Perspectives V: Maintaining Academic Integrity Online through Fostering a Culture of Academic and Educational Integrity

By Jessica Kalra, Instructor, Health Sciences and Biology 

Image by kiquebg from Pixabay

Early in 2020, students all over the world experienced a sudden, dramatic, and unprecedented shift in their academic world. A whole semester and half later, we have found ourselves preparing for more semesters teaching and learning in the virtual environment. Some instructors at Langara took the opportunity to write about their perspectives on the impact of moving to remote teaching and learning.
Our fifth contribution comes from Jessica Kalra, an instructor in the departments of Health Sciences and Biology. Jessica shares her experiment with “Maintaining Academic Integrity Online through fostering a culture of academic and educational integrity” as well as some tools such as the academic integrity toolkit and the Brightspace Instructor Template.
We look forward to bringing you more Perspectives. If you would like to make a contribution, please contact Jessica Kalra at jkalra@langara.ca.

So much has changed in the teaching landscape since March of 2020. Although the transition to teaching remotely was challenging, the commitment and tenacity of instructors around the world and at Langara has been inspiring. The disruption of this pandemic has created space for examining education, both in the context of online and face to face environments. There has been excellent discourse around the value of education, student engagement, privacy,  accessibility and much more. These conversations continue to underlie the work that is still being done in the shift to online teaching. 

One of the key questions with the pivot to online learning is how to maintain academic integrity. A large part of maintaining academic integrity has to do with assessment strategies and designing assessments to be authentic and engaging. For more information, read the section, “Strategies Related to Assessment Design”  in the  Academic Integrity Toolkit: Encouraging Academic Integrity through a Preventative Framework, (found on the SCAI SharePoint site).  

Over my last two decades of teaching, I have spent a lot of time experimenting with assessment strategies, so I took this opportunity the COVID pivot has given us, to work on another important piece of preventing academic misconduct: fostering a culture of academic and educational integrity. The Academic Integrity Toolkit has a whole section on this very topic, so it was time for me to test out some of those suggestions. In the toolkit, you will find tips on how to help  students understand the meaning of integrity, case studies, discussion questions, and sample activities to do in class. 

In my research for  the toolkit, I kept coming back to these questions: when do students learn what educational and academic integrity means? what it looks like? and why it is important? Reflecting on my own experience as a student, I couldn’t point to any specific class or time. Rather, it seemed to be something that was unwritten but widely accepted. What if a student didn’t go through school from kindergarten to post-secondary like I did? Would they still ascribe to the same concept of integrity? Moreover, when I was an undergraduate student, we didn’t have smartphones, Google and CHEGG, in fact the internet was just starting to gain momentum. When and how do our students learn to create an internal framework of educational integrity in this relatively new, constantly shifting, techforward environment?  The research shows that students are confused about academic integrity, both what it means and how it applies (Zivcakova et al., 2012).

I started preparing for the summer semester by asking myself, how can I facilitate my students to engage with the concept of academic integrity, to put it at the front and centre of their minds, especially while we are online? I had never done this in my face to face classes, in fact, it was never on my radar to help my students internalize what integrity looks like, but here I was at the beginning of a semester online and worried about misconduct like never before. 

I decided to begin the semester with an assignment on academic integrity, due in the first week. It was worth no marks but still mandatory. For a student to access any materials for the course,  including the first content quiz, they had to read through the academic integrity materials available through various Langara portals, complete a reflection exercise, and commit to act with integrity. These activities can be found in the Brightspace Instructor Template course, which can be downloaded and customized for your own courses. 

The key activity from my Brightspace course:

Good academic work is founded on honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility. Academic integrity includes these values along with the commitment not to engage in acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception. Violation of academic integrity – in other words, academic dishonesty or academic misconduct – commonly manifests as cheating in examinations and/or committing plagiarism and forgery, resulting in the student not gaining the necessary knowledge.  Acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the Langara College community and compromise the worth of your work and the worth of work completed by others. 

As a student at Langara, you are responsible for familiarizing yourself and complying with the following policies on student conduct and academic integrity: 

Please be sure to read the policies above carefully and then complete the reflection exercise found below, and complete the commitment to act with integrity

Note that you will not be able to access or receive a grade for any assessments until these two items have been completed.  

Reflection Exercise (ungraded quiz in Brightspace): 

  1. What are 2 things you learned from reading the websites that you didn’t know previously about academic integrity? 
  2. In 2-3 sentences explain why it is important for you to maintain academic integrity in this course? 
  3. Please explain 2 strategies that you are going to use this semester to help yourself maintain academic integrity.

The purpose of this exercise is for  students to learn the terminology of academic integrity, to internalize the information by reflecting on why it is important to maintain integrity in general and in this course in particular, to recognize what personal challenges to maintaining academic integrity may be, and to devise strategies to overcome their unique challenges. The quiz itself is quick to set up, takes no class time, and does not require marking. Since it  is set as a release condition for the first module, even this part is automated and requires nothing from the instructor once launched. 

Although I wasn’t obligated to read through the answers, I was personally, very interested in analyzing my students’ responses. There were 82 students in this class which is in the second year of a professional program. I was pleasantly surprised that all students completed this quiz within the first two days of classes without prompting. Moreover, each student provided thoughtful, quality responses to all three questions. Already, I considered this activity to be a success.

As I read through my students’ responses, I immediately saw some common themes. When asked to extract two things they learned from the readings, 38% indicated that students had learned about the types and scope of penalties, and 36% indicated that students learned of actions that constitute misconduct that they did not know of prior to reading the material. 18% of comments pertained to a new understanding of the meaning and scope of academic integrity, and 8% indicated that students were previously unaware that even unintentional acts of academic misconduct can be subject to penalty (Figure 1A).

Figure 1A

Figure 1B

When further examining the category of statements pertaining to penalties (Figure 1B), 56% of comments related to the variety and severity of sanctions, 21% of comments related to a lack of previous awareness around the appeal process, and 16% of comments related to a previous lack of awareness regarding the Langara academic integrity registry.

Example comments:

  • “I also did not know that academic integrity is reflected in the graduating credential, besides the possibility of suspension or expulsion.”
  • “I was not fully aware of how many outcomes (sanctions) there are for an academic integrity violation.”
  • “I didn’t realize/ think about how an individual not adhering to the college policies, could diminish the credentials of the entire school.”                                            

When students were asked to explain why it is important to maintain academic integrity in this particular course, 42% indicated that the knowledge gained from the course was important to be able to perform effectively in their future career and 27 % indicated the personal importance of maintaining integrity, not only for themselves, but also out of respect for the college and their peers. Another 25% indicated that the importance of maintaining academic integrity was critical for demonstrating their learning. Only two statements were made that indicated the importance of maintaining integrity as a means to avoid penalty  (Figure 2). 

Figure 2

Example comments:

  • “Passing this course or earning a mark or grade through cheating and failing to comply to academic integrity will not only affect one’s self but also affect the safety of our future patients.”
  • “…because in real life, there are no cheat sheets.”
  • “I believe that it is significantly more important to actually learn and understand course content rather than just striving for a good grade.”
  • “…having integrity does not only benefit one’s self, it also ensures that we are respecting other peers by not discrediting their hard work in the course.”

The final question asked students to reflect on how they would maintain academic integrity during the semester.  33% discussed strategies that would be used during an exam or test, with the vast majority of students indicating they would avoid the temptation to refer to prohibited materials by creating a workspace that was clear of these types of items as well as distraction. 19% described a plan to avoid plagiarism. Another 19% focussed on strategies for organizing time and staying on top of work during the semester. 13% indicated they would seek out support from the instructor or other resources to clarify issues as they arise, and 8% focussed on strategies to avoid unintentional misconduct.  Only 5% of students made statements that indicated an ownership for academic integrity such as “ to uphold myself to a high moral standard” or “I will be responsible for my own learning” (Figure 3). 

Figure 3

Finally, I compared final grade averages for students in this class from 2018, 2019, and 2020. No significant difference was seen for the past three iterations of this course.

In addition to the reflection exercise , I also included a checklist as an agreement to act with integrity while taking this course. This checklist is also available to download and customize from the Brightspace instructor template. Before every test, I used a mini version of the commitment to act with academic integrity, specifically indicating activities that were prohibited during that assessment. These mini-checklists work as reminders to act with integrity and the research indicates that reminders reduce incidences of misconduct (Rettinger, Tatum & Schwartz, 2017). I also used anonymous surveys after the first test, at the midpoint of the course and at the end of the course to get feedback from my students including as to whether they used prohibited materials during a test. I shared the results of each survey with my students, and took time in synchronous sessions to address some of the key results. Part of the rationale for performing these surveys and discussions was to maintain transparency and accountability both on the part of the student and on my part as the instructor. Check-ins are a great way to engage students and give them a sense of ownership over their participation and learning (McGowan & Graham, 2009).  Finally, my students and I  co-created a final exam as a way to engage them in the learning process. Using a co-created exam helps to reduce anxiety and has been shown to increase student motivation and sense of self-efficacy (Kenwright et al., 2017), characteristics that are known to reduce the incidences of academic misconduct. 

I recognize that no matter what we do as instructors, it is unlikely that we will abolish challenges to academic integrity. However, taking a moment at the beginning of my course to allow students to learn about and reflect on what integrity means and why it is important, giving them the opportunity to pause and recognize their personal challenges and ways to overcome those challenges puts the onus on the student to act with integrity.  For myself, shifting the focus onto creating a culture and the space to talk about academic integrity, made me appreciate the idea that the concept of integrity can be ambiguous to students and that we can help students to formalize their understanding of integrity in general and as it pertains to a specific course, using easy to implement tools such as a reflection exercise.  When we eventually get back to face to face teaching, I plan to continue to use this reflection activity as well as the reminders to act with integrity before each assessment. 

References and Further Reading 
Kenwright, D., Dai, W., White, B., Smith, J., Collings, S., & Grainger, R. (2017). Co-creation improves pre-exam motivation and self-efficacy for medical students. Medical Science Educator, 27, 651–656. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40670-017-0450-0
McGowan, W. R. & Graham, C. R. (2009). Factors contributing to improved teaching performance. Innovative Higher Education, 34, 161–171. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-009-9103-6
Rettinger, D. A., Tatum, H., & Schwartz, B. M. (2017). This issue. Theory Into Practice, 56, 85-87. https://doi.org/10.1080/00405841.2017.1318627
Zivcakova, L., Wood, E., Baetz, M. & De Pasquale, D. (2012). How do faculty members respond to their students’ discussions of academic misconduct and academic integrity? International Journal for Educational Integrity, 8(1).  https://doi.org/10.21913/ijei.v8i1.782
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1 Response to Perspectives V: Maintaining Academic Integrity Online through Fostering a Culture of Academic and Educational Integrity

  1. Thank you for taking the time to try out these strategies, and for letting us know some of the feedback received from students! Very much appreciated. It is also useful to know that you observed no significant difference in grade distribution, comparing with prior face-to-face offerings of the course.

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