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Building back better: how to foster an environment of academic integrity at your institution in 2021

Strengthening your culture can help to deter students from cheating

Chukwudi Ogoh
Chukwudi Ogoh
Assessment Consultant, Leader Black ERG






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Academic integrity is a frequently employed term in the educational sphere. Most students and educators understand it to mean taking responsibility for your learning, undertaking assessment tasks honestly and giving credit to others for the work that they’ve done.

Research suggests the academic culture of the institution they attend plays a big part in determining whether or not students will be tempted to buy assignments from essay mills, co-opt third parties to sit exams on their behalf, collude with peers to get better marks and plagiarise the work of others.

All of these practices have become more prevalent than they were back in the analog era. So much so that, in late 2020, the Australian government passed academic integrity legislation to make advertising and providing contract cheating services an offence, one which attracts a maximum penalty of two years’ jail, or a fine of $100,000.

But making something illegal doesn’t make it go away. The dark web and social media groups remain awash with options for students who are not willing or able to do their own work. Meanwhile, last year’s mass pivot to remote learning opened up additional opportunities for the vulnerable and dishonest to do the wrong thing.

So, what practical steps can education providers take to ensure their students don’t compromise themselves and the values and reputation of the institution at which they’re enrolled?

Here are five actions for academics and administrators to consider.

Defining your objective

Achieving a culture of academic integrity starts with specifying exactly what it is you’re trying to achieve. Clearly outline your expectations around honesty, fairness and original work and it becomes easier for everyone – students, staff and administrators – to know what is and isn’t likely to be deemed acceptable within your institution.

Identifying the challenges

In the pre-internet era, cheating typically entailed ‘borrowing’ heavily from an uncommon text or scribbling notes or formulae on an arm or leg, for surreptitious reference during an exam. Modi operandi have become more complex and varied in the intervening years and they’re continuing to evolve, with AI-based writing and source code plagiarism recently joining contract cheating and collusion on the verboten list. Identifying the multitude of ways in which students can commit an act of academic misconduct raises awareness among the teaching team and ensures they’re alert to suspicious signals and behaviours.

Establishing a formal policy

Do students know exactly what is and isn’t permitted and what will happen to them if an act of academic misconduct is detected? They will if your institution produces and disseminates a comprehensive policy document, in plain English. It should outline your definition of academic integrity, the practices students are expected to follow regarding citations and the conduct of research, the process that will be followed if they’re suspected of cheating and the range of penalties that will be imposed if a case is made out.

Underpinning your policy with intelligent tools

Your institution’s academic integrity policy is more likely to be adhered to if it’s underpinned by technology that enables you to detect instances of academic misconduct quickly and easily. AI-driven academic integrity software does just that. It can serve as the ‘big stick’ that makes vulnerable and dishonest students reconsider their plans to buy an assignment from a ‘tutor’ or essay mill, or ‘borrow’ wholesale from the research and writings of others, in the hope it will fly under the radar.

Showing students the way

The most effective integrity policies aren’t just well worded and understood; they’re embedded in every class syllabus and taught explicitly, at the commencement of each semester and subject. Augmented by practical sessions to help students become proficient in citing the research and writings of others, these regular reminders help to ensure academic integrity remains top of mind, throughout the learning journey.