July 2020

As academic integrity practitioners, we often talk about academic integrity and assessment design. We make checklists of things faculty should and should not do to foster honest student work. We talk at them, and insist that faculty take on the additional burden of following whatever academic integrity policy is in place at your institution. But when was the last time we listened to their needs and concerns?

One of the best ideas from the last ICAI Annual Conference was a Faculty Listening Tour. This is an opportunity to engage your faculty, and build trust with them as stakeholders. While you should always include faculty in the creation of an institution’s policy, the relationship should not end when the policy is enacted. Instead, it is our responsibility to continue to develop trust.

As you check in with faculty, you can address what challenges they face in their courses. Do they know where the resources are located, and are they interested in learning more? What can the academic integrity practitioner do to support the faculty’s needs while continuing to uphold the integrity of the institution?

If you are interested in conducting your own Faculty Listening Tour, here are a few tangible steps to get you started:

  1. Create your own proposal with specific learning objectives. Remember, though, that the purpose of these meetings will not be for you to present on the institutional policy. Rather, you are attending these meetings to listen to faculty concerns and build trust.
  2. Contact the department heads and ask if you can join a previously or regularly scheduled department meeting. You may want to attach the proposal to the request.
  3. Schedule what meetings you can, as you can. Some faculty may not have room for you until later in the semester. This process will likely not be done before the start of the next academic year.
  4. Be open to feedback. Your faculty may love the policy at your institution, and regularly report. However, maybe there are legitimate concerns about the policy, or about how these issues may impact a student. You are there to learn how you can support the faculty.
  5. Consolidate the information you gather at each meeting. Using your learning objectives from step 1, see what you have learned from each unit you are able to speak to, and if there need to be any changes, you can address them when the Listening Tour is complete.

Academic integrity continues to be a problem across all disciplines that require intensive writing and extensive student projects. From my experience tutoring two students in the STEM field, I have witnessed their struggle with academic integrity and observed their development with keen interest. Specifically, both students find it challenging to understand the policies and expectations around academic integrity, specifically around plagiarism. This resulted in their failure to complete their courses successfully.  To reduce their chances of academic dishonesty, they reached out for tutorial support. Academic programs that emphasize academic integrity are more likely to have students who understand what is being asked of them and who espouse these values.

Nevertheless, as we know, not all experiences are equal. I intend to share my students’ stories with educators around the world so that they, too, can leave a positive mark on their students who may face the same challenge. This post will briefly highlight the students’ background, identify specific challenges they faced, discuss observations and developmental strategies used to help them, and share recommendations for instruction.

My first student is in his thirties and takes a project management course. He is a technician at IBM, a leading technology company, and has more than four years of experience in technological support. His experience and accolades are a testament to his exceptional skills and expertise in the field. However, the technician landed in one of my online writing classes. He asked for extra tutoring on writing skills. He strongly pleaded for specific training on citing and crediting the authors’ work, reporting that he got an F grade the previous semester because of this. He reports he felt “intimidated” by the work. The technician enrolled again in the project management course this summer to give himself a second chance. When asked to submit a weekly article review with APA citations and at least two peer-reviewed articles, he felt “overwhelmed” again. Since June, I have been working with the technician sharing tips and demonstrating how to compose reviews, reports and include proper references.

The second student is in his forties and takes an engineering management course in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. He is a bioengineer working with hospitals with over ten years of mechanical engineering experience. As the technician, the engineer is a well-renowned expert in his field. Although the engineer had ten years in the field, he reports there is “low demand” for extensive writing in his work and describes the engineering management class as “tedious.” Unlike the technician, the engineer had some exposure working in groups to produce project portfolios for designing high-tech devices such as smart pill bottles. However, he explains he has not had much practice with academic writing, which jeopardized his grades. I have been working with the engineer since May, building upon his knowledge and guiding him through the process of quality academic writing.

My strategies with both students are very similar. I use emotional support strategies and offer supplemental resources for them to explore, such as Purdue University’s citation guidelines. During my first online meeting with them, I shared my concern and empathy for their frustration with academic writing and explained that many students across multiple disciplines face the same challenges. STEM students are not alone. However, all STEM students who find themselves in this situation must take active responsibility to find help and avoid risky short cuts such as reusing their own past work as in one of the engineers’ assignments. Finding tutors who can help with and train students in proper academic writing is one great option these students chose.

In addition to emotional support and exploration of online resources, I supplement my instruction with the use of graphic organizers for writing papers or reports. For example, the technician knows a lot about how software designers develop websites and launch them for use by organizations. He used the knowledge from his work to explain the process in detail, ‘filling in the blanks’ of the graphic organizer. To properly cite a source in writing, he would have

  1. A topic sentence or argument,
  2. A quote or evidence from your source,
  3. An in-text citation,
  4. An explanatory sentence, and
  5. A concluding sentence.

Graphic organizers and similar tools help my students develop a rhythm for writing academic papers. This strategy also worked well for the engineer’s weekly article review and final project papers. He was able to ‘fill in the blanks’ and refine his work with me to make it more presentable. As a result, both students are now at a better place, reporting better grades and good standing to pass their courses.

I encourage educators at all levels to adopt strategies like those I use with students. The use of emotional support, graphic organizers, and supplemental resources have shown to be effective in empowering students in producing quality academic work. My STEM students, in particular, struggled with writing at first but benefited immensely from these strategies.

Mahal Miles, (pictured, photo credit Hamza Molvi ) is a 3rd year economics major at Oregon State University. Mahal offers her perspectives on academic integrity as a follow up to Isaac Parham’s recent post, and provides several research articles as additional resources for our readers. 

Another Student’s Perspective: A response to Issac Parham’s spotlight post

Isaac contributed some thought-provoking points to the academic integrity discourse. I am moved to build upon Isaac’s analysis. I will identify who students are and how students make decisions about cheating. Finally, I will explore what faculty, institutions, and students can do.

Who Are Students

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a strange reality for everyone. Coursework is restructured to continue remotely, meaning that students have the same academic responsibilities despite simultaneously facing challenges in terms of meeting basic needs.

Under normal, pandemic-free circumstances, 25% of students experience food insecurity (Shelnutt et al.). And now, with social distancing mandates, jobs are disappearing. It can be hard to prioritize academics when you are worried about food. Students may also have additional challenges with housing during this pandemic. Before COVID-19, housing insecurity was greater among college students than the general population (Broton et al.). Students are more likely to live in informal situations, sharing rooms and units with others. This can create uncertainty in that roommates may have contact with people out in the community. Imagine doing homework when you are worried about your roommate exposing you to COVID-19!

Students are humans who are navigating academics, work, and life during a time of crisis.

How Students Make Decisions About Cheating

Isaac mentions that remote learning may increase academic misconduct. I agree that some cheating behavior is based on opportunity. However, my review of literature suggests that remote learning may not increase opportunities for students in the way that Isaac assumes. Since most cheating occurs when students panic, and there are fewer opportunities for panic cheating in the remote setting, we may not see significant increases in misconduct (Grijalva et al.). There has not yet been a large-scale study which examines the effects of remote learning on plagiarism (Jamieson et al.).

Cheating may reflect the higher stakes faced by students in a time of crisis. Imagine a student without secure housing who is completing an exam from a McDonald’s parking lot in order to access internet connection. This same student may need to pass their course to maintain satisfactory academic progress and financial aid—they may be more at risk of using references to complete the exam.

Like everyone, students are doing their best to get by in the face of adversity. For some, the decision to cheat is rational, even if it falls outside of other people’s expectations about moral behavior.

What Faculty Can Do

Instead of concentrating on catching students who engage in misconduct, instructors could instead shift their focus to learning measures. There are ways to keep honest students honest: writing an additional test version decreases the probability of cheating by an estimated 25%. A simple warning before each assignment or exam is shown to reduce cheating by 12.5% (Kerkvliet et al.).

While shifting to digital proctoring and using same testing strategies is a natural pivot, it has significant risks. Software like ProctorU imposes an unexpected financial burden on students. It collects biometric data such as facial recognition and keystroke measurement. The surveillance associated with facial recognition has historically affected minority communities disproportionately (Guariglia).

What Institutions Can Do

Universities can lower the stakes of measuring achievement through grades during this global crisis. Universities conscious of equity—including Oregon State, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, Princeton, and others—have expanded “pass/fail” options. From my perspective as a student, passing a class during this time of crisis is the achievement, not the grade.

What Students Can Do

Students have the best chance of succeeding academically when basic needs are met. SNAP and Unemployment are financial resources that students may find helpful. Tools to manage mental wellness, like the Sanvello app, offers students access to mental health support.

Academic Integrity Training for Students and Faculty
GVSU’s Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution
Anthony T. Williams, Jr.

Holding students accountable for academic misconduct has been a priority for colleges and universities since the beginning of higher education. Faculty expect and trust that their students will honestly complete work independently as they pursue their academic studies. Like many universities, Grand Valley State University (GVSU) understands that we must use a multifaceted approach to address academic misconduct effectively.  In addition to the facilitation of a  restorative, socially just, and educational conduct process, GVSU’s Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR) provides students and faculty a variety of academic integrity workshops to prevent academic misconduct.

College courses are fundamentally different and, in many cases, more complicated than what most high school students experience. In preparation for this difference, colleges and universities must proactively prepare students for this change. Our general workshop, Avoiding Academic Misconduct, provides students with an opportunity to explore and fully understand our academic integrity policies, students

  • Learn the specific policies they are being held accountable for
  • Gain an introduction to the student conduct process should any allegations arise
  • Identify the potential harms of academic misconduct and restorative measures should they be found in violation of any policy.

Knowing this information up front has proven to be a deterrent in students committing academic misconduct. This workshop is also very engaging. The workshop facilitator assists students in working through a series of scenarios to identify specific types of academic misconduct and invites students to share how they have avoided or addressed related scenarios in the past. This workshop facilitation technique truly fosters a more engaged group of participants and creates an invaluable shared learning experience. We end the workshop by providing students with a list of campus resources to avoid academic misconduct.

Working with students to avoid academic misconduct is only half of the battle. Working with faculty to ensure that they are promoting academic integrity and holding students accountable for student misconduct, per the student code, is also very important. In collaboration with GVSU’s Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, we developed a Promoting Academic Integrity and Avoiding Academic Misconduct workshop. This workshop provides faculty with the same opportunity to explore and fully understand our academic integrity policies – faculty must know what the university is holding students accountable to and the procedures for appropriately responding to and reporting academic misconduct concerns. We open this workshop by asking faculty, “How do faculty help students cheat?” This question highlights the primary focus of this workshop – promoting academic integrity. We invite faculty to share how they communicate their expectations, how they design their assignments, and how they assess student learning, all while keeping student learning and academic integrity at the core. This dialogue was especially important as we transitioned to 100% online classes in response to COVID-19. Like the student workshop, we invite faculty members to share how they address academic misconduct within their specific disciplines and end the workshop with campus resources.

The data from our assessment efforts have been consistent across all workshops. Both students and faculty have shared that they benefit from understanding our policies and procedures, the opportunity to learn from their peers during the workshop, and the list of campus resources provided by the OSCCR facilitator.