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Teaching Tuesdays: Cultivating Academic Integrity Online

The P3 Collaboratory is pleased to continue “Teaching Tuesdays,” our ongoing series on pedagogy in higher ed and on the RU-N campus. Our thanks to Christina Zambrano-Varghese (SASN, Psychology) for this week’s entry.

Get a bunch of faculty members together at the end of the semester and the conversation will inevitably lead to sharing stories of the worst-case violations of academic integrity that they encountered. It can be easy to commiserate, feel disheartened or angry, and approach academic integrity issues through the lens of detection and punishment. Add in remote learning and it might seem as if all the safeguards that instructors have worked so hard to develop during in-class exams are all but lost. Assessing students in the online environment can seem like an impossible feat.

Safeguards exist for remote instruction, and it may be appropriate to use Turnitin or SafeAssign for students to submit written assignments and programs like LockDown Browser or Proctortrack for examinations. However, when our approach to academic integrity is about which tools we can use to catch cheating, we are never going to win. Instead, I encourage you to ask yourself: what is it that you actually want your students to get out of this class?

Remote instruction has forced us to look at our work as instructors and really question the objectives that we hope to achieve with our students. What do we want them to know? What skills do we want them to develop? In ten years, they are not going to remember every little detail we crammed on a final exam, so what is the most important thing we want them to remember?

When we start to look at our courses from this angle, we see our assessments and activities through a different lens. Our students might learn and remember more if they answer five questions every week, as opposed to fifty questions every eight weeks. Smaller, more frequent assignments are not only better for learning, they are more manageable for students, especially in this time of heightened precarity. They can also be worth fewer points towards the final grade, thus decreasing students’ motivation to cheat. Working on short writing assignments throughout the semester breaks the work into chunks, teaching students how to engage in the research and writing process, rather than assigning a big end-of-term paper, where poor time management and lack of understanding can lead to last-minute plagiarism.

Students should always understand why they are working on the things they’re working on. Get into the practice of explaining the purpose and objectives of an assignment before you explain the requirements. If you cannot explain the goals and purpose of something you are doing – whether it is online or in the classroom – then you probably should not be doing it.

Survey data collected nationwide during the Spring 2020 semester suggests that students were more likely to report that they or their classmates violated the academic integrity policies of their universities when one of these conditions was present: (1) students had less of a desire to master course material; or (2) students felt “cheated” out of their education in some way due to the pandemic. While the majority of students reported that they had not engaged in any violations of academic integrity, they did acknowledge that their peers had used technology tools (e.g., uploading test questions to websites such as Chegg Study) or had worked collaboratively when they were expected to work alone (e.g., by communicating in a GroupMe chat during an exam).

It can be challenging to create a sense of community among students in an online environment and to communicate how your course, and each component of that course, is going to benefit students’ future goals; however, these elements are crucial in mitigating some of the academic integrity violations that might occur in remote learning. Be diligent about teaching your students what academic integrity means in your class. Treat it like everything else you want your students to learn, with a lesson and an activity or assessment to ensure that they understand their role in upholding these standards. Then, remind students of those norms and expectations often by including an honor pledge on every assignment or exam that students need to complete. It is critical that when students engage in any violation of the academic integrity policy that instructors submit the university’s standard report to protect the academic standards for all students and the university. I encourage you to spend some time today thinking about your most important learning goals for your students and break those goals down into small, incremental, manageable steps. You and your students will be so thankful you did!

Resources and References:

A note from the P3 Collaboratory: Also check out Dr Zambrano-Varghese’s great episode of the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast, hosted by Bonni Stachowiak:

Author Bio:

Christina Zambrano-Varghese is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University-Newark, where she teaches a wide range of psychology courses from Introductory to upper-level Research Methods. She has conducted research on plagiarism prevention strategies and has transformed her courses to achieve academic honesty among all students.

Brought to you by the P3 Collaboratory for Pedagogy, Professional Development, and Publicly-Engaged Scholarship at Rutgers University-Newark


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