February 2019

This post is part of  my virtual or information “hoarding” series. As I clear out the tabs in my web browser, I will share with you what I learned and how it can enhance our thinking and practice of academic integrity.

Today, my post is focused on some research about teaching and learning. I am heartened to see growing research avenues that focus on improving teaching and learning, particularly in this era of the 21st century in which technological advances, changes to the educational system, societal needs and employer demands beg for a new kind of knowledge and a particular set of skills that transcend disciplines (e.g., critical thinking; communication; interpersonal; ethical judgement and integrity).

Take, for example, the fascinating questions being asked about why we are still grading. In his piece, Dan Houck insightfully wonders that while he is designing a course and considering pedagogy and assessments, why he shouldn't also consider his grading schema or, in fact, be deciding whether he should grade at all. To be sure, moving away from grading would be a challenge, whether for an individual professor or even an entire University. After all, our educational system is built on the shrine of performance as well as the extrinsic reinforcement of that performance. This shrine is manifested as grades, degrees and other credentials, are of which all seen as “rewards” for reaching performance goals or, in fact, seen as the goals themselves. In my first book, Academic Integrity in the Twenty-First Century: A Teaching and Learning Imperative, I argue that grading was initially instituted in the United States as an extrinsic motivation tool, designed to keep the young male students in line and under disciplinary control. Yet, ironically, grades are now the very reason why students cheat.

Given the cheating problem that grades have helped shape, as well as the growing employer belief that university graduates are not prepared for the world of work, it may now be time to reconsider our focus on performance and extrinsic motivators. After all, both are linked to cheating as well as to a failure of mastery. So, it seems that rethinking our focus on such things might be beneficial to our students and their futures. For example, I often ask faculty to reconsider their practice of giving points to students who simply “show up” (known, in other words, as attendance points) or for the submission of answers to textbook problem sets. After all, such grades are unlikely to represent learning and mastery  - students can cheat their attendance (by asking someone else to "sign in" for them or by attending physically but not intellectually) and students can cheat their assignments by copying and pasting from the textbook solution manual. In other words, such grades may not even measure performance, let alone learning or mastery.

Of course, when I suggest not giving grades away for attendance or for copied homework, faculty complain that students will not show up to class or that the instructors themselves will have to write new problems or create new ways for students to learn the material. To be sure, teaching for learning and integrity can take more effort and it certainly will require changes within the faculty as well as to the methods we use to signify good teaching (more on that last point in a future post). But, isn't it our moral imperative to do so?

After all, when we continue to reinforce performance through extrinsic rewards, we are not building in students an intrinsic motivation for learning or personal growth. In fact, we may be reinforcing habits that have nothing to do with learning at all, even to the point where students have forgotten (or never developed) the skill of learning-how-to-learn. To this point, Ulrich Boser suggests the different pedagogical methods that can develop this skill of learning-how-to-learn, such as real-world projects, self-quizzing, “free-recall”, cumulative assessments, and revisiting material. Ulrich acknowledges that this shift will be painful because it will require that students break a lot of habits developed over their lifetime of schooling However, in doing so, we have the chance to enhance students' meta-cognition (their awareness of their own thought processes), which has also been linked to improved learning and integrity.

If our goal is not to improve learning and enhance integrity, what is?

I cannot seem to think of any more ethical goal than focusing on student learning and building in them an intrinsic desire to learn. Not only will not only help our students in their academic careers, but it will prepare them for their professional careers in which they will be expected to have the “capacity for continued new learning” so that they can solve complex problems, make good ethical judgments, and apply their knowledge and skills to situations and issues they will encounter in life and work. And, it seems to me, that building in students such a capacity can only be advantageous to society as a whole.

So, the research seems clear - if higher education is to hold onto its integrity and its value to the 21st century society, we must revisit the ways in which we teach, assess and certify learning. To not do so would be a dereliction of our moral obligation to our students and society.

To help students understand when they may be breaking the rules and also to avoid getting scammed by “pay-to-pass” companies, the University of Calgary has developed a new web resource called “What you need to know about paying for academic support”. The resource highlights unscrupulous practices that these “pay-to-pass” (e.g. tutoring; file sharing) companies use to convince students to pay for their services and/or work for them. This post is focused on the behaviors students should look out for if they’re thinking about working for such companies:.

Example #1: Booking space on campus.

Students are permitted to book certain spaces on campus for the learning purposes, such as group work rooms. But students are not permitted to use their student ID to book rooms for a business purpose, such as interviewing fellow students for jobs.

Example #2: Requiring students to surrender academic materials at a job interview or as a condition of employment.

Some companies require student applicants to surrender copies of tests, midterms or other assessments during a job interview. They pitch this as a way for students to prove they are qualified to offer tutoring for a particular course, when it is just a pretext to acquire materials the company will later sell to other students. Sometimes students do not realize they are sharing material to which the instructor holds the copyright. By providing the materials to a third party who then sells them, they may be unknowingly facilitating a copyright violation. In other cases, the materials may be institutionally approved study materials offered for free to students as study tools and made available via the websites of an academic department. The companies offer the same materials for sale on their website, effectively tricking students into buying study tools already available to them for free.

Example #3: Unauthorized use of institutional e-mail addresses.

Companies require or encourage students to engage in unethical behaviour such as reaching out to their classmates to market the company’s services. This is particularly dangerous when student hired by these companies send out e-mail “blasts” to classmates using class lists contained within the institutional learning management system. The class lists are provided to students for the purposes of allowing them to connect with each other for the purposes of learning, such as setting up group work meetings. The university IT policy explicitly states that student e-mail addresses may be used to market to sell third-party services or products.

In any of the above cases, a student could be held responsible for violating the institutional code of conduct by contravening institutional policy, when it is really the company at fault for encouraging or requiring unethical behaviour as a condition of employment.

A secondary benefit of this resource is that it allows staff and faculty to engage students in pro-active conversations about how to protect themselves from being scammed by unethical companies. This is the first time the university has developed a resource such as this for students to help them navigate the complexities of working with (or for) pay-to-pass companies. Other universities can link to this resource to help their own students.

I remember the time when I first came across the issue of academic integrity. It was October 2010 at the IPPHEAE project (Impact of Policies for Plagiarism in Higher Education across Europe) kick-off meeting. Mendel University in Brno was invited to share its experience with the development of a plagiarism detection tool. At that meeting, I realized that the concept was much more complex than just plagiarism and that UK universities were dealing with issues that Czech universities were not even aware of.

The project identified huge gaps in institutional and national policies, but also many examples of good practice. And, more importantly, a willingness to share this practice and learn from others’ experience. The group of enthusiastic people gathered 12 European partners to apply for an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership project 3-year grant funded by the European Union. We called our project the “European Network for Academic Integrity” (ENAI). Within this project, we have founded an independent legal body (NGO) that establishes a sustainable network and conducts the following activities:

    1. Annual Conferences. After three conferences in Brno, Czechia (2013, 2015, 2017), we moved to Ephesus, Turkey (2018). The next conferences will be in Vilnius, Lithuania (2019) and Dubai, United Arab Emirates (2020).


    1. Training Events. At these events, we intensively develop educational materials and other project outputs, and offer lectures and workshops available to all (one of which was also broadcasted  by the Council of Europe).


    1. Educational Materials. We have developed lot of materials ourselves, but also collated from the internet. A significant part of our materials is devoted to teaching and learning resources that can be used with students in different study contexts.


    1. Academic Integrity Guidelines. These Guidelines were developed with partners from UK to Cyprus and from Portugal to Latvia, with representatives from computer science, biomedicine, social sciences and other areas. The Guidelines include a glossary of terms with explanatory details and recommendations for higher education institutions.


    1. Relationship Maintenance. We have relationships with like-minded organizations, such as Netherlands Research Integrity Network, European Network of Research Integrity Offices, and ICAI. With ICAI, we agreed on mutual recognition of membership for discounted conference fees. ENAI members pay the same fee as ICAI members at the ICAI conference and vice versa. So, if ICAI members want to come to Lithuania, they will be charged as an ENAI member.


    1. Researcher Platform. We are working on providing a set of good practices for conducting academic integrity research and to developing a set of questions, which can be used across countries and over time so the results will be comparable to each other.


    1. Plagiarism Detection Tool Testing. This activity will enable users to determine which of these systems suits best to their needs.

We see that our work is useful and appreciated. Our membership has more than doubled to 25 members from 19 countries. Our close cooperation with Council of Europe’s ETINED platform will help formulate recommendations for all European states. Our mission is to provide resources, educational materials, research evidence and a platform to share and gain the experience from others.

You can follow us on  Facebook or Twitter  and we invite you to subscribe to our newsletter.

I feel inundated every day with news, articles, and opinion pieces written on integrity, teaching and learning, or ethics. Directly or indirectly, these pieces all resonate with my view that academic integrity must be framed as a teaching and learning issue, not a student conduct problem. Yet I become overwhelmed because each piece may only stimulate a fragment of a thought, a germ of an idea, or a vague feeling that “I should bookmark this in case I need it for the future.”

I have so many bookmarks and so many tabs open that I feel like an information hoarder. Perhaps I could be the start of  new reality TV show - Virtual Hoarders - but instead of coming into my house to clean it out, they enter my computer to purge its clutter. Let’s face it, the underlying issue in both cases - whether you are physically or virtually hoarding - is mental blockage or overload.

This isn’t the future I imagined for myself.

So, I’ll beg for your indulgence now as I use this post to do some virtual purging of several “news” pieces to which I’ve been holding on. Stay with me - I think you’ll benefit from this too!

These pieces are all connected by a common theme - the role of higher education in developing ethical citizens and professionals.

You see, in the 20th Century, higher education got caught up in a values war with society, churches and families (read more about this in our Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do book from 2009). Through this values war, higher education relinquished the historic role it had played in developing ethical citizens and professionals. In effect, one could argue that “college curricula have become largely peripheral to moral education”college curricula have become largely peripheral to moral education”.

To be sure, there are colleges that still focus on moral or ethics education - predominantly faith-based institutions. And there are plenty of universities where the student affairs professionals have picked up the mantle to offer students some experiential learning opportunities to develop their ethical or moral selves. However, it seems clear that developing ethical citizens and professionals is not a priority for most higher education institutions.

After all, fewer than 400 institutions worldwide are even members of the International Center for Academic Integrity, the mission of which is to cultivate cultures of integrity in educational institutions around the world. And, Josephson’s Character Counts movement has been largely limited to the K-12 sector of education in America.

I credit this chasm to many factors, not the least of which is this misunderstanding that the corporate or private good of higher education (preparing students for work) is disconnected in public rhetoric from the work of developing ethical citizens and professionals. Chad Wellmon suggests that “the transformation of American colleges and universities into corporate concerns” the transformation of American colleges and universities into corporate concerns” may be the cause of this shortcoming, yet it seems clear that corporations are concerned about the ability of graduates to engage in ethical judgement and decision-making because they list that skill among the top 8 skills desired in new college hires.

So, it seems that the private good of students - developing these ethical decision-making and judgement skills (along with communication, teamwork, critical thinking skills) - is aligned with what we think of the public good. That is, equipping students with the skills and habits of mind that elevate them beyond purely business or STEM acumen is critically important to not just the students, but the welfare of our society and of worldwide democracy.

The truth is, society wants higher education graduates to have the courage to act in honest, trustworthy, respectful, responsible, and fair ways, which includes making difficult ethical judgement calls when warranted by the situation.

In other words, our mission for ethical development (typically relegated to the “liberal arts”) is NOT in conflict with our mission to enhance the employability of our graduates (typically regulated to to the “professional” disciplines). Integrity is not a lofty, esoteric, self-actualization goal but a fundamental imperative for higher education institutions who want to be relevant to the 21st century society.

Integrity, then, is fundamental to the teaching and learning curriculum of higher education and should be formally and intentionally integrated into the academic and student affairs structures and curricula of all colleges and universities worldwide.

So, what can be done?

I propose three critical starting points:

    1. Establish an integrity/ethics infrastructure on the academic affairs side of the house that focuses not just on ensuring academic work is completed with academic integrity, but on supporting faculty and equipping faculty with the knowledge and skills necessary to infuse integrity/ethics into the curriculum;


    1. Reward faculty for attending to the ethical development of their students; and, 


    1. Establish an ethics curriculum that begins with students' lived ethical experiences (e.g., roommate conflicts, cheating incidents, personal ethical dilemmas)  as teachable moments about the importance of ethics, as well as the skills for making good ethical decisions and following-through on acting on them. Once this core knowledge is established, only then should we scaffold student learning toward ethical judgement and acting in their professions, careers or lives after graduation. In other words, we must start from where students are at and move them toward where they need to be. Those interested in employing this strategy may find AAC&U’s Ethical Reasoning Rubric as a useful tool for engaging in a backward-design of this curriculum.

We can do this without sacrificing disciplinary “content”. And it is a moral imperative that we do. After all, as Samuel Johnson notes - “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.”Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.”

Stay tuned for future “news” posts that will continue my quest to purge my information hoarding habit. Next I plan on writing about the teaching and learning strategies that these “news” pieces proselytize and I connect to academic integrity. But know that with each piece I write, I will attempt to live by the sage advice of Matt Paxton, author of “The Secret Lives of Hoarders”, - “Hoarding isn't about how much stuff someone has, it's about how they process those things."