Any good prevention strategy relies on several layers. Today’s cars, for example, are safer than ever, thanks to technological advances such as blind spot detection and reversing cameras. But even with these tools, human choices (distracted driving, speeding, drunk driving) are the The most common causes of accidents. Therefore, modifying these behaviors, while taking advantage of technologies in the service of safety, is a powerful lever for accident prevention.
We need to take a similar approach to preventing academic misconduct in higher education. The massive shift to online learning caused by Covid-19 has led to several high profile case of academic dishonesty in the USA. Not even West Point, known for his strict code of honor, was immune. And the consequences can be far-reaching: academic dishonesty has the potential to undermine the value of a degree, impacting not just cheaters but their peers as well.
Let’s be clear: we will never get to zero cheating in our colleges and universities. Some students still cheat. Stress and pressure – either to meet their own expectations or due to external factors – can cause good students to make bad choices. And a subset can always find the easiest or fastest path through a class.
To research found that students are more likely to cheat when they see their peers do it. When cheating becomes pervasive, students are less likely to view the act as wrong, creating a vicious cycle of cheating begets cheating.
Given the potential consequences of academic dishonesty, it is imperative that institutions transform this vicious circle into a virtuous one. Instead of focusing solely on catching a small number of determined students who cheat, institutions should focus on creating systems (coupled with fair but firm enforcement) that encourage academic integrity. Here are some key points to consider when trying to do so:
1. Quality teaching (and assessment) is the best way for individual faculty to support academic integrity
Types of assessment are important to students. A investigation of 850 undergraduate students by Turnitin found that students believe final projects and class discussions are better ways to demonstrate their learning, compared to exams or assignments. Students also believe that open-response questions (including IT questions) or short written-response questions are better than multiple-choice questions for demonstrating their knowledge and skills – even though most students prefer exams with multiple choice questions.
Some students cheat because there is so much at stake for them – maybe a scholarship, getting into college, or a job. Giving multiple low-stakes quizzes throughout the semester, as opposed to a final exam, gives them more control over what they learn and reduces their perceived need to cheat. And open-book finals allow students to demonstrate what they’ve learned without the pressure of memorizing out-of-context facts.
2. Cheating is much less likely when students believe in the value of what they are learning and don’t just focus on grades
Connecting course outcomes to individual student goals increases engagement and integrity-related buy-in. The Turnitin survey shows that students who expect to use all or most of what they learn in college for their careers are also more likely to label certain behaviors as “definitely cheating.” This includes activities ranging from using unauthorized material on exams and handing out exam questions to students who will take the exam in the future to hiring someone to write essays on their behalf. .
Similarly, students who said their main reason for enrolling in their current degree program was to get training for a specific career or to prepare for college or professional studies were more likely to consider things as “definitely cheating” than students who said their main reason for enrolling was to get a better job or earn more money. For example, 82% of students who signed up for specific training said that looking at other people’s tests during in-person exams was “definitely cheating,” compared to 65% of those who signed up for a specific course. better job and 55% percent who signed up to earn more money.
By creating a learning environment where students feel responsible for themselves – and for their own future – faculty can support students’ desire to do authentic work.
3. Build a common understanding of academic integrity and why it matters
Last year, 200 of 800 students in a statistics course at North Carolina State University were referred for disciplinary sanction for using online “tutors” to answer exam questions. Students said they were unaware that using these services during an exam was considered cheating. This matches the recent Turnitin survey: 22% of students say using unauthorized resources or materials during exams is not cheating, and 23% say working with peers on exams individual work is not cheating either.
Instructors and students should have a common definition of academic integrity, with clear lines between ethical behavior and cheating, and they should clearly communicate their expectations. Faculty and students seem to be slightly at odds over whether this happens: 92% of faculty surveyed in the same survey said they regularly discuss academic integrity or honor codes with students, but only 79% of students said the same.
Just because we’ll never get to zero cheating doesn’t mean we have to give up on mitigation strategies. Having a multi-layered approach (using educational, political and cultural strategies at appropriate times in a student’s career) shows students that academic integrity is important while giving them the opportunity to learn – even in the face of a bad decision. They are students, after all, and part of the role of educators is to help them learn from their mistakes.
Discussions about expectations of integrity can lead to important discoveries about the importance of authentic learning, how to connect schoolwork to their goals and interests, and how doing things the right way strengthens the core values of academic integrity: honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility.
If we want society to value the expertise emanating from higher education, we must demonstrate that our graduates are truly capable of what we claim for them. We must preserve the integrity of course evaluations and subsequent grades. And we must demonstrate to employers and accrediting bodies that the credentials issued by our institutions are valid.
David Rettinger is Professor of Psychological Sciences and Director of Academic Integrity Programs at the University of Mary Washington and Past President of the International Center for Academic Integrity.
Erica Price Burns leads the research practice at Whiteboard Advisors and conducted the survey commissioned by Turnitin.
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