February 2022

Imagine yourself outside, in the summer, tending to your garden. You may be pruning back a rose bush, rotating the soil, adding fertilizer, planting seeds, or watering. You tend to each plant with the specific type of care, soil and water levels it needs. You perhaps even enjoy a casual conversation with your favorite plant, spending a bit of extra time with it.

You do this because you know that flowers can’t bloom and plants can’t grow without essential elements. You might even do this because you enjoy seeing things come to life, grow and flourish. Perhaps you do it because gardening provides you with a working meditation, and while you’re cultivating the garden, you are cultivating your mind.

Academic Integrity is not dissimilar to our garden plants. It requires a constant gardener to tend to it, to give it the environment that it needs to flourish, grow and root deep into the soil of the organization. When Moss Kanter (1988) wrote “When a thousand flowers bloom”, she argued that social innovations are naturally “uncertain, fragile, political and imperialistic” (p. 172). So, in order for the innovation to root within an organization, the environment must be intentionally structured and prepared to welcome the innovation. Without such intentional agency of people at all levels of the organization, a social innovation like academic integrity will likely fail to root into the depths of the organization’s soil.

This idea of rooting an innovation within the depths of an organization provides the theoretical foundation for the creation and implementation of ICAI’s Academic Integrity Rating System (AIRS). AIRS, originally created in celebration of ICAI’s 20th Anniversary in 2012, has been recently updated to reflect what we have learned over the last 10 years about how we can root academic integrity and change organizational culture. 

The intent of AIRS is to provide colleges and universities with the essential elements needed to root academic integrity into their soil and to allow it to flourish and grow. In other words, the essential elements for creating a culture of integrity, which is a known requirement for reducing cheating and enhancing integrity (McCabe & Trevino, 2002).

What are these essential elements? In this new version of AIRS, we group the essential elements under 7 components: 

  1. Administrative Leadership & Support
  2. Faculty Engagement & Support
  3. Staff Engagement & Support
  4. Student Engagement & Support
  5. Education & Communication
  6. Policies & Procedures
  7. Research & Evaluation

Think of each component as akin to the essential elements needed for a healthy garden: the water, temperature, soil, bed, fertilizer, winter care, and summer care. Within each component, there are indicators - evidence of the progress of rooting academic integrity into the organization’s soil. Think of the indicators as akin to the signs that your plant is healthy: the depth of the roots, root health, the number of blooms, the vibrancy of colors, the length of the bloom, the quantity of fruit or vegetables produced from the plant, and so on. Each component has indicators of course, but not all have the same number given the power or ability of a component to cultivate academic integrity varies. 

These seven components and their indicators tell us what needs to be in place to create that culture of integrity, a state of the organization in which integrity is so normalized and routine that it is “just the way we do things around here”. AIRS then helps institutions determine how rooted each indicator, and thereby each component, is within their organizational culture. It does this by providing descriptions of what the indicator looks at each phase of change as in the example in the table. Under the Faculty Engagement & Support component, is the Knowledge & Awareness indicator at the Starting Gate, or is it at the Emerging, Developing or Transforming stage?


To return to our garden analogy, the Starting Gate would be akin to you determining you’d like a garden and you’re getting ready to build and fill it. At the Emerging stage, you would have planted some seeds and you’re now seeing some sprouts and sprigs growing up from the ground. At the Developing stage, your garden would be full with plants, but still requiring a lot of care to ensure they keep flourishing, and maybe there is not yet as many blooms, fruits or vegetables as you expect are possible. And finally, your garden at the Transforming stage would be established and healthy, producing plenty of blooms, fruits and vegetables, and while it still needs constant care and attention, it has taken on a life of its own and can withstand the occasional threats or pests as long as those threats and pests are not allowed to spread or persist.

AIRS is a rubric - a self-assessment tool - that enables institutions to dig into their academic integrity activities to see what they are doing well (causes for celebration) and where there are areas for improvement (target points for resources and efforts). AIRS is also a great conversation starter; a quick self-assessment by a key administrator can identify questions they want to ask or people they want to contribute. AIRS should be used at multiple points in time, for example when an institution is just beginning its work to truly assess the institutionalization of academic integrity and then again later when there has been concerted effort and the institution wants to assess its progress.

The updated AIRS will be released later this year after some beta testing of the instrument by ICAI members. If you would like to learn more about AIRS, I invite you to join us on March 10th at 11:00 am EST for our session at the 2022 ICAI Conference. Click here for more information on the ICAI Conference and to register. If you are unable to attend the session, but would like to learn more about AIRS and participate in the beta testing, please fill out this form.


McCabe, D. L., & Trevino, L. K. (2002). Academe, 88(1), 37-41.

Moss Kanter, R. (1988). When a thousand flowers bloom: Structural, collective and social conditions for innovation in organization. Research in Organizational Behavior, eds. Staw BM and Cummings LL, 10, 169-211.

In the last few years, academic integrity and misconduct have become hot topics at colleges and universities around the world. There has been coverage in the academic industry press and the broader media including the New York Times, Financial Times, and major US network news. ICAI remains at the forefront of research and practice in academic integrity and as part of our mission, we have developed the most comprehensive survey on academic integrity available for students.

As described on this blog in August, the survey is an updated version of the seminal work by ICAI founder Dr. Donald McCabe and the revision continues to bear his name and influence. It contains sections on key variables that will be of interest to both researchers and institutions like:

  • A comprehensive inventory of misconduct behaviors, including specific items directed at measuring contract cheating
  • A set of items about how students perceive the academic integrity climate at their school
  • Measures about students beliefs about cheating, including how morally wrong it is, and how easily it can be justified
  • Measures of students’ attitudes toward school that can influence their academic misconduct behavior.

The survey was validated with over 2500 student participants at institutions that include a large US research university, two smaller universities in the US, including one that is predominantly minority-serving, and a large minority-serving community college in Canada. This provided a sample of diverse undergraduate and graduate students to help ensure that the measures in the survey are reliable and valid.

Results of the validation study were strong, indicating that each measure is both internally consistent and related to the other measures in the way that theory would predict. This is the first time in the long history of ICAI that these measures have undergone rigorous psychometric testing. The testing yielded some interesting new findings: for example, we were able to validate that cheating behaviors are generally correlated, so that a student who engages in one is more likely to engage in others. Beyond that, though, the data revealed that there are clusters of associated misconduct behaviors. Contract cheating, misuse of sources, inappropriate collaboration, and fraud all seem to have key aspects in common.

Now for the exciting part! The manuscript summarizing these findings has been submitted for peer review in the expectation that these measures will be freely available for scholars to use in their research. A preview of the results will be presented at the Annual Conference in March 2022 as well.

ICAI has also made the survey available to members as an assessment tool. As we said in August, we would like to “ provide institutions with actionable data to enact meaningful change.” Participating institutions will be able to make comparisons over time and with the other institutions in the survey. ICAI will also be able to speak authoritatively about the state of academic integrity worldwide based on these data.

Non-member institutions can participate in the North American benchmarking study at no cost by joining ICAI. Versions of the survey are available in English (optimized separately for the US and Canadian contexts) and Latin American Spanish. Fee waivers are available to institutions in need. To learn more about the survey, the partner manual is available online here. If your institution might like to participate, contact to learn more. If you are ready to sign your school up, complete the partner portal, which asks about your institution’s survey needs.

Mark your calendars ... February 19 is Plagiarism Prevention Day! Promoting behaviors that can help to prevent plagiarism through both pedagogy and student support are cornerstones of academic integrity. But defining plagiarism and its importance can be a challenge.

Plagiarism has many formal definitions. Almost every institutional academic integrity and research misconduct policy contain separate definitions that range in length and specificity. At its core, plagiarism is a failure to provide credit to the creator of a piece of work. What many definitions lack, however, is an understanding about why attribution truly matters. Curtis Newbold (2016), the Visual Communication Guy, provides a wonderful illustration of the many ways students, faculty, and researchers can plagiarize. His explanations for why each category listed counts as plagiarism often point out the dishonesty behind plagiarizing materials – because a plagiarist is pretending that the words, ideas, theories, artwork, etc. belong to them, rather than the person that created the initial work. Further, it prohibits a reader from being able to follow or trust any argument made due to a lack of evidentiary support.

As we look to prevent plagiarism in our classrooms, pedagogical practices regarding plagiarism must go beyond telling students to “cite their sources” and “not to copy”. Stop expecting students to know why it matters. Tell them why. Help them to see how plagiarism can ruin their future careers. Explain that integrity now, in the classroom, sets the foundation for ethical leadership in their futures. Set them up for success.

Faculty and staff must also stop expecting that students to have the social and cultural capital from their high schools to understand plagiarism. Locquaio and Ives (2020) found that “Students typically had beginner knowledge of citations/references … they could describe what a citation looked like, but not the purpose of citations.”  In every course, teach them what it means to plagiarize. Provide your students with resources and be a positive example by citing your own sources. The Retraction Watch Database shows that nearly 40 articles have been retracted since January 1, 2022, for plagiarism or plagiarism related issues. Forty articles retracted because we have failed as faculty and researchers to hold ourselves to the standards we set for students.

If you are looking for specific practices to help with plagiarism in your courses, scaffolding is one approach that may work for you. You may also wish to help your students develop agency in their writing.

There are many ways to address plagiarism. Tell us how you talk about plagiarism with your students @TweetCAI.