academic integrity in online education
Almost 800 business, engineering, education, and health services students completed a fairly typical plagiarism survey. They were asked how strongly they agreed with a statement defining plagiarism as copying text and inserting it in a paper without citing the source. They were asked how often they engaged in this specific behavior. As in many other survey studies, 75 percent of these students agreed or strongly agreed that copying text without referencing it was plagiarism. Eighty-one percent said that the behavior should result in strong punishment, and 84 percent said that they never or rarely engaged in this practice. None of those results are new or particularly surprising.
The faculty members in the chemistry department are confused.
Last semester, the campus teaching center held a series of workshops to get faculty more familiar with the anti-plagiarism tool that the university adopted and linked into everyone’s online course environment. The teaching center showed everyone who attended the training sessions 51 ways that they could help to catch cheaters, based on research conducted by two researchers at the University of Texas’ Telecampus (McNabb and Anderson, 2009). But the 51 strategies are not why the chemistry faculty are confused.
Teddi Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, advocates an instructional design/community-building approach to academic integrity rather than an adversarial approach. Her stint as a police officer informs this stance. As radar gun companies introduced improved speed enforcement tools, the latest radar detectors (often produced by the same companies) rendered such improvements ineffective. “I learned that you can’t out-tech people, and you don’t want to get into that situation. You don’t want to have that arms race. Certainly some security measures are going to be necessary, but don’t get into the habit of relying on technology to establish a climate of integrity, because it can have adverse effects. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being watched all the time,” she says.
In an effort to make my lessons about plagiarism and the appropriate citation of sources more personal for the students in my rhetoric and research classes, I now use an assignment that forces them into the role of victim rather than thief. The results of my most recent experience with this approach were encouraging.
Any effort to fundamentally change a school’s approach to academic integrity requires an understanding of its current organizational response to cheating (Bertram Gallant, 2008). Organizational approaches to student cheating form a continuum from highly decentralized to highly centralized, and most schools fall somewhere on this spectrum. The more decentralized a school’s response to cheating is,
Donald McCabe’ s 2005 article “Cheating Among College And University Students: A North American Perspective” is often cited for its sobering statistics regarding the prevalence of cheating in higher education.
The numbers are alarming and do require a serious response, but have you ever turned the numbers upside down? For example, if 42 percent of college students admit to working with others on individual assignments, that means 58 percent aren’t getting help from others and those students would like you to do something about the 42 percent. If 38 percent admit to plagiarizing, that means 62 percent aren’t plagiarizing and those students expect you to do something about the 38 percent.
In a recent conversation, a faculty member expressed great dismay at the amount of cheating taking place in higher education and the cavalier attitude of many students toward it. His dismay is well founded. Depending on the study (and there have been many) anywhere between 40 to 60% of students report that they have cheated and they indicate a much higher percentage of their peers have as well. The faculty member I was talking to then went into a detailed description of all the measures he took to prevent cheating.
For some students, a writing assignment takes weeks of research, writing and revisions. For others, the ingredients are more along the lines of Google, CTRL+C and CTRL+V. And for others still, the assignment is nothing more than a transaction with an online essay mill.
When students need to write a paper, where do they go? A study released last month on plagiarism found that social and user-generated websites are the most popular resources, followed by academic and homework-related sites. Cheat sites and paper mills comprised less than 15 percent of the total resources used and showed the most significant decline over the period examined.
Consider the following exam day scenario. While the students are taking their exam, you look up from the paper you’re grading and see a student repeatedly looking at another student’s exam. When your eyes meet his, he appears nervous. What should you do next?