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Three Things Your Students Don't Know About Academic Integrity

In a fast paced and digital world, it's hard to know what constitutes plagiarism. Here are three things students might not know about plagiarism

Audrey Campbell
Audrey Campbell

In today's world, students and teachers alike are over-scheduled and under pressure. High-stakes testing, rigorous online and on-campus coursework, and the rising cost of higher education all play a part in influencing the modern education space. In addition, digital technology has blurred the lines of ownership and originality, with its unfettered exchange of information online. Teachers may think that their students know what it means to act with academic integrity, but these digital natives—who grew up with internet access, file-sharing, and mashups—may not be seeing the whole picture. And in our fast-paced world, understanding academic integrity is more important than ever.

Here are three things that your students may not know about academic integrity:

Academic Integrity Starts in Kindergarten

Acting with integrity doesn't suddenly become important in high school or college. Children starting in kindergarten can and should be educated on what integrity means and the role it plays in the classroom and beyond.

  • Kids must learn how to be honest and need role models to guide them in their acquisition of societal norms that align with their moral principles. By building a foundation of respect early in a child's academic career, educators can help students to develop positive habits and a long-lasting sense of self-confidence and self-awareness.

  • According to the International Center for Academic Integrity, academic integrity is "a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to six fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage." At a young age, children have the ability to learn the importance of these six character traits and to practice them in and out of the classroom.

  • Starting in kindergarten, children learn the habits and routines that will influence their actions and decisions for the rest of their lives. Elementary, followed by middle and high school teachers, can create a culture of integrity in the classroom in order to emphasize the importance of trustworthiness and responsibility at a young age.

Academic Integrity Means Anticipating Pressure

At every stage of an academic or professional career, an individual will encounter deadlines, stress, and pressure. Acting with integrity means planning ahead for these challenges and seeking resources to support responsible decision-making.

  • At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), students and professors alike understand that deadlines are a part of the college experience. In anticipation of the stress that often coincides with busy schedules, professors offer a variety of resources to students, that allow them to plan ahead and avoid situations that may compromise their integrity

  • It is essential for educators to clarify the definition of authorship and explicitly define the parameters for a project. If students are aware of what is expected prior to beginning their work, they are often more capable of anticipating pressure and planning ahead. Turnitin offers several webcasts that address the importance of careful citation and understanding plagiarism, which help students to better understand authentic work.

  • Self-care is extremely important in anticipating pressure. This includes healthy eating, mental health awareness, and plenty of sleep, allowing students to be their best selves in and outside of the classroom. Academic pressure and stress can arise from a busy schedule that doesn't make room for healthy daily choices.

Academic Integrity Goes Beyond the Classroom

Roy T. Bennett once said: "Do what is right, not what is easy…" Students need to understand that acting with integrity will not simply affect their grades at the end of the semester, but will influence how they live their whole lives.

  • Everyone has the opportunity to make the right choice, even celebrities. The rise of the "celegrity" (celebrities with integrity) has combated the negative stereotypes of the rich and famous. Students who strive for integrity should look up to—and try to surround themselves with—people who live with honesty and kindness.

  • All decisions have a ripple effect. If in a moment of weakness, a student makes a decision that does not align with the high standards to which they normally adhere, the outcome of that choice will be felt in many other ways. If students adopt the perspective that "the end justifies the means," they may lose touch with the deep interconnectedness of decisions and their consequences.

  • Be a role model. Younger siblings, cousins, and peers look to their elder counterparts for guidance on what to do and how to act. By imagining who might be watching and learning from their actions, students themselves may strive to be better. Thought leader and award-winning author Frank Sonnenberg believes that to be a good role model, you must first live with honor and integrity.

When the pressure is on, help students to understand that there are ways they can prepare for and work under stress with integrity. When students are in a calm and reflective space, engage them in a dialogue that helps them to see how academic integrity moves with them, from kindergarten through college and beyond. No matter what, students will appreciate the chance to consider their own lives and how they, too, can live with integrity.