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Uphold academic integrity: fostering student-educator partnerships

Learn how to engage students to uphold academic integrity and empower them to take ownership of their own ethical standards.

Kelsey Bober
Kelsey Bober
Senior Content Marketing Manager
Gill Rowell
Gill Rowell

The Turnitin team sat down with Gill Rowell, Customer Engagement Specialist at Turnitin, who shared her expertise on engaging students in discussions on academic integrity. Instead of establishing policies without their involvement, Gill encourages educators to involve students and invite them into the conversation. You might be surprised by what happens.

When discussing plagiarism, it can be tempting to classify any breaches of academic integrity as academic misconduct. Alternatively, Gill offers ways to work alongside students to understand where plagiarism comes from. In place of a conversation on “avoiding plagiarism, it’s bad,” the conversation becomes about connecting with students on the values and ethics they might not learn elsewhere in their studies. Empowering students to have a voice in the conversation is particularly important because it allows them to take ownership of their own ethical standards. It encourages them to think critically about what academic integrity means to them and how they can apply it in their own lives. This not only benefits them as individuals but also helps to promote a culture of academic integrity within the broader academic community. Read on to learn from her valuable experiences.

How do you talk to students about academic integrity?

Gill Rowell: When I used to do a lot of training, particularly on plagiarism and Turnitin, I used this analogy: “Why do we ask students to reference their sources?” If you think about it in the plagiarism context, you ask them to reference their sources because you want to make sure that they're attributing their work and avoiding the pitfalls of plagiarism. If you turn it the other way around, you're actually asking them to reference their sources because you want them to demonstrate that they've read widely; that they've researched the topic; that they've looked at all these different, diverse viewpoints, and that they've been able to begin to assimilate those viewpoints. So if you consider the analogy from that perspective, it's really a positive exercise where you're getting students to begin to understand the research process.

Talking about academic integrity with students is a great opportunity to show that good practice. It’s also a chance to show that much of what we're teaching students in school or university is to demonstrate their skills and their ability to look at different viewpoints and sources. For that matter, we can engage in a discussion about what the ethical use of sources looks like. With so many sources at their fingertips, it’s up to us to train students on how to treat sources properly, how to find good primary sources, and how to correctly reference different types of content such as social media.

How can students have academic integrity using AI writing?

Gill Rowell: Thinking about this in terms of AI, there are many schools and universities that have outright banned the use of AI writing tools like ChatGPT, and I think they are doing their students a disservice. How will students develop those skills to use these tools later in life? When they're going on to study later, or when they actually go into the workplace, they will need these skills, especially if AI dominates as it’s predicted to do. We need to allow students to experiment with these tools, to equip them with some good practice techniques, to enable them to use them properly, so that they are using them in an ethical way. And within all that, it’s so important to keep having these positive conversations about academic integrity, where we’re equipping our students rather than punishing them or focusing on the negatives.

What questions can you ask students about academic integrity?

Gill Rowell: By working alongside students, you’re inviting them into the conversation of what academic integrity should look like–and hopefully that student involvement translates into their commitment to upholding academic integrity in the classroom. Based on my experience, there are a few ways to go about getting students to speak up on the topic. You can start by asking some of the following questions to encourage student collaboration:

  • What does academic integrity mean to you?
  • Why is academic integrity important?
  • What does it mean to plagiarize?
  • What would happen without academic integrity?
  • How can you develop academic literacy?
  • What resources are available to help you?
  • What can we learn from plagiarism?
What values can students learn from academic integrity?

Gill Rowell: The ICAI identifies six core values of academic integrity: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage. When you consider these values, really think about and appreciate them, these are not fundamentals you learn in a mathematics course or from reading a textbook. But you can learn them from practicing academic integrity, and specifically from having conversations with students about academic integrity. Honesty, for instance, is about respecting sources by giving them proper citations. It’s the honest and fair thing to do. Trust happens when we all have the integrity to follow these guidelines and know that our work will be respected by others. Interestingly, courage is one of the most recent values that the ICAI added. What it boils down to is doing the right thing takes courage, and that’s important for students to learn. These values are also the same values involved in research ethics.

How can educators teach academic integrity in the classroom?

Gill Rowell: Practically speaking, there are tools for educators to use to initiate these Courageous Conversations. Using tools like Turnitin, and particularly using the Similarity Report, is a great way to kickstart those conversations about the ethical use of sources–why you should be using one source over another source, why you should not just be using sources such as Wikipedia all the time–and getting into the mindset of using the Turnitin Similarity report formatively. Having a conversation about what resources are available–like scholarly journals–is another great opportunity for educators. You can engage students in a constructive dialogue about what sources make the most sense to use, at which time, not just which sources are the most convenient; our Source Credibility pack is actually great for that. I think having students participate in building the structure helps them to play by the rules.

Are there opportunities to learn academic integrity outside of the classroom?

Gill Rowell: Many institutions, particularly in the US, have an honor council or something similar where students are elected to the group. They preside over discussions of academic conduct, including academic integrity, and help participate in creating and fostering an environment that upholds these values. While you don't have to be part of an honor council to practice academic integrity, it should be part of your whole academic career and the way that you conduct yourself, not just in your studies, but in your day-to-day academic behavior.

So it's all about getting students involved in those conversations. It's about being authentic, and being prepared to get things wrong too. We teach students to show up as their authentic selves and learn by doing. That will mean we sometimes get things wrong as educators. We’ll do better the next time around. And that’s where true learning happens. As long as we provide a safe space and resources for our students to learn, they can safely turn to us for help. This is where Turnitin, used as a formative tool, is invaluable.

We can also make sure students know to ask for help when they feel uncertain or need support in their studies. And I think there have been cases during the last few years, particularly with the switch to online learning during the pandemic, where students have been without that supportive safety net. Unfortunately, some of the less scrupulous contract cheating sites have jumped on this vulnerability by offering their services for a steep fee. We need to make sure that students know where they can go at school or university to get the help that they need.

Why do students need to learn academic integrity?

Gill Rowell: Coming back to academic integrity as a fundamental ethic, students need to learn this skill now, and we as educators need to be the ones to help them learn it properly. It’s a skill they need in their studies, in their careers, and in their daily lives. Including them in the conversation means empowering students to have a voice in what their ethics will be.

Overview: Student involvement in academic integrity

As you explore how to talk to students about academic integrity, the Turnitin team extends special thanks to Gill Rowell for lending her expertise on student involvement and providing hands-on, practical ways to have conversations about academic integrity. By replacing punishment with an opportunity to learn and protocols with conversations, students can develop these skills and understand the importance of academic integrity. This includes not only teaching them the rules and regulations but also engaging them in conversations about ethics and values. By involving students in these conversations, we can help them build a deeper understanding of the principles underlying academic integrity and how they relate to their own values and beliefs.

Academic integrity is a fundamental ethic that students need to learn and apply throughout their academic and professional lives. As educators, we have a responsibility to teach students the skills they need to uphold academic integrity and to engage them in conversations about ethics and values.