July 2019

We know that student leadership can shape academic integrity cultures on our campuses, and we’ve known this for a while. Much of this knowledge has been gleaned from the research and writings of Don McCabe, the founder of the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI). Don, best known for studying the impact of honor codes on cheating, repeatedly found since 1993 that students can influence their peers’ perceptions of cheating but this influence is most likely within the honor code context, or at least schools with existing academic integrity cultures. While there are quite a few higher education institutions around the world that tout their honor codes, many of these institutions are not what Don would have called honor code schools. The real student-led honor code schools (where students are in charge of the system, adjudicate cases, and assign sanctions with little to no involvement from faculty or administrators) are quite rare and largely unique to the United States, and particularly to elite and east-coast universities. So, we cannot necessarily generalize what we know about student integrity leadership in honor code schools to student integrity leadership writ large.

However, students can exhibit integrity leadership and impact integrity cultures in non-honor code schools as well. Don and Gary Pavela talked about the idea of the “modified honor code” school in 2000 and the ways in which students can be given leadership roles in such environments. For example, Don and Gary suggested a student academic integrity council where students can voice their opinions about academic integrity and cheating and can give input into policy, student involvement in case resolution, and a student role in delivering academic integrity education. These are all great suggestions and, I argue, still applicable today but in any type of academic integrity system, whether an honor or modified-honor code system, an academically distributed system (where faculty resolve integrity violations in their own departments), a conduct code system (where academic integrity violations are reported to a student conduct office), or an academic integrity system (where academic integrity violations are reported to an academic integrity office staffed by professional and/or academic staff). 

And, student leadership is occurring in all kinds of institutions around the world. An Australia university is experimenting with Academic Integrity Ambassadors, a Canadian university has studied the impact of residential life student leaders on academic integrity, and at the University of California, San Diego Academic Integrity Office, we have students leading academic integrity as Academic Integrity Review Board (AIRB) members, Peer Educators, Proctors, Integrity Mentors, and soon as AIRB advisors. 

So, it is clear there are growing examples of student integrity leadership, but what we lack is extensive research that demonstrates if and how these student leaders are making a difference. There has been some research that suggests student leaders, even outside of honor code schools, are likely to have a significant impact on student perceptions of cheating, but we know little else about student integrity leadership. For example, what short and long-term impact does the experience have on the student integrity leaders themselves? Are student integrity leaders more likely to become ethical leaders in industry once they gradaute? Does the integrity leadership experience alter the student leaders own beliefs about the fundamental values of integrity? Do students who have peers involved in the case resolution process believe that the process is more fair than when there is no peer involvement? Are academic integrity policies better constructed when students give input than when they don’t? Does student involvement in education really change students’ academic beliefs and actions, resulting in less cheating and more integrity? What kind of leadership, structure and oversight is needed to support these student integrity leaders and help them be successful? Are student integrity leaders different in any fundamental ways from other student leaders on campus? The list of possible research questions goes on and on.

To start to fertilize this research desert, I am issuing a call to budding and existing researchers looking for their next interesting area of study. Come study student integrity leadership at UC San Diego. We’d welcome you. If you can’t come to us, find a campus close to you - or even look at your own campus - to see if there are student integrity leaders whom you could include in a study on academic integrity culture creation or in a general study of student leadership or activism. These student integrity leaders deserve our attention, our understanding, our support, and our applause. Let’s thank them by getting to know them and figuring out how we can help them and how we can work with them to make cheating the exception and integrity the norm.

I love reading about educators who are continually trying to improve the process and the environment for teaching and learning. It is inspiring and refreshing, I think especially for those of us who more often deal with the aftermath of teaching or learning gone awry. When teaching goes awry, students become frustrated, disempowered, or angry and in response, may act out bad choices implemented in an attempt to right what they see as a wrong. When learning goes awry, faculty become disenchanted, disheartened or tired and in response, may stop trying to reach their students. Neither of these scenarios serve our educational missions well. 

So, when I hear about nuggets of good teaching and learning being tried out in practice, I am naturally drawn to extrapolate to how the practices might help to enhance cultures of integrity in the classroom. You see, I believe that academic integrity is a teaching and learning issue, which means that cheating can be made the exception and integrity the norm when we make changes to pedagogy, assessments, activities, assignments and, yes, even to teacher practices. This does not mean that I don’t see the responsibility of the student within the cheating scenario; I do. However, I also believe that if we shift from asking “how can we stop cheating?” to asking “how can we improve or facilitate learning?”, we can both reduce cheating and enhance integrity, thus facilitating learning. You can read more about this philosophy here.

What’s got me thinking about this today? A recent piece written by an educator who experimented with “ungrading” - the practice of removing grades, otherwise known as extrinsic motivation, from the learning process. Now, Susan Blum, the educator featured in this story is not the first to talk about ungrading. Just google “ungrading in higher education” and you’ll see what I mean (NOTE: google will likely change it to “upgrading” so make sure you pay attention!). However, Susan has also written about plagiarism, so I’m particularly drawn to what she thinks and has experienced when it comes to ungrading or other teaching strategies intended to enhance learning. 

In case it’s not clear, the premise behind ungrading is that grades actually hinder, rather than facilitate, learning. While there are many reasons for this type of grade effect, perhaps the most simple explanation can be stated as follows - intrinsic motivation is more likely to lead to learning, grades are extrinsic motivation, thus grades can interfere with learning. So, if we want to facilitate learning and reduce cheating, the question remains - is getting rid of grading the answer?

To be sure, this is a tough concept to sell within our grade- and degree-obsessed global education system. Get rid of grades - are you crazy? How will we certify to external audiences what our students know and can do? How will we compare candidates for graduate school? How will we interpret learning, knowledge and skills? These are good questions - it’s probably impractical to think that we can, en masse, replace grades-as-currency with some other measure of student knowledge, skills and learning. And, even people experimenting with ungrading throughout the term, like Susan Blum, admit that they still have to submit grades at the end. 

Despite grading being a difficult issue to tackle, I think it is impractical and frankly unethical to continue to rely on grades with an almost religious zealousness that is impenetrable to questions, critique and reconsideration. After all, if students (and parents) were not so focused on extrinsic motivators like grades and degrees, learning might be able to take the front seat in their lives and within our educational institutions, and this would be for the betterment of all of us.

The end of a semester signifies the end of a learning experience. How do you describe the experience of sharing and receiving knowledge? When done well, faculty can be proud of facilitating an exchange of ideas that leave students with new perspectives, skills, and confidence. When the semester doesn’t go as planned, faculty are left to examine what went wrong. Often, these thoughts lead to changes in practice and policy to strengthen our courses.

Where does academic misconduct fit? Dealing with violations of academic integrity forces  reflection:

    • What went wrong?


    • How did the instructor/student relationship break down?


    • Was there enough time?


    • Did the instructor ensure students understood the course material?


    • Did the instructor outline clear expectations on academic integrity?

It’s easy to place blame solely on the student. But a student's choice to commit academic misconduct is ultimately a decision made because of or in spite of lessons provided by an instructor. How do we choose to repair the broken trust necessary in a learning relationship?

A student I worked with last semester reminded me of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing pottery with liquid gold, or other precious metals. In learning, as in art, we would do well to acknowledge what is broken. There is beauty in repair and art in reimagining our best.

How do faculty acknowledge broken trust in our classrooms? It’s easy to add more language to the syllabus or to lecture on the perils of academic misconduct, but how do we truly begin repair and give closure to a broken semester?

I suggest faculty start with reflections. In these reflections, take a good look at how you can better serve your students. How can you be more present? How do you see those students who begin to disengage and slip away? How could you alter assignments to demonstrate individual, independent learning?

Then, move on to those who are tasked with academic integrity on your campus, engage with them and consider how you can repair misconduct by promoting integrity. To do this, be willing to be uncomfortable engaging with others in difficult conversations around academic integrity. Also, consider the resources available through ICAI.

As with broken pottery, we can either sweep academic misconduct away, or we can acknowledge broken trust and seek to repair it. Faculty and students deserve the beauty of closure, repair, and the beauty of reinvention.

Koren, L. (1994). Wabi-Sabi for artists, designers, poets, and philosophers. Point Reyes: Imperfect.


Foster, T. (2019). Adjusting to College [Presentation]. Retrieved from St. John’s University Blackboard site

If you do not have google alerts set up to send you pieces on academic misconduct, academic cheating or academic integrity, you might have missed the latest news on the contract cheating front. Legislation being drafted in Australia is set to criminalize the business of contract cheating providers - those people and companies set up to provide students with a way out of doing their own work in college. (I and others have talked about contract cheating several times in this blog, so I won't get into the nitty-gritty details of contract cheating here. But I do invite you to go back through the blog to see any posts you might have missed.)

In theory, this sounds like a great idea. In fact, I have been advocating for making contract cheating providers illegal for a while and ICAI's International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating is focused on educating students and making politicians aware of the need to combat this unscrupulous and unhelpful industry. To be sure, what is legal isn't always ethical, but it seems right to put our values behind our actions and to call out and ostracize contract cheating providers so that our students (and parents) know that this is not the strategy they should use when they are struggling with academic work or competing for the top grades or top prizes in education. So, I am a big supporter of any legislation that tackles this issue, as I am a big supporter of any university that is working to combat contract cheating in other ways like improving instruction, adapting assessments to the twenty-first century, and prioritizing quality teaching and learning above profits and graduation rates.

However, the worry in Australia over this proposed legislation is that parents, friends and legitimate tutors may get "caught up" in the law. You can see an overview of the draft bill here, and the section of particular concer reads as follows: the "Proposed new section 114A of the TEQSA Act would make it an offence to provide academic cheating services, where the assignment, work or examination is a required part of a course of study. Cheating services include: completing an assignment or other work for a student; providing any part of a piece of work or assignment; providing answers for an examination; [and] sitting an examination." The alarm bells are ringing over the phrase "providing any part of a piece of work or assignment"  - will that mean that a writing center tutor in a university would be criminally liable if they help a student as they do now? What if a parent or friend proof-reads a paper and makes suggestions for rewording or incorporating new material? These are valid questions, but at the same time we know from the contract cheating research being conducted in Australia that friends and family members are very common sources of contract cheating providers, so excluding them from the legislation doesn't seem ethical or logical.

I think the alarm bells might be a bit premature and perhaps, well, alarmist. Do people really think that the government would go after a tutor employed by a university if they were providing services as trained to provide by the university? Or a parent who merely made proof-reading type suggestions? I don't think they would, but I guess it depends on who is in charge. What I like about this legislation is that it seems it would also cover the "editors-for-hire" industry of which I have expressed concern.

What do you think? Should the draft legislation be re-written to exclude parents and friends from criminal liability? Should the legislation make contract cheating providing a civil rather than criminal offense? What would you propose as the key features of an anti-contract cheating legislation?


If Wikipedia is to be trusted (I know, a risky proposition!), the month of July ushers in several celebrations of independence in countries around the world, from Algeria to Venezuela (not quite A to Z). This week seems especially busy with Algeria (July 5th), Belarus (July 3), Burundi (July 1), Canada (July 1), Cape Verde (July 5), Comoros (July 6), Malawi (July 6), Rwanda (July 1), Somalia (July 1), United States (July 4), and Venezuela (July 5) all celebrating independence.

The celebration of independence is, at its core, a celebration of fairness and respect - two of our academic integrity fundamental values. Fairness, in the sense that independence recognizes that the people who live in the country are best governed by themselves, rather than by some distant ruler. And respect, in the sense that independence says "We see you, we acknowledge you, and we value you" as entity with the right to exist.

So, as we recognize and celebrate the independence of so many countries this week, it seems like a good time to remind ourselves how fundamental fairness and respect are to academic integrity, and specifically the way in which we treat students who violate academic integrity. Honor Code Schools might be the epitome of independence (the students "govern" themselves), but those of us not in honor code schools can also celebrate independence and fairness by including students in roles throughout the process, in the design of policies and procedures, and in the decision of sanctions. And, all of us can show our respect to students, yes even when they violate academic integrity, by making sure our processes allow our students to be seen, heard, acknowledged and valued. It is only through fairness and respect, after all, that we can be trusted to create a culture and context in which independence with integrity can thrive.

(Photo credit: Rakicevic Nenad)