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Integrity focused: Building trust between student and instructor

Dive into three ways trust can be built between students and instructors to not only strengthen academic integrity but also enhance academic outcomes

Audrey Campbell
Audrey Campbell

In a world where work and learning move fluidly between in-person and online spaces, there is incredible value in establishing a sense of trust between student and instructor.

But how do you build this sense of trust? And what is the best approach in an online or hybrid environment? Below are three ways to strengthen the student/teacher relationship and focus on integrity as a part of this important connection.

Ask questions and really listen.

If one assumes the motive, the context, or the reason behind another’s decision or action, they may be pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised to discover the truth when they actually ask. But it doesn’t stop there: from the question asked, real listening must occur. Active listening ensures that you are completely focused, without being distracted, on hearing and understanding the words and messages of others. For both students and teachers, asking questions can help to strengthen a relationship that goes beyond coursework. Something simple like, “How are you feeling today?” connects to the human aspect of the interaction and builds rapport, giving context and meaning to the conversation.

And beyond simply fortifying a relationship, questions are essential in prioritizing integrity. From the beginning of the school year, schools must strive to establish a culture of academic integrity and be clear around expectations and policies. Then, in a situation of suspected academic misconduct, instructors and administrators must ask questions and have a conversation with a student before jumping to any conclusions.

Tools like Turnitin Feedback Studio with Originality can help inform this type of conversation by giving instructors insight into a particular piece of work, highlighting areas of concern. Shelby Scoffield, a high school English teacher in California, USA, created an entire online course using tools like Turnitin to help her students properly paraphrase and cite sources. “I have learned through this process that most students have genuine misunderstandings about academic integrity,” she shares in her article on Edutopia. “I have learned that by giving students the benefit of the doubt, I am allowing them to be successful and hopefully avoid a bigger problem in the future.” Utilizing meaningful tools and teaching strategies like Shelby’s, in addition to asking questions and participating in honest dialogue, can keep integrity at the heart of this learning space.

Offer meaningful feedback. And work to ensure it’s a two-way street.

Feedback builds trust in a vulnerable space, which in turn ensures students are open to guidance in strengthening their skills and understanding new concepts. A key component of bolstering writing skills and ensuring a deeper comprehension of concepts is feedback loops, where students receive feedback throughout their learning process. When a student readily incorporates and applies feedback in formative situations, they not only deepen their understanding, they also more clearly exhibit comprehension.

Research shows that “students learned twice as fast when they received constructive feedback (specific comments on errors, suggestions to the students about how to improve, and at least one positive remark) than their peers who simply received a score on their math homework.” Additionally, the same studies revealed that students essentially “shut down their learning after they receive a grade”, which highlights the importance of giving feedback throughout the learning process as opposed to at the point of assessment. A student receiving feedback on an assignment or exam trusts that the teacher recognizes their potential, sees areas for improvement, and can offer support that leads to growth. A teacher giving feedback is in the critical position of boosting a student in need, clarifying a key concept, and transforming a mistake into a teachable moment.

And when teachers are in a position to receive feedback from their students (about their teaching style, the curriculum, etc.), they in turn truly understand the vulnerability around and importance of internalizing supportive commentary. The end-of-the year can be a perfect opportunity for instructors to seek feedback from their students, whether anonymously or not, in order to improve their lessons, feedback style, and overall approach to teaching the following term.

Create consistency where possible, but leave room for flexibility.

This tip might sound, well, contradictory, but there is value in striking a balance between stability and pliability. Anne-Laure Le Cunff from Ness Labs coined the term “flexible consistency” in her blog, describing flexible consistency as a mindset: “Instead of having an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach to life, where each failure or unexpected event can derail a routine, flexible consistency offers a set of principles to bounce back and keep on making progress.” Some take the 80/20 approach: plan up to 80% because inevitably, there will be 20% of unexpected challenges/interferences/projects.

This mindset can help build trust between students and teachers because it offers something dependable, yet forgiving. When instructors can set boundaries and deadlines, but remain open to conversation about individual needs, everyone benefits from handling unexpected situations together. Tools like Gradescope can help in times like this because of how it helps instructors to seamlessly grade many exams quickly, offering consistent feedback and fair grading in the face of the unpredictable 20% of life.

When students know that they are receiving consistent, fair, and personalized feedback and support on their assignments and exams, they in turn can feel comfortable being vulnerable and learning from their mistakes, and thus will strive to perform at their highest level. And when instructors know that their students are asking questions for clarity, seeking support from recommended resources, and submitting their best, original work, they can then teach robust content from a position of strength and caring.

By asking questions, offering feedback, and providing flexible consistency, then we truly can strengthen academic integrity and enhance academic and learning outcomes.