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Starting the Year: What You Need to Know About Academic Integrity

Audrey Campbell
Audrey Campbell






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New year, new chapter, new opportunities to learn from the past and set the stage for future growth. And as you prepare your classroom or lecture hall, virtually or in person, you may have a few questions on how you can best ready yourself and your students for educational achievement in 2021:

  • How do you ensure that your students are learning the material effectively?
  • How can your institution prioritize consistent, efficient, and fair grading and exam practices across grade levels and subject areas?
  • How does your faculty establish expectations that cultivate responsible behavior and authentic learning, both in the classroom and online?

In order to address any of the above, consider first this overarching question: How do you and your institution approach academic integrity?

What is academic integrity?

Academic integrity is the foundational idea that everyone--students, educators, administrators, and researchers--will uphold the high expectations of academia by ethically conducting research, accurately citing sources, and responsibly adhering to the guidelines set forth by institutions when producing and publishing work. Even in the face of adversity, the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) defines academic integrity as a commitment to six fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage.

Academic dishonesty is a violation of this academic integrity and includes student collusion (working with other students on an assignment meant for individual assessment) and contract cheating (engaging a third party--for free, for pay, or in-kind--to complete an essay assignment).

Academic misconduct also involves plagiarism (when a student attempts to pass off someone else’s ideas or work as their own) and can include any of the following common types of plagiarism:

  • Inadvertent Plagiarism: Forgetting to properly cite or quote a source or unintentional paraphrasing.
  • Paraphrase Plagiarism: Rephrasing a source’s ideas without proper attribution.
  • Word-for-Word Plagiarism: Copying and pasting content without proper attribution.
  • Computer Code Plagiarism: Copying or adapting source code without permission from and attribution to the original creator.
  • Self-Plagiarism: Reusing one’s previously published or submitted work without proper attribution.
  • Source-Based Plagiarism: Providing inaccurate or incomplete information about sources such that they cannot be found.
  • Mosaic Plagiarism: Weaving phrases and text from several sources into one’s own work. Adjusting sentences without quotation marks or attribution.
  • Manual Text Modification: Manipulating text with the intention of misleading plagiarism detection software.
  • Software-Based Text Modification: Taking content written by another and running it through a software tool (text spinner, translation engine) to evade plagiarism detection.
  • Data Plagiarism: Falsifying or fabricating data or improperly appropriating someone else’s work, putting a researcher, institution, or publisher’s reputation in jeopardy.

Why is academic integrity important?

Academic integrity is absolutely essential to the foundations of our educational system. It is the center of morale in classrooms and lecture halls and the key to establishing competent and capable global citizens. It strengthens grading practices because it applies the same expectations across levels and subject areas in creating original work. It protects institutions’ academic reputations. It validates the virtue of a degree by stating, with confidence, “All of the work that this student completed at this institution was their own. They are ready to contribute to our society in meaningful, authentic ways.” If a diploma is proof of learning, then academic dishonesty directly interferes with that affirmation.

Misconduct in a few can discourage the many who are honestly pursuing their degrees. Furthermore, without academic integrity, a pattern of dishonesty can develop early in an academic career. Research has shown that misconduct during school can be a large indicator of workplace deviance later in life. And because dishonesty can be contagious, academic integrity policies must be in place in order to stymie the growing use of essay mills and plagiarism.

What can be done about it?

Educators and institutions need to clearly define academic integrity and emphasize its importance to their learning community. By posting their academic integrity policy on all syllabi and assignments, as well as on their institution’s website and LMS, schools establish the value of and expectations around original work from the very beginning.

Also, research indicates that explicit instruction around academic integrity decreases instances of academic dishonesty, which means educators need to prioritize and implement a specific integrity curriculum. If you are an instructor seeking to ensure that your students are learning the material effectively, step one must be ensuring that all projects, assignments, and exams turned in are, in fact, original student work.

Whether these concepts are deeply familiar or you’re just getting started, now is the time to take deliberate, meaningful steps towards a comprehensive approach to academic integrity, in order to uphold student learning, original thinking, and protect your institution's reputation.