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What is academic integrity? | Academic integrity definition

Christine Lee
Christine Lee
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Academic integrity is more than a policy to uphold at your institution. While academic integrity should be addressed in honor codes, it is also important to understand its meaning and uphold it at all levels, from explicit instruction to formative feedback to final assessment. Academic integrity, too, is a set of values to enact throughout a student’s learning experience into the workplace with a lifelong commitment to learning.

What is the meaning of academic integrity?

Having a concrete definition of academic integrity to be used within a classroom setting is important in order to action the term. While it’s easy to define academic integrity as what it is not (i.e., not plagiarizing, not contract cheating, not engaging in AI Writing misconduct), it is important to define it in practical and actionable ways.

The word “academic integrity,” in sum, entails a commitment to honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage.

An authoritative definition of academic integrity can be found at the International Center of Academic Integrity (ICAI), which was founded in 1992 by leading researchers. Don McCabe spearheaded its founding and is credited as the person who popularized the term “academic integrity.” In 1999, the Center identified and described the “fundamental values of academic integrity” as honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility, and in 2014 added the sixth value of courage. Academic integrity, per the ICAI, is a commitment to these values.

How can you uphold the values of academic integrity?

Academic integrity is not only a definition, but a set of values to uphold. The components of academic integrity are enacted in the following ways:

  • Honesty: be truthful, give credit, and provide facts
  • Trust: provide transparency, trust others, give credence
  • Fairness: apply rules consistently, engage with others equitably, and take responsibility for our own actions
  • Respect: receive feedback willingly, accept others’ thoughts, and recognize the impacts of our own words and actions on others
  • Responsibility: follow institutional rules and conduct codes, engage in difficult conversations, and model good behavior
  • Courage: take a stand to address wrongdoing, be undaunted in defending integrity, and endure discomfort for something you believe in (ICAI, 2020)

According to research by Guerrero-Dib, Portales, and Heredia-Escorza, “Academic integrity is much more than avoiding dishonest practices such as copying during exams, plagiarizing or contract cheating; it implies an engagement with learning and work which is well done, complete, and focused on a good purpose— learning. It also involves using appropriate means, genuine effort and good skills. Mainly it implies diligently taking advantage of all learning experiences” (International Journal for Educational Integrity, 2020).

Academic integrity goes beyond avoiding cheating or plagiarizing. Academic integrity is also about maintaining excellent academic standards in teaching and curriculum and fostering impeccable research processes. Academic integrity requires full institutional and instructor effort as well as the vigilance of individuals in the learning process. Not only should students not cheat, but educators offer accurate assessments, and institutions support honest research practices and when applicable, fair discipline.

Is academic integrity global?

In 2010, after years of active participation from international communities like Australia, Canada, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, the ICAI added “international” to its name.

The ICAI, without a doubt, has done groundbreaking work and rallied the world to uphold academic integrity. But it is also important to note that this prior work is largely rooted in the Western world, and there is still much to be done when it comes to promoting academic integrity around the world.

For starters, cultural differences can challenge the ICAI definition of academic integrity.

According to Tran, Hogg, & Marshall, research shows that students who come from rote-learning habits view plagiarism as a less serious offense. Additionally, Western-based plagiarism values may conflict with various cultures (2022).

What is academic integrity in collectivist cultures?

Collectivist cultures, for example, define respect in a way that can uphold mimicry, prioritizing rote memorization above all else. Mimicry itself is a sign of respect. Professor Tosh Yamamoto of Kansai University described Japanese perspectives on academic integrity for Turnitin. Yamamoto states, “Academic integrity is, I believe, a philosophical mindset to reflect the learning mind to the mirror of honesty, sincerity, contribution to the future society, and also scientific attitude and ethics and morals. However, on the other hand, education in Japan is focused on rote memorization and regurgitation and understanding” (Yamamoto, 2021).

In fact, there may be instances in which paraphrasing or adding original ideas to a text is seen as a form of disrespect. Mimicry makes plagiarism a very possible outcome. This cultural context with regards to respect, then, runs counter to intentions of the ICAI definition of academic integrity.

In other parts of the world, citations themselves may be fraught and a sign of disrespect. Quoting or paraphrasing well-known texts without attribution is common in, for instance, the Middle East. Teachers are expected to know sources to such ideas; this is otherwise known as “communal ownership of knowledge.” In fact, this expectation is endemic to such a degree that including a citation may be received as patronizing or even insulting to the instructor (Sowden, 2005).

Additionally, there are areas of the world that literally do not have a word for academic integrity; like Japan, for instance. In other countries like Eritrea, copyright protection simply doesn’t exist. And in Latvia, “the Latvian academic terminology database AkadTerm does not include terms such as academic integrity,’ ‘academic honesty,’ and ‘academic misconduct’” (Tauginiené, et al. 2019).

What is academic integrity in North America?

Academic integrity is a western term, one that many institutions follow, and an ideal that we should all uphold. Still, it is important to note academic integrity’s cultural roots so that educators can support students from different parts of the world to understand how to conduct work within a western framework, particularly when studying abroad.

That said, academic integrity is a global expectation. In our changing, post-industrial world, students and institutional goals include entering a global marketplace of ideas. And it is more important than ever that those ideas be original and authentic.

According to 2013 research, “The education landscape has been shifting towards a stronger emphasis on higher-order level of thinking such as creative thinking, critical thinking, and problem solving as research shows that current graduates lack transcending skills like communication skills and problem-solving skills, which are crucial in the industry. The most important skills employers look for when hiring new employees are teamwork, critical thinking, communication...or innovative thinking” (Ju, Mai, et al.).

Why is academic integrity important?

Academic integrity is critical to some of the following areas:

  • Learning
  • Fostering the positive reputations of institutions and individuals
  • Future workplace behavior
How is academic integrity important to learning?

Academic misconduct, simply put, shortcuts learning. When learning isn’t measured accurately because either the student’s answers are not their own or because the person who graded the essay is a ghost-grader who doesn’t provide accurate feedback, there is no way to support students towards next steps. Students don’t receive the feedback they need to learn. When the work is not the student’s own original thoughts, they lose learning opportunities.

Accurate assessment also provides instructors with data on student knowledge, such as learning gaps that can be bridged. When student’s answers are not their own, it’s impossible for educators to have an accurate measurement of learning and to provide feedback or make appropriate changes to a teaching curriculum and bridge learning gaps.

If this information exchange is muddied due to misconduct, learning is stymied.

Academic integrity also fosters respect for the learning process and is critical for life-long learning.

In their research, Guerrero-Dib, Portales, and Heredia-Escorza state, “Academic integrity is much more than avoiding dishonest practices such as copying during exams, plagiarizing or contract cheating; it implies an engagement with learning and work which is well done, complete, and focused on a good purpose – learning” (2020).

While shortcut solutions belittle education, academic integrity takes advantage of and embraces every learning opportunity. When for instance quotes are attributed, research is acknowledged, data is accurate, and knowledge exchange is upheld and respected.

How does academic integrity foster the positive reputation of institutions and individuals?

Knowledge is a university’s product; academic integrity is linked to education integrity. When students graduate from an institution having learned what the institution’s diploma represents and embodies the values of that institution, reputations are upheld. An institution’s academic reputation is essential to a university community, credibility, and financial stability, whether via admissions or donations from third parties.

On the other hand, academic misconduct scandals can erode the value of a degree. If students are not learning course material, then it follows that their knowledge does not reflect a valid education. Furthermore, in fields like nursing, this deficit can have serious life and death consequences. Scandals, too, have financial impacts on institutions.

In their paper, “The Impact of College Scandals on College Applications,” Michael Luca, Patrick Rooney, and Jonathan Smith, researchers from the Harvard Business School and the College Board, state:

“Scandals with more than five mentions in The New York Times lead to a 9 percent drop in applications at the college the following year. Colleges with scandals covered by long-form magazine articles receive 10 percent fewer applications the following year. To put this into context, a long-form article decreases a college’s number of applications roughly as much as falling 10 places in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings.”

Enrollment is a university’s financial bread-and-butter, particularly for those without large financial endowments. Universities benefit in other ways from popularity. According to Dr. Aldemaro Romero Jr., “The more and better students an institution can enroll, the more it can claim a level of prestige. And if the numbers of applicants increase—because of the perceived prestige—institutions become more selective in admissions. This, in turn, increases retention and graduation rates” (2016).

An institution’s reputation is more important than ever, given the trend of universities closing down, with The Hechinger Report citing declining student enrollment as the leading cause of campus closures (Barshay, 2022).

Attached to a university’s academic reputation is its research component; in the field of research, scandals can stain reputations and impact factors, ending the academic careers of individuals. Research is a cumulative, interactive process, one that must prioritize academic honesty to provide innovation without fraud—as well as provide critical knowledge to bettering the world.

What is academic integrity? A predictor of future workplace behavior

School is not just about learning the content of subject matter but nurturing a love of learning and ability to share knowledge in an equitable manner. And what students learn in school informs an entire life. The friends made in college, the community building within residential halls, study habits, the cultures to which students are exposed on campus, and the quality of mentorship are some of the many components of higher education that can influence a person’s life.

There is an adage, “Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior.”

To that end, numerous research studies show that academic dishonesty in school leads to workplace deviance (Blankenship & Whitley 2000, Harding, et al. 2004, Lawson 2004, Nonis & Swift 2001, & Sims 1993). Those who engage in misconduct during university are more likely to lie, cheat, and steal later on in the workplace (Druica, et al., 2019).

Which can lead to the question of whether or not academic integrity in school upholds workplace honesty. Recent 2021 research states that “Tolerating dishonest behaviors in college seems to support dishonest students who may continue to be dishonest in the future. Thus, maintaining academic integrity in college may increasingly contribute to the credibility of the workplace” (Mulisa & Ebissa, 2021).

While academic dishonesty in college leads to workplace misconduct, the opposite can hold true as well: academic integrity is an indicator of future workplace integrity. It is important to nurture academic integrity early to promote future success and to make clear academic integrity’s importance to students.

What does it mean to violate academic integrity? What are the forms of misconduct?

Academic integrity can also be defined by what not to do.

Despite best efforts, misconduct occurs. In March 2020, ICAI researchers surveyed 840 students across multiple college campuses (the geographical region was not specified). They found that 32 percent of undergraduates freely admitted to “cheating in any way on an exam.” Additionally, they survived 70,000 high school students at over 24 high schools in the United States. In that survey, researchers found that “58 percent admitted to plagiarism and 95 percent said they participated in some form of cheating” (ICAI, 2020).

Academic dishonesty, or the violation of academic integrity principles, manifests in different ways and in different forms of misconduct. Collusion, copy-paste plagiarism, usage of electronic cheating devices, access to online test banks, abuse of word spinners, self-plagiarism (including as a researcher), contract cheating, data manipulation, and the emerging trend of AI Writing misconduct, are all examples of academic misconduct as shown on Turnitin’s Plagiarism Spectrum 2.0 infographic.

All of the above examples misrepresent knowledge, violate trust, disrespect the learning process, shirk responsibility, and are unfair to oneself and others. In sum, they violate academic integrity. And in doing so, they all shortcut learning.

What are ways to uphold academic integrity?

Ceceilia Parnther states, “Students learn what educators value and what we don’t care about—as well as who we hold to certain standards and who we don’t” (University of Calgary, October 2020). When it comes to academic integrity, it is important to set expectations and then model academic integrity for students. There are several ways to uphold academic integrity, including:

  • Academic policies, honor codes, and equitable discipline
  • Understanding who cheats, why, and shepherding students towards academic integrity
  • Variety of assessment types and assessment design

Let’s look at each of these in depth to understand how students can benefit from the framework that academic integrity provides.

  • Academic policies, honor codes, and equitable discipline

Honor codes make explicit institutional expectations. It is critical to show students that academic integrity is important via policies, honor codes, assessment design, support, and equitable discipline that supports the learning journey. As stated earlier, what students learn in school informs an entire life: how educators enact academic integrity is as important as stating its importance.

When there is a university plagiarism policy that is carefully worded, students deepened their understanding of academic integrity. Furthermore, researchers found that honor codes are an effective way to impress the seriousness of academic misconduct (Brown & Howell, 2001).

Ensure that disciplinary action provides opportunities for students to transform plagiarism into a teachable moment.

Instead of a “zero tolerance” policy, consider a restorative approach (Sopcak) that can help students learn from past mistakes and move forward in their learning journey and possibly become advocates for academic integrity. This approach also models academic integrity by modeling the foundational values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage

2. Understanding who cheats, why, and shepherding students toward academic integrity

Students who feel no value in assessments may cheat. Students who excel in their studies but feel the pressure to be “perfect,” may cheat. Students who are struggling and have no vested interest in the subject matter may cheat. Students who feel peer pressure to “help” fellow students may cheat. The list goes on. There is no one profile of a student who cheats. But understanding the push and pull factors of shortcut solutions can help educators mitigate academic misconduct.

Approaches on upholding academic integrity involve systemic, institutional, parental, instructional, as well as student involvement. Building a culture of academic integrity bolsters student courage to stand up for what is right. Some approaches include:

  • Provide explicit instruction on academic integrity and academic misconduct within classrooms to level-set knowledge for students coming from diverse educational backgrounds.
  • Include the definition in course syllabi.
  • And set a foundation for students by creating a sense of belonging.

According to Tran, Hogg, & Marshall’s 2022 research, “Explicit plagiarism training makes a difference. A training session on referencing improved Chinese students’ knowledge of referencing and plagiarism (Du, 2020) and a 13-week course on plagiarism-related issues enhanced international students’ academic writing skills and understanding of plagiarism (Tran, 2012). Perkins and Roe (2020) revealed the effectiveness of an academic English master class on Vietnamese students’ understanding of academic conventions” (Tran, Hogg, & Marshall 2022).

3. Variety of assessment types and assessment design

Offer inclusive and formative assessments with a variety of formats so students with different learning styles can practice and receive feedback while failing safely.

Assessment design is widely regarded as one of the most effective ways to mitigate misconduct and help students understand the relevance of assignments, quizzes, tests, or exams. Creating assignments, quizzes, tests, exams, projects, and all the ways to measure learning outcomes are a critical component to upholding academic honesty. Ensuring that assessments are designed to be inclusive and test what has been taught is one way to model integrity. A variety of formats and frequent, low-stakes assessments ensure that students feel supported.

To that end, provide frequent, low-stakes assessments to support student learning. Consider replacing high-stakes exams with low-stakes assessments. Design assessments that test what has been taught in order to lower student stress and increase fairness. Consider designing questions specific to your course or class discussions and avoid generic questions so as to avoid contract cheating. Provide rubrics so that students understand the relevance of the assessment to their learning.

Conclusion: What is academic integrity?

Finally, there are plagiarism detection or similarity tools like Turnitin Feedback Studio. These are a backstop solution to academic dishonesty and should not be a first step in upholding academic integrity in the classroom. They can, however, act as a deterrent and if needed, provide data for Courageous Conversations about misconduct with students.

In sum, academic integrity is a concept that must be backed up by institutional policies, curriculum, teaching interventions, assessment design, and feedback loops that strengthen a student’s bond to learning. By making learning a positive experience, academic integrity can remain in an individual’s life throughout school and into their lifelong journey.