April 22nd, 2015

Promoting Academic Integrity: Are We Doing Enough?


Cheating continues to be a pervasive problem in college courses. Institutions have policies designed to prevent it and faculty employ a range of strategies that aim to catch those who do. And still the problem persists. A study at a university in Australia, where it is the students’ responsibility to read and follow the academic integrity policy, found that only 50% of the students said they read the policy. Nonetheless, 80% rated their understanding of plagiarism 7 or above on an 11-point scale. However, when asked to identify a set of behaviors associated with academic dishonesty, their answers indicated confusion and misunderstanding of cheating, plagiarism, and other forms of collusion that occur in courses and on campus.

Could it be that in our efforts to prevent cheating we have failed to also promote academic integrity? Another study found that students understood they weren’t supposed to plagiarize, but they weren’t sure why. These students avoided plagiarizing so they wouldn’t get in trouble with the teacher, not because they really understood what it was or why it was a problem.

I can’t forget the comment of a student who compared cheating to speeding. You know you’re not supposed to exceed the speed limit, but almost everybody does and most don’t get caught. If lots of people do it and nobody considers it a serious offense, then our efforts to prevent cheating have failed to convey how much academic integrity matters. It’s become a power issue where teachers use radar guns to catch a few cheaters with the rest proudly evading any consequences. What’s been lost in the process is the recognition that it’s personal integrity and the viability of the academic enterprise that’s at stake here.

If we wanted to better balance efforts to prevent cheating and promote academic integrity, what could we do? We could talk more about personal integrity. Are students confronting themselves with what cheating does to them? The damage to the sense of self-worth is difficult to repair. Cheaters lie to themselves and they lie to others. By deciding to cheat, these students are telling themselves that it doesn’t matter that they haven’t learned or haven’t done the work, and that it’s OK to pretend to others that they have. And those aren’t the type of actions that make a person feel proud and accomplished. Cheating may improve a grade but the costs to personal integrity are high and far-reaching. Cheating is an addictive behavior that doesn’t stop with one assignments, one exam, or one course. And it doesn’t end at graduation.

We could talk more about the role of academic integrity in the advance of knowledge. What if researchers cheated on their studies? Doesn’t that change what we think we know … and don’t we act on what we believe to be true? Are there some examples you could use from your field? I think we may have made cheating too much of a local issue—something students should not do in courses. The reasons for academic integrity are so much larger. The implications may start with citing a source not consulted but can end with credibility compromised and sometimes careers destroyed.

Teachers need to exemplify high standards of academic integrity. Small actions can exemplify those standards. Tests, papers, and other assignments are returned when promised. Posted office hours are kept. Electronic queries are answered within a specified time period. Content details are not fudged. Mistakes are acknowledged and corrected.

I see two barriers to what I’m proposing here in terms of how we can address the imbalance between preventing cheating and promoting academic integrity. First, we need more concrete examples of things teachers can do to promote academic integrity. Second, rather than tell students that academic integrity matters, it is always more powerful if there’s an activity that enables students to make that discovery for themselves. Can you help out? Are there specific activities you use, not those that prevent cheating (which, of course, we need to continue doing), but actions that demonstrate why academic integrity matters, both personally and professionally. Please share your approach.

Gullifer, J. M., and Tyson, G. A., (2013). Who has read the policy on plagiarism? Unpacking students’ understanding of plagiarism. Studies in Higher Education, 39 (7), 1202-1218.

Power, L. G., (2009). University students’ perceptions of plagiarism. Journal of Higher Education, 80 (6), 643-662.

  • guest

    In my syllabuses, I define plagiarism as a "combination of theft and fraud." I don't know if it has any effect, but I like to think it at least makes potential cheaters think twice.

  • Perry Shaw

    YES!!! Thank you Maryellen.
    Too often we view things negatively (preventing cheating, etc.) rather than positively (promoting academic and personal integrity).
    If we view our education as formation rather than simply information, as a process of preparing them for a successful life, then discussing the broader implications of integrity as the foundation for trust building and relational health (I think) will place us in a better position to deal with the details of cheating, plagiarism, and the like.
    At our school we have an introductory purpose statement to our "Academic Integrity" policy, in which we explain how important integrity is, and that academics are a great place to learn about integrity. Many of us bring elements of this more positive approach into our course syllabi.
    When students breach policy we have a "first time grace" approach, where "culpable" students are required to sign an "integrity" contract in which the principles of integrity are reiterated, and the details of the policy are enumerated. The student must read this contract out loud with a member of the Registrar's office. The student then must explain in his or her words the meaning, and sign the contract (countersigned by the Registrar). Only subsequent breaches are treated harshly. In other words we see the process as an opportunity for holistic formation and integrity development.

    • Melissa Hudler

      "If we view our education as formation rather than simply information,. . ."–EXCELLENT thought! I'm working on my university's integrity campaign–primarily academic integrity, but personal integrity, as well–and think that the value conveyed in your statement would be very useful to conveying the overall purpose of the campaign. May I quote you? If so, please provide me with the identifying information you would like me to use. My email is melissa.hudler@lamar.edu.

  • C.Aponte-de-Hanna

    It is a real headache for teachers to have to deal with plagiarism issues – especially in the era of student retention! One way to make plagiarism less prevalent is to assign sections of a project throughout the term, so students can revise and edit (not just for grammar – but for referencing!) before they submit their final draft. Checklists are definitely helpful – but students need to get a feeling of what plagiarism looks like in their own work to check their work against criteria and to be able to follow ethical strategies to avoid committing it. In addition, SafeAssign or TurnitIn cannot be the vanguard tool teachers/administration use to spot plagiarism or the tutor for students on how to cite, how to avoid patchwork or how to paraphrase and summarize. It has to be an organizational effort – librarians, learning/writing centre staff, administration, faculty, and students. With more and more international/second language students entering higher education, we cannot place the blame on cultural practices or lack of language skills. We are all responsible. We need strategies to deal with ALL variables; we need to agree on those strategies; policy needs to be universal in design, and students cannot be the only ones to blame.

  • Wayne C. Stuart, MD

    There are many examples of the importance of academic integrity in medicine, but one of the most egregious is that of Andrew Wakefield. His study started the anti-vaccine movement. Despite the study being repudiated by the Lancet, and having Dr. Wakefield's medical license revoked, he is still cited by many. The harm to the children in California who recently contracted measles in unconscionable.

  • sapeters

    I salute Perry Shaw's counsel to approach the subject of plagiarism from a positive, informing approach rather than a fearful, punitive one. I also agree with C. Aponte-de Hanna that we "cannot place the blame on cultural practices or lack of language skills." But is the "blame" approach the one to take? I teach Developmental Writing & Grammar to international students at the university level. I have found that a first "real" assignment that asks them to write about their educational background and especially when, how, and from whom they learned English, what methods were used, was their teacher an L1 or L2, etc., and what they were told about copying, what are their work/study habits with their fellow students was a great investment in time. Students get to tell their stories, and you can learn a tremendous amount from them. Many, if not most, did not have copying or plagiarism explained to them; they have received little, if any, writing instruction in either English or their L1, and what instruction they have received tended to center on copying the works of known writers and exposure only to their L1 method of essay organization. They are, essentially, clueless upon arrival. And should the Instructor not know or think (or care) to take that into account, or to familiarize him- or herself with some basic info about students' L1's, then the opportunity for miscommunication increases exponentially. An additional benefit of the "Learning English" essay is that they lose themselves in the written telling of their story, so you are provided with a solid example of their level of English writing skills and deficiencies. It helps focus on grammar needs and, more importantly, it is a benchmark against which to compare progress or "progress", i.e.: when you suspect the writing is not original with the student. That is when TurnItIn or Grammarly or Google can be your friend. But before jumping right into the subject of plagiarism on Day 2 of 3, it helps to get a feel for your students, and to spend time over the first weeks of each semester to talk about, explain, read about plagiarism.

  • marktimbrook

    Our office provides a faculty development online course on Academic Integrity. The course outlines the types of cheating, how to combat it, and also provides guidance on how to shape students that don't want to cheat. It also provides examples of a course, department, and college honor codes. We provide a fast-track face-to-face course too. We will also direct our online faculty to read this article …thanks Dr. Weimer.

    • Chris Heyer

      Could you send me a link to this online course – or the course outline. We are in the process of developing this sort of training.


      Chris Heyer, Yavapai College

  • Michael Maguire

    Thank you, Maryellen! Thought-provoking! I lean (mostly) toward your observations about teachers needing to exemplify academic integrity. My thinking about cheating has evolved in my 20+ years of teaching college undergraduates. For me, it comes down to two things: priorities and trust. By priorities, I believe my top priorities – as an undergraduate instructor – include my own rigorous preparation of curricula, assignments and engaging lessons, my regular availability for and follow-up with my students [i.e., I really enjoyed your references to when and how we return students' work (always a personal/professional challenge for me), keeping (and being flexible with) office hours, prompt responses to electronic queries, etc.], and my stewardship of our instructor-student relationships. And, what I mean by trust is what follows when I tend to those priorities. I can put a lot of time, energy, effort and planning into preventing cheating. I don't. I trust that, with a significant majority of my focus on teaching (and for the most part), cheating takes care of itself. If students cheat, it catches up with them. Pretty much 100% of the time. Maybe not this semester. Maybe not in my class.

    I should qualify my remarks by noting how much I appreciate the content I teach, as it invites me to cover some of the academic integrity issues you point to. Our undergraduate major is Community & Nonprofit Leadership. Our curriculum includes cultivating relationships, understanding group dynamics, leadership development (including leadership ethics), community- and mission-centered service, empowering voices of those who are traditionally under-represented, and more! Over the years, I have found that we attract students who have a strong sense of personal integrity. In fact, every now and then, if a student comes along who is a regular cheater, who doesn't pull her/his weight on group projects, who is always looking for the easy way out of responsibility, our students seem to exert a positive peer pressure on those classmates! Really!

    Thanks, again, for the topic and dialogue!

    – Michael Maguire, Faculty Associate
    UW-Madison School of Human Ecology

  • dave porter

    Higher education involves many different activities. Often these activities have one of two goals: to coerce students to act in a particular way or to inform (and empower) them to act on their own. Coercion is an outside-in process. We as faculty members and administrators set up situations, then monitor the behaviors of others. This approach is generally not appreciated by students, nor does it have much lasting impact. Unfortunately, coercion seems to be the implicit foundation of a large part of our conversations about "cheating". We make rules (sometimes rather arbitrarily), then seek to punish the students we catch transgressing them. We tell students, as well as ourselves and one another, that this is good for them. I'm not sure there is evidence to support this contention.

    Having a conversation with classmates about the best answer to quiz questions seems to me to be the kind of activity that can be very valuable educationally but is often labeled as "academic dishonesty". In discussions with classmates, students actually learn about learning as well as the material itself. As a byproduct some students also learn how to take multiple choice tests. If such activity is against the rules, it is considered "cheating." However, in most of my courses, I use quizzes and intentionally allow students to retake these quizzes in groups and offer small bonuses for their collective performance after they have completed the quiz individually. The general student response to this procedure is nearly always positive and knowing that I will be using this method allows me to write more challenging questions. Class conversations at the conclusion of the activity can be very lively and enlightening.

    How about writing and plagiarism? Does the activity of writing one's own paper actually have any inherent educational value or is it just another example of an arbitrary rule we impose to increase control? What is the evidence? Several years ago, a brilliant undergraduate of mine set up an experiment to test this notion. She was the TA for two sections of an introductory course I teach in composition and critical thinking here at Berea College. I require students to post brief reflections on Moodle on a weekly basis throughout the semester – I also ask students to review and respond to others' posted essays from the previous week. The experiment the student devised involved the CLOZE procedure. Each of the 30 students in the two sections were given 5, 100 word writing samples and asked to fill in the blanks which had replaced every fifth word in each of the 5 essay excerpts. Two of the essays were of the student's own writing and two were selected from essays of other students which the student had critiqued. The fifth sample was a similar essay from a student in a previous class, none of the students had seem before. One of the two "read" and one of the two "written" samples was from the previous week, and the other was from about 5 weeks earlier.

    The results were clear and compelling: The base rate of filling in words for an essay excerpt students had never seen before was about 50%. The percent correct for something that had been read was about 75%, but dropped to about 60% if it was from 5 weeks earlier. However, for the two essays students had actually written themselves, average scores were between 80 and 85% correct even after 5 weeks. The process of collecting and organizing one's own thoughts and expressing them, albeit imperfectly, has a profound and lasting effect on the mind. Memory is the residue of thinking and writing requires thinking. The material that is retained from previous lessons becomes the stuff from which new learning is constructed. Students who work their way through college by cutting and pasting the words of others, ultimately cheat themselves out of the education they've purchasing.

    Basically, sharing these results with the students who had participated in the experiment brought to light the many positive reasons why writing, even though it can be a struggle, has great educational value. I should also admit that students also realized that the results of this experiment suggested that anything they claimed to have written could be CLOZED and they could be asked to provide evidence of their authorship by filling in the blanks at a much later date.

    Integrity is important, but we need to find ways to help students discover this through their own experiences rather than impose it from the outside.

    • barnes021547

      You maker some excellent points. Faculty in general are great prosletyzers for "critical thinkng" from students, but often don't seem to apply the same intellectual skills to their own practice. You do.

  • Miren

    I agree w your post on academic integrity. The more "variables" we use to deter cheating, the better. However, there is plenty of the talk about integrity and even the call to Biblical principles and the message, yet students in Faith based institutions cheat at about the same rate as the students in secular schools (any papers on that published?). Therefore, I think the syllabus should offer the level of punishment that will be applied when cheating, and it should be enforced to its fullest in order to send a signal, this is for real. The cost of cheating has to be greater than the benefit of doing it, even the benefit is certain, and cheating and getting caught has a probability associated with it. Thus, expected cost of cheating > benefit.

  • Stephen Ransom

    I think that the types of assignments that we give play a hand in a student's consideration to cheat or plagiarize. When we give assignments that students have no personal investment in, fail to see the purpose of, are "cookie-cutter", tired and worn, are easy purchased because they are so standardized, easily googleable,… this may communicate to students that it's more about jumping through hoops than learning. The bigger challenge, I think, is helping students to become learners who find relevance and purpose in their work. That's much harder (and more important) than managing plagiarism detection and cheating protocols. Yet, how much do we talk about that?

  • Judy Spross

    I do a couple of things in an introductory course in nursing to at least get students to reflect on academic integrity and academic dishonesty:
    1. they do a brief values clarification as part of several self-assessments (StrengthsFinder 2.0, self-compassion survey and a learning autobiography) to promote self-awareness. they integrate these self-relevant findings into a mission tree art activity (see book called, Creating Time, for more info) that helps them understand who they are, their values and strengths and to what they aspire as students (their personal mission)
    2. they know on the first day that I aim to create a learning community in the classroom and that learning, not perfection is the goal; I also indicate that a B minus or B is a perfectly respectable grade (even a C+ which is passing in the course is fine) if they are living their values and responsibilities (many are caring for kids or aging parents, have mortgages, work many jobs or are otherwise striving to meet many competing responsibilities.Accountability is one of the course objectives and I emphasize this.
    3. I administer an online syllabus quiz in which they are expected to review academic integrity policies and then respond to two essay question about how a sense of community in the classroom could promote or impede academic integrity
    4. I emphasize that you cannot lie, dissemble or mislead when it comes to observations and data about patients so their practice in upholding academic integrity is related t/prepares them for adhering to our profession's code of ethics
    5. I do not use tests, mostly journals and one formal paper. On very rare occasions I have been able to point out to students that they essentially plagiarized themselves without citing a prior paper in the course. If the text is responsive to the assignment, I instruct them on the importance of citing the prior paper and revising the assignment to reflect that. If they did not understand the assignment and the text is not relevant, they are invited to redo the paper.

    I cannot speak to their behaviors per se regarding academic integrity, but their journals on ethics in nursing and their final portfolios in the course indicate on the part of most a heightened sensitivity to the importance of honesty and integrity.The majority of students identify important reasons why a sense of community is a deterrent to dishonesty and several point out that cheaters will cheat regardless of the sense of community–much like the speeders analogy in the article.
    Thank you for this thoughtful paper and the opportunity to reflect on things I have tried to build into my course to help students develop their own self-awareness and the importance of being responsible and accountable.

  • barnes021547

    At last some critical thinking and common sense about cheating!

    I retired last year, but I refused to accept that it was my job to act as a traffic cop. It was my job to teach what academic integrity is. It was also my job to make clear the penalties in self-respect and character which results from breaking faith with those who trust them, and by extension, the parents who raised them. However, it is an individual choice whether to be honest or not, and that is something that no professor can do for any student.

    In fact I would argue that, when faculty act as traffic cops, they are teaching the wrong lesson. They are teaching that academic integrity isn’t the student’s responsibility, and that the goal is to cheat smarter, so that the cop doesn’t catch you.

    I would also argue the radical point that the cheating which does go on doesn’t really matter that much anyway. If we believe what we say, that cheating provides its’ own punishment, then cheating, like any bad behavior, is a personal choice with personal responsibility for the consequences. Isn’t cheating unfair to good students who don’t cheat? Unlikely. The students with the most to gain from cheating are the poor students. They may be able to cheat their way from a failing grade to a “D”, but this has no effect on the “A” and “B” students.

    In my Genetics course, I always gave Take-Home exams as a means toward Liberal Education, as well as content assessment (see below if interested). To address the issue of cheating, I included the following statement:

    “Of course, I realize that if you cheat, it is quite likely that I will not find out. However you will know that you have no integrity, and that you have failed your parents, your family and others who have had faith in you. “

    To drive home the point, I required each student to sign an integrity Statement, and attach it to the front of their exams. For anyone interested, “below the fold” is the entire page which students were required to print out and sign.

    Dear Everyone

    I do take-home tests for a number of reasons:
    1.Humans learn best by discussion and argumentation.
    2.Humans learn best by teaching, and learning from others.
    3.Humans produce their best work as collaborative teams.
    4.Science itself is a team effort with the goal of learning the truth by means of skeptical discussion and argumentation. It is my job to help you learn this, not to practice rote memorization.

    However truly “liberated learning” by means of skeptical discussion and argumentation ( the goal of a “liberal education” – otherwise known as “common sense”*) cannot be accomplished by many non-participants simply copying from a few thinking minds. Therefore the fundamental rule for these take-home exams is that you work in groups no larger than four!

    Please print this page, complete the “Statement of Academic and Personal Honesty”, and sign it. Of course, I realize that if you cheat, it is quite likely that I will not find out. However you will know that you have no integrity, and that you have failed your parents, your family and others who have had faith in you.

    Statement of Academic and Personal Honesty.
    I have worked with no more than three other people, and only with the people listed below. We each contributed significantly to the work. None of us have discussed our work with anyone outside our group, or allowed anyone else to see it, nor have any of us benefited from the work of others.

    Faithfully _______________________________________________


  • Amanda McKenzie

    This article is a great example of why higher education needs to make a shift to promoting integrity at all levels: students, faculty and staff. Despite being an Office of Academic Integrity – the mandate of this unit has evolved to promote integrity in general. Meaning – if you have integrity – you'll likely maintain academic integrity. We've targeted students in past promotional campaigns, however, we found that most people (including faculty and staff) were not really sure what integrity means. Thus, we've build on the values of integrity from the ICAI and created a new campaign: https://uwaterloo.ca/academic-integrity/news/new-… . In addition, we have a staff training workshop entitled "Integrity Matters" – which challenges staff to look at their own personal values and how they apply these in their work, study and play. Higher education has a large role to play in the moral development and accountability of students who will one day launch careers, build businesses, create legislation/laws, and guide the future. If we don't have honesty, trust and fairness – than we truly have nothing. Promoting and upholding integrity in education should be our highest achievement!

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  • Mary-Anne Neal

    I truly value each student's unique perspective on a topic. I've read the research, so I don't need someone else's thoughts regurgitated. I can find plagiarism easily just by entering a few key words into a search engine.

    With all my undergrads and graduate students, I impress upon them that they can make a unique contribution to the discourse based on their own experiences and understandings.
    When I share this approach with my students, they are not tempted to plagiarize.

  • Asad

    Great conversation. My feeling is that one of the things that we can do is make people mindful of their behavior. An assignment I use – and have used for many years now for my intro to management classes (I learned it from one of my professors) is the Honesty Paper. Here is the prompt:
    Each student will select any consecutive 3 day period prior to October 22th, 2015. I will pass out a sheet in class on which you will write down which days you have selected.

    During this 3 day period you are to be 100% honest in everything you do and say. That means no lying, no exaggeration, no embellishing the truth, no “white lies”, no stealing, cheating, no breaking the law (e.g. speeding, or parking in handicapped spaces) – nothing that can be construed as dishonesty whether anyone is watching or not. The goal of this assignment is to have you consciously think about your actions prior (hopefully) to carrying them through, and then be able to reflect on them. Note that this is a developmental exercise, which means that the more seriously you take it, the more you will probably learn from it.

    At the end of the 3 days you will write a paper (between 500 and 750 words) describing

    1.What took place, how did you prepare for the 3 days.
    2.What you learned, about yourself and others.
    3.What process do you go through when/if deciding to be dishonest? Is it habitual? How do you integrate your ethical framework? Chapters 2 and 11 of the text may be helpful.
    4.And how you changed from the experience.

    This is not a “night before its due assignment”. You will get the most out of your paper if you write it immediately after the three days are up and the experience is fresh in your mind.

    What does this have to do with Management? When dealing across cultural, political, social, and legal systems in a diverse environment – meta-cognition, which refers to the idea of awareness about one’s thought processes – is critical. This means that you need to be objectively aware of your biases, habits, emotional state, and actions. Being honest with yourself, and with others, is critical to building enduring relationships characterized by trust. Building these relationships takes time and many interactions. Dishonesty – whether intentional or not – can derail this relationship building. This exercise is a simple way to practice self-awareness in one area.

    Grading Criteria

    While this is a paper on honesty – you are not being graded on whether you were totally honest during those three days or not. Your grade will depend upon the quality of the paper – please refer to Appendix A for writing guidelines.

    I have been amazed at the aha's the students have shared – as this assignment gave them the cover to actually be honest and see the results. We then have a debriefing session in class where we talk about being mindful, note that I'm not actually telling them what to do, but more around being mindful about their behavior – this usually gets them thinking about the long term effects of habitual dishonesty and its toxic impact on an individual and on society.

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