Academic Integrity: An Instructor’s Perspective

Valeri Scott, Information Systems

Ms. Scott made the following remarks during a Teaching, Learning and Technology Brown Bag Workshop on October 23, 2002.

There’s a lot of conversation on campus about “policy” and “process”. In taking the perspective of a faculty member, I’d like to address the process”

The Process:
A long, LONG time ago there was a public service announcement: “lock your car, don’t lead a good boy astray”. I always wondered, “if it’s a ‘good boy’, why would he even think about stealing a car?” I presume the intent was just to take temptation away so that the idea would not even be entertained. I’ve taken the same approach to academic conduct. There may be students who are just “of a disposition to ‘cheat’ “, there may be others that could be tempted, and, of course, there are those that would never engage in academic misconduct. Proper planning and follow through definitely “helps” the student who “may be tempted” (like the “good boy” who shouldn’t be “led astray”), and thwarts the attempts of those in the habit of misconduct.

In presenting what the process as I see it, I’ve decided to use “the eight P’s”: Plan, Prepare, Pronounce, Personalize, Punctuate, Proctor, Persevere, and Perspire.

Know the policy, determine in what ways you will convey the policy to the students and how you will develop your assessments so as to ensure (or at least encourage) integrity.

Develop your syllabus and other course documents (such as your course BlackBoard pages) to include the Academic Conduct policy, decide what remarks you will make at the beginning of the semester and at other appropriate times (like before tests), create assignments that make it difficult (unfortunately, it seems to be never ‘impossible’) to cheat, plagiarize, fabricate, etc. Rather than a pure research paper on a topic, ask the students to establish a thesis and develop a “thought” paper based on research. Set criteria for a project that follows guidelines but that must be creative; make guidelines flexible enough that two students could not conceivably come up with the same exact result. Alternately, when the project, research, computer program, etc. must be of set specifications so that most correct outcomes will be very similar, base exam questions on having done the work independently, thereby having learned the material.

In going over your syllabus the first day, announce and go over the policy in detail, explain the significance of academic integrity, explain each of the individual manifestations of dishonesty. Mention the types of actions that might be taken by you if misconduct is encountered. Ask if there are questions regarding what may or may not constitute misconduct. Encourage students to come and discuss with you individually any questions they may have – either at the beginning of the semester or as assignments are being started.

As much as possible, get to know your students. Convey to them that you have high expectations of both their performance and their integrity. Give students an appreciation of the importance of the material you are presenting and encourage them to get as much out of the course as possible.

Announce and elaborate again the need for academic integrity when assignments are explained and during test reviews – ask students if they fully understand what does and does not constitute fabrication, plagiarism, cheating, and “aiding and abetting”. Encourage them again to see you during office hours if they do not understand or have any questions.

Let students know you will be watching during exams – and do it. Get to class early to check for notes pre-set onto (under) desks. If there is room, ask students to have an empty seat between them. Before handing out the exams, ask that everything be removed from the desk and put on the floor. Let them know that only their writing implement is to be on the desk and that if they need to get into their backpack, they should raise their hand so that you can observe them. Watch the students throughout the exam; if possible, walk around the classroom. Testing in computer labs or other areas where there are visual obstructions create additional concerns that need to be taken into account. Consider making alternative versions of the test, especially for cramped rooms and for multiple-choice, true-false, or short-answer type tests.

Check assignments carefully for various levels and forms of plagiarism. fabrication and cheating. This varies greatly from assignment to assignment and between disciplines. The more you have established an assignment that must show individuality (such as an independent project, essay, or creative work), the easier it is to spot and prove misconduct. When everyone’s output will be similar (such as a lab assignment or exercise from a textbook), it is difficult to spot cheating and plagiarism – therefore, when these assignments are necessary (which they are many times), I make them of a small value and base test questions on having the done the work oneself.

Follow through. This can be time consuming and tedious. Proof must be gathered and documented; you have to be sure that there was misconduct and that, if called upon, you can substantiate it. There may be instances when you feel that counseling is more appropriate than formal charges; but be sure the student appreciates what has been done and why it is wrong. In other instances when acts of misconduct are encountered, you will be filing charges of academic misconduct and giving penalties in accordance with the Academic Conduct Policy. The current system is very “instructor friendly” – for a minor infraction the instructor can award a zero on a measurement and take other action through a very “informal” process. I feel that it is very important that the system remain “instructor friendly” as faculty must feel completely supported in their efforts to inspire and enforce academic integrity.