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Starting the Year: How to Establish a Culture of Academic Integrity

Audrey Campbell
Audrey Campbell






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As an educator or institution approaching the concept of academic integrity, it can be overwhelming when considering the many ways in which integrity can or should come into play.

After all, academic integrity is more than an honor code or school policy; successful institutions around the world go beyond simply making a statement around ethical learning and instead create a robust atmosphere of honesty, respect, fairness, and trust. And the research of McCabe, Butterfield, and Treviño supports this notion, suggesting that a major factor determining whether a student will cheat or not is the academic culture of the specific institution that he or she attends.

But on a very basic level, what does a culture of academic integrity look like? And how does one begin? Below are five key components of establishing a culture of academic integrity that every educator and administrator should consider:

  • Determine a shared definition of academic integrity
  • Assess common pitfalls and challenges
  • Establish an institution-wide policy
  • Utilize technology and tools that support authentic work
  • Teach, share, and model best practices early and often

Determine a shared definition of academic integrity

Does your school or institution have an agreed-upon definition of academic integrity? Are the expectations around honesty, fairness, and original work understood by students, faculty, families, and administrators?

Before any meaningful steps can be taken, a foundational definition accepted by all needs to be confirmed. Work with colleagues, administrators, and even students to define academic integrity for yourselves. Download “The Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity” booklet from the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI), which highlights the essentials in detail--a good starting point for any educator or institution. Consider the context of this definition across grades, subject-areas, campus locations, as well as remote vs in-person learning, then put into writing how academic integrity is defined, valued, and approached by your learning community.

Assess common pitfalls and challenges

Academic integrity may seem simple as a concept, but can actually be quite challenging in practice. Before sharing your common definition of academic integrity with your learning community, assess all of the missteps that may befall an individual on their educational path. This is crucial because it gives you a sense of what behaviors or signs to look out for and how best to mitigate risks. And with many schools transitioning to online and remote learning, the temptation and opportunities to partake in academic dishonesty have dramatically increased.

Start with Turnitin’s downloadable infographic, the Plagiarism Spectrum 2.0, which highlights twelve of the most common types of unoriginal work. This includes student collusion (when students work with others on an assignment meant for an individual) and contract cheating (engaging a third party--for free, for pay, or in-kind--to complete an essay assignment). Furthermore, take note of new and emerging trends in plagiarism that have only recently been gaining attention, including AI-based writing or source code plagiarism.

Revise your definition of academic integrity (if needed) to cover any aforementioned blindspots. After evaluating the many ways in which someone may take a wrong turn, whether inadvertently or on purpose, you’ll find that your final academic integrity definition is more comprehensive.

Establish an institution-wide policy

You’re now ready to establish an institution-wide policy that can be shared publicly, deliberately, and with confidence. This policy should include your school’s definition of academic integrity, best practices in producing original, high-quality work (including resources for accurate citation and ethical research), as well as the varying levels of action taken when misconduct is suspected and/or confirmed.

Does your school have an established process for escalation? Does your institution have an academic integrity board with both educators and students offering guidance? Have you updated your honor code to adhere to the new challenges and expectations of integrity in remote learning environments? If not, explore these options in an effort to strengthen and sustain your institution-wide policy. McCabe, Butterfield, and Treviño emphasize that “an institution's academic integrity programs and policies, such as honor codes, can have a significant influence on students' behavior.” (2001, pg. 1).

And finally, work with colleagues to incorporate academic integrity into your institution’s strategic plan. This step goes beyond simply taking a stand against academic dishonesty and holistically integrates your institution’s fundamental value of ethical work into all that it does. Research has found that when students respect their instructor--and consequently, the institution in which they are learning--they are less likely to cheat (Orosz, Tóth-Király, Böthe, Kusztor, Kovács, & Jánvári 2015).

Utilize technology and tools that support authentic work

There are a variety of tools at your disposal that will make your approach to academic integrity easier, tools that can facilitate reflective and analytical thinking regarding student integrity. And when students are empowered to take ownership of their own learning with the use of these tools, it leaves more time for instructors to hone in on issues and concerns that need educator expertise and attention.

Turnitin tools are highly effective and used globally by educators at nearly every level to ensure high-quality, original student work. Turnitin Originality, the new standard in academic integrity, goes beyond simply plagiarism checking and offers robust, detailed information on student work for educators and administrators in order to make data-driven decisions around authorship and conduct. Similarly, Draft Coach can foster an environment of integrity and authenticity in your classroom and can help make the feedback and revision processes easier for both you and your students. As a Google Docs add-on, Draft Coach allows students to access Turnitin’s trusted Similarity Report, as well as new citation checking technology, during the drafting process right in Google Docs, where students may be doing their work.

Turnitin’s Disrupting Plagiarism: Building a Culture of Academic Honesty resource pack is a high-caliber set of instructional resources from Turnitin’ s team of veteran educators, focused on formative interventions when academic integrity is in question. Offering over 20 student- and instructor-focused resources, teachers can use the set as a whole or pick and choose only those resources that fit most effectively into their curriculum.

Teach, share, and model best practices early and often

Along with your course or school’s website, ensure your academic integrity policy is prominently featured on every class syllabus. The syllabus is an essential document that is given to all at the start of the term. It sets expectations, communicates pedagogy and course deadlines, and it is where teachers and students can begin the important conversation around academic integrity.

As an educator, make sure you point it out and discuss integrity explicitly with students and families--don’t assume that they will simply read it and ingest the information meaningfully on their own. Often, conversations around plagiarism and misconduct are difficult and therefore avoided by learning communities and their support system, so it’s up to you to lay the groundwork. McCabe, Butterfield, and Treviño talk about creating a positive campus ethos with their research on how students perceive the moral culture within their university.

Throughout the year, revisit the concept and cultivate an environment of ethical learning in meaningful ways, whether it’s by encouraging integrity throughout the writing process, modeling successful and honest research techniques and citation processes, or offering additional support--in-person or online--as students approach exams and project deadlines. Tricia Bertram-Gallant points out that a teaching and learning approach “challenge[s] educators to situate integrity practices within the goal of improving student learning, in essence shifting the focus from how educators [can] stop students from cheating to how they [can] ensure students are learning (Bertram-Gallant, 2008).

These crucial steps, when taken earnestly and with care, can help to build a solid atmosphere of academic integrity on campus and online. By setting high standards for trust, respect, responsibility, and accountability on every level, a culture of academic integrity ensures that students are developing the professional knowledge and personal integrity that is deeply valued in the workplace.