As noted above, one major contributing factor to academic dishonesty is students’ perceptions that they cannot possibly succeed at the task at hand. Creating a classroom culture that signals confidence in students’ ability to do the work of the class addresses that factor and can mitigate academic dishonesty.
Recent research into the psychology of learning conducted by scholars like Carol Dweck and Gregory Walton indicate that students’ and instructor’s mindsets play a significant role in shaping student persistence.
Mindset scholars speak about two different mindsets:
- Fixed Mindset: The belief that someone’s capacity for a certain task is unchanging. Such a view is often perceptible in rhetoric like, “I’m not a math person.” Students with a fixed mindset who encounter a setback in their learning interpret it as a sign that they are unequivocally bad at the discipline and so lose motivation to invest more time or labor into it.
- Growth Mindset: The belief that people are capable of growing their capacity through effective study. Students with a growth mindset are more likely to invest effort into developing their capacity, even after encountering a setback in their learning.
It is important to note that this research does not claim that every student is – with hard enough effort – capable of being a genius in every subject. Our socialization, interests, and particular biologies do impact our success in some subjects and greater difficulty in others. Praising a student’s effort without supporting students as they go about the work of learning is a dangerously incomplete appropriation of the mindset research. (For a critique from Carol Dweck about how some of her research has been misinterpreted and misapplied, see Christine Gross-Loh, “How Praise Became a Consolation Prize,” The Atlantic, December 16, 2016.)
Instead, these scholars encourage educators to make visible to students how their labor contributes to their academic success. Mindset scholars invite instructors to talk with students about the malleability of the brain and the fact that learning is difficult. Some instructors, depending on their own sense of their relationship with their students and the institution, share stories about their own academic “failures” with students in order to trouble expectations that successful scholars do not struggle in their work. For examples of this, see Stanford’s “Resilience Project Stories,” where faculty, administrators, and students share examples of how they learned from an initial failure. Given common, bias-laden social narratives about who is capable of rigorous academic work, adapting a growth mindset can disproportionately benefit students who are members of minoritized social groups (Canning et al 2019).
Intentionally cultivating a growth mindset in the classroom can help to normalize academic struggle for all students. Normalizing struggle can contribute to a culture of academic integrity because it can alleviate student stress over less-than-perfect academic performance and create a context for more honest conversations about how learning works.