrity. In an entry level writing course, for example, a learning outcome may be that “students will demonstrate ability to incorporate others’ words and ideas into their own work with integrity”. Also, in determining the best evidence to assess all learning outcomes, the Instructor should consider what threats might exist to the integrity of an assessment and what completion methods may need to be specified and monitored to ensure assessment integrity. For example, assigning problem-sets out of a textbook may appear to provide good evidence of problem-solving skills. However, when such evidence is examined through an integrity lens, it is easy to see that the ready availability of textbook solutions and the ease with which they can be copied means that such an assignment may be evidence of copy-and-paste, not problem solving skills.

Finally, in planning instruction and learning activities, the Instructor should consider how their plan will facilitate or inhibit their ability to role model integrity by, for example, showing up on time, citing their sources, and grading in a timely and respectful manner.

Now, let’s look at Maki’s Student Learning Objectives (SLO) Assessment Loop, which is a continual (looping) process of: asking how well are students learning; gathering and interpreting the evidence to answer that question; and then changing teaching/assessments to enhance learning where necessary.

Integrity should be a key part of this assessment loop because we must know if the gathered evidence will serve as a valid measurement of successful teaching and student learning. If the gathered evidence is produced by cheating or plagiarism, for example, then it will not be measuring what it was expected to measure. In other words, without an attention to integrity, the assessment loop is broken.

In the end, what is most critical is that we continue to draw the connections between course design, assessment and integrity for faculty, students, instructional designers, assessment experts and others. Because, after all, without integrity, we cannot demonstrate why higher education is so essential to both the private and public good.

This piece was co-authored with Erin Mosley of Emory University's Ethics Center.

The importance of integrity in higher education extends beyond the traditional boundaries of academic integrity. Taking a holistic approach, fostering integrity becomes a comprehensive aim, one that requires collaboration across campus. Integrity can serve as a motivating value for students and educators across their academic, personal, professional, and civic roles as members of a campus community. Embracing this comprehensive approach to integrity, Emory University launched the Emory Integrity Project (EIP), a joint initiative of the Emory Center for Ethics and Emory Campus Life, in 2016.

The EIP is a grant-funded initiative dedicated to deepening and strengthening the culture of integrity at Emory University. Focused on undergraduates, the project has engaged students through a comprehensive program of co-curricular activities and intellectual engagements designed to challenge perspectives, encourage ethical reflection, and promote moral courage. Before the implementation of the project began, the faculty and student affairs professionals involved in the planning process realized the value in making integrity, a concept that we learned is understood in a wide array of ways among students, faculty, and student affairs professionals, more tangible for our community. The project defined integrity for the Emory context as “consistently and reliably acting with honor, humility, and helpfulness.” The three virtues - honor, defined as ethically reliable thinking and behavior, in which challenging situations may require moral courage; humility, other-regarding behaviors and attitudes, including respect for and consideration of differing viewpoints, along with an awareness of one’s own limitations and imperfections; and helpfulness, an interest in and willingness to assist other in fostering their legitimate goals, interests, and aims – undergird the EIP’s approach to designing integrity programming.

Building on these three principles, the EIP implemented a set of initiatives intended to build on Emory’s strengths and foster sustainable progress in our commitment to integrity as a community and as individuals. After taking an expansive approach and trying a variety of options early on, we found that the most sustainable and impactful initiatives included a combination of efforts with broad reach and more targeted programs to support integrity among student leaders. These efforts included:

    • Incorporating integrity modules into student orientation and student leader trainings (e.g., resident advisors, orientation leaders, and student athletes);


    • Launching a new common read program for first-year students and accompanying programming throughout the academic year that highlight themes of ethics and integrity from the selected book;


    • Incorporating integrity into a required first-year health course;


    • Collaborating with existing popular programs and offices across campus to incorporate themes of integrity into their programming;


    • Launching a new ethical leadership mentorship program, which provides a small group of student leaders with opportunities to explore the practical implications of integrity for leadership with a faculty or staff mentor.

Over the course of the project, the EIP has worked with an external assessment team, comprising faculty from the University of Georgia and University of Iowa. Based on the insights we have garnered so far, we have identified the following key recommendations for other colleges or universities seeking to expand the scope of their integrity programs:

    • Identify programming opportunities that build on campus strengths;


    • Prioritize partnerships and bring new people to the table;


    • Establish an assessment strategy that provides formative insights from the start;


    • And last but not least, maintain flexibility.

Undertaking this kind of initiative is complex and inevitably involves challenges along the way. As the EIP approaches its formal end date in May 2019, we are working to ensure the programs described above will be sustained in permanent homes across the university. We are also compiling the insights we have gained through the implementation and assessment processes into a handbook that will be a resource for others interested in expanding or rethinking what they are doing to foster a culture of integrity at their institution. The handbook will be available later this Spring on the EIP website: integrity.emory.edu.

The Emory Integrity Project will conclude with an ICAI Southeast Regional Event - a two-day symposium titled Reimagining Culture: Integrity in Higher Education. To register, please visit http://integrity.emory.edu/get-involved/conference.html


The Emory Integrity Project is funded by the John Templeton Foundation and is a joint effort between the Emory Center for Ethics and Emory Campus Life. The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation


In last week's post, I argued that it is time that we discuss the burgeoning Editors-for-Hire industry, its impact on higher education, and the best strategies for responding. To be sure, it would be very easy to simply "outlaw" the practice and create punishments for our students if they use an editor, but as we have discovered within the contract cheating industry, the response must be more robust than that if it will have any chance of being effective. But to develop a more robust response, we must first discuss the issue, come to shared understandings and then develop our responses.

Thus, in this week's post, I posit 4 areas ripe for discussion and 2 standards we can use to guide our discussion of best possible responses. 

 Discussion Area #1: What type of editing are we talking about?

According to Editors Canada, there are three levels of editing:

Level #1 - Copy editing - this level of editing is what likely typically defines editing in most academics’ minds because it is the type routinely performed by journal and book editors on the pieces submitted to their outfits. Such editing merely fixes typos, grammatical errors, and perhaps citation errors.

Level #2 - Stylistic editing - this level of  editing changes the style of the writing, but only by using the author’s own words. Thus, stylistic editing doesn’t alter content, but does make the writing better by enhancing “flow” or readability so that the ideas of the author are “polished” and thus more palatable to the reader.

Level #3 - Content editing - this level of editing fundamentally rewrites the underlying thoughts, ideas, arguments, and/or theses of the author.

It is easy to imagine a very different conversation about copy-editing than about content-editing. Thus, we cannot simply talk about "editing" or "editors" without clarifying the actual practice being discussed. If we do so, we risk misunderstanding and lose the chance at developing shared standards.

Discussion Area #2: Why has this practice become more common over the last 5 years?

While there have always been people willing to function as editors for student assignments, the Editors-for-Hire industry has become more formalized and expansive within the last 5 years. So, what was the stimulus for the development of this industry?

To be sure, there have been external forces shaping this development, from the advance of the internet to the pressure on “everyone” to get a college education. However, there are likely many more internal forces at play that we should examine. For example, are we focused too much on product production and not enough on competency development? Did we decide somewhere along the line to outsource this role typically played by an instructor or committee? If our students do not have the necessary competencies to succeed with integrity, are we providing them with the opportunities to develop those competencies? 

These are just some of the questions we should ask ourselves before we simply decide act to prohibit the practice by students or fight against the industry itself. 

Discussion Area #3: For whom (if anyone) is the Editors-for-Hire practice acceptable?

It is insufficient to have a conversation about Editors-for-Hire without stipulating the level (and perhaps even discipline) of the student to which the conversation applies. Are Editors-for-Hire appropriate for undergraduates? What about for masters students or doctoral students? Does it depend on the student’s field of study? What about students majoring in engineering versus creative writing versus journalism?

Discussion Area #4: For what types of assignments (if any) is the Editors-for-Hire practice acceptable?

This question is related to the previous question. For example, is it acceptable for an undergraduate student to hire an editor for their honors thesis but not their term paper? Why or why not? What about for the doctoral student who is writing a dissertation versus a doctoral student who completes their degree not by a traditional dissertation but by published research products?

Discussion Guiding Standards

While the above questions are critical to answer, we cannot do so unless we agree on the standards we are trying to upload. I suggest employing two standards at a minimum:

Standard #1: Fundamental Values

The fundamental values standard asks if the practices or policies we are contemplating uphold honesty, responsibility, respect, trustworthiness and fairness. For example, if we decide to allow our students to use editors, should we provide them to students for free so that we do not create an unfair evaluation environment where wealthier students have access but poorer students do not? If we allow the use of editors, how will we require students to disclose that information to their faculty assessors and how will we disclose to the public that this practice is allowed so they do not assume that a graduate of our campus has developed editing skills? If we prohibit the use of editors, how will we enforce this fairly?

Standard #2: Learning Outcomes/Competencies

This standard asks if the practices or policies we are contemplating inhibit or develop the learning outcomes/competencies we claim for our students. For example, if we claim students develop critical thinking or written communication skills, does the practice of using editors help or hinder that development? If it hinders it, do we prohibit the use of editors or do we change our learning outcomes? Do we need to change our assessments so that we can evaluate student accomplishment of expected learning outcomes regardless of whether they used an editor or not?

A Final Thought: Developing Policy

Once the above discussion has occurred, the results of the discussion should be codified into policy. Policy is the vehicle to communicate established, shared and understandable standards. And it is likely that most University academic integrity policies fail to adequately address editing clearly and specifically. Instead, our policies probably rely on general statements like “it is important for all scholars to acknowledge clearly when they have relied upon or incorporated the work of othersit is important for all scholars to acknowledge clearly when they have relied upon or incorporated the work of others” to enforce inappropriate use of Editors-for-Hire. However, I did find a few Policy examples that specifically address editing at the University of Waterloo (Canada), the University of Adelaide (Australia), the Australian National University (Australia), and Auckland University (New Zealand). Guidelines produced by editor associations in Australia and Canada may provide some excellent suggestions for developing good Policy.

I’ve spent two blog posts on this topic, so now it’s time to hear what you think. Go to https://goo.gl/forms/sMk5cdW77lUUX3p43 and share your thoughts. You’ll be able to see summary charts of all of the responses as they are collected.

Recently I’ve become fascinated by what appears to be a rapidly growing industry operating alongside the Contract Cheating industry on the outskirts of formal education - “Editors-for-Hire”. The Editors-for-Hire industry serves undergraduate and graduate students who decide to outsource the work of editing their term papers, honors theses, masters theses and doctoral dissertations.

I’m not a writing expert (if you are and would like to write on this topic, please let me know!), but my educational experience has led me to believe that editing my own writing was critical in the process of learning how to write, continually improving my writing, and also clarifying my thoughts/ideas. As the Harvard College Writing Center states:

learning, as Yeats says, to "cast a cold eye" on your prose isn't just a matter of arranging the finishing touches on your essay. It's about making your essay better from the inside (clarifying and deepening your ideas and insights) and from the outside (expressing those ideas in powerful, lucid, graceful prose).

For those who think that such advice for learning to edit (or write) is only directed to humanities majors or future professional writers, I offer this supporting quote from a Harvard Business Review article written for the manager audience:

More particularly, rewriting is the key to improved thinking. It demands a real openmindedness and objectivity. It demands a willingness to cull verbiage so that ideas stand out clearly. And it demands a willingness to meet logical contradictions head on and trace them to the premises that have created them. In short, it forces a writer to get up [their] courage and expose [their] thinking process to [their] own intelligence. Obviously, revising is hard work. It demands that you put yourself through the wringer, intellectually and emotionally, to squeeze out the best you can offer. Is it worth the effort? Yes, it is—if you believe you have a responsibility to think and communicate effectively. Obviously, revising is hard work. It demands that you put yourself through the wringer, intellectually and emotionally, to squeeze out the best you can offer. Is it worth the effort? Yes, it is—if you believe you have a responsibility to think and communicate effectively.

It does seem self-evident that all higher education graduates, no matter their future profession, are responsible for thinking and communicating effectively. This is not just an expectation that society has for higher education, but it is an expectation that employers have for new college hires, so much so that an inability to communicate clearly in writing is one of the top 10 reasons why new college hires are disciplined or fired.

This is why I am fascinated by the growth of an industry that seems to undermine the development of such critical and desirable skills. Perhaps even more so, I am fascinated by universities that appear to be either implicitly accepting or explicitly endorsing that their students outsource this task. For example, the Writing Center at University of North Carolina  refers students to several freelance editors and UT Austin provides students with advice on “how to hire a freelance copyeditor”. While the UT Austin center tells students that they should first speak with their advisor before proceeding, the very act of referral conveys that the UT Austin Writing Center thinks it is appropriate (aka “ethical”) for students to outsource the editing part of the writing process.

To be sure, many students have always had the social and cultural capital to sidestep the editing task and the development of its corresponding skills. Moms, dads, siblings, friends, and others in one’s social circle could provide these editing tasks for certain students. And so, one might argue that the Editors-for-Hire industry ushers in a sort of equality by making such editing services non-contingent on such social and cultural capital. However, the move from editing-by-relationship to editing-for-hire certainly normalizes the practice by making it widely accessible. 

When I google “hire an editor for my dissertation”, I am rewarded with almost 6 million hits; at the top of the list are four different providers who paid Google Ad rates for the privilege. When I google the phrase “I need an editor for my paper”, I am rewarded with 1+ billion hits; 10 different providers appear on the the first page alone (one of which is the contract cheating provider who is infamous after paying paying YouTube stars to advertise their cheating services to their young fans). So, it seems pretty easy to access these services- especially if your University refers you to them. 

Yet, despite accessibility, the Editors-for-Hire practice may not yet be affordable. One provider states that they charge between $10-$25 per page (at the low end for a lower division undergraduate paper and at the high end for a Ph.D. dissertation) with a 2 week turnaround time. This means that for a 10 page undergraduate research paper, it may cost $100 for editing services but for a 250 page dissertation, the cost may be over $6000. For dissertation editing specifically, there seems to be differential costs depending on the type of services you need from copy editing to stylistic editing to content editing (and if you want 1:1 coaching, that is $110/hour). So, there are several variables that impact cost, potentially making the practice of Editors-for-Hire too expensive for most students.

Despite the expense of it, the existence of the industry itself certainly reinforces the perception that the goal of education is to produce a product, rather than engage in the process or the learning. But yet, we are not even talking about this trend, let alone the impact it could have on the way in which we teach and assess writing, thinking and communicating, or on our view of what it means to write with integrity.

I suspect that if you surveyed 100 people, most would not even realize that the Editors-for-Hire industry even exists. Once they know it exists, I suspect you would get a wide range of opinions on whether the practice should exist and whether the practice should be supported/endorsed by universities or faculties. I also suspect that in those universities or faculties where this practice is being endorsed or encouraged, there lacks a shared agreement about the ethicality of the practice or explicit ethical principles to guide the practice.

Considering the imperative of upholding academic integrity and educational quality, we can no longer afford to ignore or be indifferent to this “editor-for-hire” practice. We must talk about it and either decide to fight it as unethical (as we're doing with contract cheating) or adopt it with good ethical and practice guidelines in place.