Since many students do not have a firm grasp on what counts as academic dishonesty and faculty members – depending on their discipline, learning goals, and personal academic histories – may reasonably disagree about the boundaries of academic dishonesty, it is worthwhile for an instructor to clarify what they consider to be academic dishonesty in any given class. Once the instructor has clarity, it is important to communicate openly, regularly, and, when possible, collaboratively with students about the norms for the class.
In fact, talking regularly and thoughtfully about academic integrity has been shown to diminish rates of academic dishonesty. In his book Cheating Lessons, James Lang points to research that shows that honor codes work not necessarily because of the code itself but because of “the dialogues about academic honesty that the code inspires.” (Lang 2013) Communicating openly with students about academic norms and giving students opportunities to better understand how and why to practice academic integrity can help build a culture of academic integrity in the classroom.
Transparency about academic integrity is also an equity-inflected teaching practice. Not all students come into college with the same understanding of academic integrity for a number of reasons, including differences in cultural norms, a high school environment where students receive less individualized support and guidance, etc.. Providing clarity and opportunities for students to test their own understanding of academic integrity can help to level the playing field.
When preparing to speak transparently with students about academic integrity, it may be helpful to consider the following questions:
- What sources and experiences inform your understanding of academic integrity? What is at stake for you in these conversations?
- What behaviors do you think constitute academic dishonesty in your class or on any given assignment?
- How do your students understand academic integrity when they come into your class? How have you learned about those perceptions?
- How do you communicate with your students about what academic integrity is in general and how do you communicate with your students about the specific behaviors that contravene academic integrity in this class?
- How should your students communicate with you if they have a question about academic integrity? How do they know the appropriate steps to take?
Different faculty take a number of different tacts when opening up this conversation with their students. Here are just a few examples of strategies that faculty around BC are utilizing
- Highlighting academic integrity on the course syllabus using detailed, invitational language and explaining why academic integrity is important.
- Making time at the beginning of the semester for students to anonymously ask questions about academic integrity.
- Creating an activity, like a zero-credit, anonymous quiz asking students to identify instances of academic dishonesty or a poll using a personal response system, that can provide you with information about student (mis)understanding and allow you to target your conversations.
- Providing specific, clear information about academic integrity for each assignment and making time in class to answer any questions.
- Communicating regularly about the purpose of office hours and emphasizing that questions about academic integrity are an appropriate topic of conversation during that time.
- Providing students with time to reflect on why learning and practicing academic integrity will help them achieve their own goals.
- Tying the classroom commitment to academic integrity to BC’s commitment to student formation and cura personalis, empowering students to actively engage with their own identity and value formation.
In his 1997 study, Miguel Roig infamously discovered that up to 50% of students were unable to identify clear examples of plagiarism (Roig 1997). Talking regularly with students about expectations for academic integrity, the value of academic integrity, and the consequences of academic dishonesty provides a necessary foundation for student success.