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Pairing policy with technology to build a culture of academic integrity

How one university is helping to reframe academic integrity by centering students

Meet UMGC, a thought leader in academic integrity

Ever since global circumstances pushed classes into remote settings, the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) has stepped up as trusted consultants to other institutions, leaning on their decades of online teaching & learning experience as one of the largest distance-learning institutions in the world. In times of unexpected changes in higher education, UMGC is a lighthouse for institutions struggling to adapt.

They began their academic integrity initiative through a working group in 2017 to address traditional punishment-oriented approaches and contract cheating. By reviewing their policies, they found that what previously existed focused on what not to do, instead of a more formative approach on what to do, with a focus in key areas: curriculum design, faculty development, policy and process for academic integrity, and educational and academic technology.

This started a culture shift in which they established the Office of Academic Integrity & Accountability that now serves as a learning-focused holistic resource center for their global campus. They have dedicated case managers and analysts who focus on consultation & case management, resource development, ownership & management of technology tools, and institution-wide collaboration.

Engaging in this type of deep organizational work led to a shift in their philosophy, policy, and practices. Guided by their philosophy on academic integrity, UMGC commits not only themselves to high standards, but seeks to reinforce that vision outside of their institution. They reframe how an academic institution thinks about academic integrity by centralizing their efforts within Academic Affairs instead of the traditional model where it is housed within Student Affairs. 

More than avoiding or sanctioning misconduct, teaching and learning with integrity ensures the knowledge, skills, and abilities that students develop are authentic and demonstrable, and thus support autonomy and self-determination in life and work.

University of Maryland Global Campus
Source: UMGC Philosophy on Academic Integrity

For UMGC, academic integrity is primarily an academic function, not one solely focused on judicial matters.

They do this by showcasing their approaches to policy development and use of technology that serve to center students in their learning and in their journeys with academic integrity. Only recently have they released a tutorial (licensed under creative commons) for institutions to utilize and replicate aspects of their approach toward academic integrity. The 6-module tutorial can be found here.

Centering students in academic integrity through rigorous policy development

Going beyond ensuring that academic integrity is an academic function, the Office of Academic Integrity has dissected their policies in a way in which students gain a voice in the matter. In order to successfully serve the students, they provide an abundance of resources such as step-by-step guides to their new process, infographics on how to appeal an academic integrity sanction, and UMGC’s dedicated page to understanding how to use Turnitin Feedback Studio.

Their Philosophy on Academic Integrity outlines their commitments to and principles for building a culture of teaching and learning with integrity, drawn from ICAI’s Fundamental Values.

University of Maryland Global Campus students, faculty, and staff are accountable for upholding a culture of integrity. Maintaining academic integrity in our work includes mastery of essential skills and competencies, such as integrating others' ideas into an analysis, thinking critically about sources, and directly citing the work of others. Integrity also means mastering the knowledge, skills, and abilities within disciplines and fields authentically and demonstrably. The university is committed to helping students learn and succeed in these ways.

Blakely Pomietto, Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at UMGC

Two specific policies (Policy 150.25—Academic Integrity & Policy 150.30—Procedures for Reports of Academic Misconduct) go into granular detail around the purpose, scope, guidelines, and procedure when encountering suspected cases of academic misconduct. The procedure is then administered by the Office of Academic Integrity as a centralized function instead of direct sanctions from individual instructors. The purpose of this is to ensure a more equitable and well-balanced process for handling claims while also ensuring fair representation of students throughout the process. Any resulting sanction is learning-focused and includes remediation activities designed for the student to understand what happened and to develop strategies for success, with topics covering: academic integrity, personal ethics, getting appropriate help, and self-care & time management.

Leveraging educational technology to build a culture of academic integrity & uphold procedural standards

Beyond leveraging policy to nurture a culture of academic integrity, UMGC also embraces a proactive measure with the use of educational technology to help uphold their rigorous standards while keeping student and instructor needs at the core of their efforts.

One of the simplest, yet most impactful changes they have made is in the form of how instructors talk about academic integrity. UMGC has updated their language to reframe perceptions, and move from a punitive mindset to a more formative way of talking about academic integrity. An example of this is how they revised their policy naming conventions—going from policies on “academic dishonesty” to policies on “academic integrity.” It’s a subtle shift, but one that helps reorient deficit thinking to a learning-oriented approach. This can also be seen in how they address key technological tools like Turnitin Feedback Studio. It is no longer alluded to as a “plagiarism checker” but is now referred to as “text similarity analysis.” In this small way, they are able to curb accusation and better understand how text similarity can tell the story of the student writing in a formative approach to student learning.

We actually have really strong language to our faculty about not using cutoff scores. We have language about the score and how it should only be an indicator that you need to look at the report and then you use the fullness of the report.

Jen Simonds, Assistant Vice President for Academic Integrity & Accountability at UMGC


Understanding the Similarity Report

Explore features included in the Turnitin Similarity Report, plus guidance for using the report to inform discussions with students.

For educators For students

UMGC also hosts a variety of faculty development activities on writing feedback to promote academic integrity and the science of behavior change to show how learning and correction can be a rewarding experience. On a technological level, UMGC provides training webinars like Maximizing Turnitin as a Learning Tool to help instructors realign their approach with students to be more focused around successful development and learning. A popular subtopic focuses on avoiding the use of cutoff scores in decision-making or grading, which limits the use of the tool and does a disservice to the students along the way. For Jen Simonds, UMGC’s Assistant VP for Academic Integrity & Accountability, it’s about “being realistic and applying good learning science, but it's really all about the student experience and student success.”

After noticing instructors tended to primarily use the Turnitin Similarity Report within Turnitin Feedback Studio upon suspicion of academic misconduct, UMGC advocated for draft submission workflow configurations in Turnitin Feedback Studio with Program Directors across departments. This way, they could ensure fair and equitable use of learning tools while also offering agency to students. Enabling draft folders for submissions encourages students to take part in using the technology available to them in a formative way, so they can run their work through Turnitin to understand their similarity score and make appropriate adjustments before final submission. This helps students and instructors to identify potential learning gaps, and work directly on improving those targeted areas.

They had nothing to lose and that's the great thing about a draft process. By the time they submitted their final papers, they had righted things and had done exactly what we hoped they would do.

Jen Simonds, Assistant Vice President for Academic Integrity & Accountability at UMGC

Since launching their academic integrity initiative, UMGC has seen a decrease in formal cases of academic misconduct. Instructors have shown a bewildering increase in providing detailed feedback through Turnitin Feedback Studio—going from under 2,500 submissions with feedback in Fall 2019 to over 25,000 submissions with feedback in Spring of 2021; a more than 10-fold increase. They also found that instructors are utilizing Turnitin’s capabilities in more course sections, going from under 6,000 in Spring 2019 to nearly 19,000 course sections in Spring 2021. They’re even able to check that students are reviewing and engaging with feedback, which shows greater student engagement. 

Increase in Turnitin usage at UMGC

The future of academic integrity at UMGC

UMGC continues to develop their program, reaching over 55,000 students at over 130 locations worldwide. They plan to continue digging into their data to identify metrics that clearly show student learning success, and leverage those for greater instructional impact. A pilot of Turnitin’s Draft Coach will also take place so students can improve their academic writing and research skills by providing instant feedback directly where they write. Lastly, UMGC will continue to review their policy language with an eye on decriminalizing how we speak about academic integrity so that the inherent focus remains on its formative aspects.

Most recently, UMGC has announced the formation of the Coalition for Online Integrity (COIN) as a founding member alongside other major universities looking to strengthen and nurture academic integrity in the remote and online world. COIN’s mission is “to build a community of accredited institutions engaged in online education, who are focused on promoting academic integrity in order to protect every student and the value of each degree, certification, license, and/or credential, and support the mission of the ICAI.” Interested institutions can apply for membership here.

More Resources

Watch Jen Simonds' session at the 2021 Americas Summit!

Improving Student Outcomes by Shifting Our Approach to Academic Integrity

Hear about the University of Maryland Global Campus’ approach to fostering a culture of academic integrity, the use of technology to support student success, and enhancements to teaching and learning for faculty and students. Shift away from deficit mindsets toward a policy that empowers faculty to treat academic misconduct as teachable moments while utilizing restorative approaches to decision-making.