Teaching Today's Students

Engaging Students to Improve Academic Integrity

by Kim Levenhagen, Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Therapy & Athletic Training

On March 24, 2015, Provost John Etchemendy wrote a letter to all faculty at Stanford University regarding an increasing number of allegations regarding academic dishonesty.  He wrote, “Dishonesty is corrosive in an academic community.”  In his letter he implored faculty to define academic honesty for students who have grown up in a widespread, technology sharing culture.  Although there is a process that is nearly complete to update Saint Louis University’s Academic Integrity Policy, the current policy begins, “The University is a community of learning, whose effectiveness requires an environment of mutual trust and integrity, such as would be expected at a Jesuit, Catholic institution.  As members of this community, students, faculty, and staff members share the responsibility to maintain this environment.”  Each statement places the responsibility on the student as well as the faculty.  With the advances in technology, the lines have become blurred regarding academic integrity.  This may include copyright infringement or sharing of assignments or test questions.  So how do we as faculty improve students’ awareness of academic integrity?

Udermann and Lamers from Syracuse University provide Ten Strategies to Encourage Academic Integrity in Large Lecture Classes.  They are as follows:

  1. Promote your school’s honor code:  On a quick search of Saint Louis University’s website, one can find academic integrity policies of most Schools or Colleges but how familiar are you with the policy?  Do you have it in your syllabus or have frank discussions regarding your expectations with your students when setting the tone of the class on the first day?
  2. Respond to cheating in your class.  Taking action is not always easy and often stressful.  It can even be time consuming as you provide teaching moments regarding the incident.  But not taking action creates an environment of academic dishonesty.
  3. Individualize papers and assignments to the class if possible.  The authors provide examples of creating unique assignments with a narrow focus so projects cannot be passed down from semester to semester.  The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning works with faculty and graduate students on course-design related projects, such as helping instructors create or redesign assignments so that they are tailored specifically to their courses and provide unique experiences which are meaningful to students.
  4. Give clear expectations for assignments and other course work required of students.  In my syllabus, I describe if the project is a group or individual assignment so the students are aware of my expectations.  Additionally, I set realistic expectations if I have a Blackboard Learn Quiz about whether or not the students can use notes, text, or friends.
  5. Encourage student responsibility.  I take time during the first day of class to explain ethical decision making and how their classroom behavior can carry into their workplace.  I want students to recognize that with academic dishonesty they cheat themselves and their future stakeholders, which may include patients, clients, or businesses.  By not performing the work themselves, they cannot develop their critical thinking or problem solving skills.
  6. Get to know as many students as possible.  I work to learn the names of all of my students in the classroom.  According to this article, getting to know your students will deter cheating and promote academic integrity.  Arrive to class 5-10 minutes early to interact with the students to demonstrate that you genuinely care about them as a person and their learning.
  7. Separate students during exams, when space permits.
  8. Have adequate proctors to help with exams.
  9. Have multiple versions of exams.  Numbers 7, 8, and 9 are challenging due to spacing, timing, and personnel issues within any university.  One method that has emerged which can minimize these issues yet promote academic honesty is the utilization of computer-based tests.  Saint Louis University offers Respondus as a tool to construct and manage quizzes/exams that can be printed to paper or directly published to a Blackboard Learn course.  ITS provides training and technical support for utilization of Respondus to meet your class requirements.  Although different software packages may provide different tools (at an additional cost), computer based testing has the potential to minimize academic dishonesty through a number of different mechanisms such as restricting access, requiring the use of a pin number to unlock the exam or limiting access to the internet, or other software features on their device. Questions can be randomized so no 2 students have an identically ordered exam.  An additional benefit to some computer based testing systems is student performance can be linked to assessments such as Bloom’s taxonomy or learning outcomes, providing additional feedback to the student and the instructor.
  10. Engage your students and be enthusiastic.  The authors challenge faculty to motivate students to learn by including methods of student engagement.  They believe this enthusiasm will improve academic integrity.

Academic integrity challenges everyone on this campus.  As faculty, we need to assist our students in developing into men and women for others with integrity.  We need to implement strategies that have an impact on reducing cheating.  We need to have honest conversations with our students and not be afraid to take a stand on what is ethically correct.  As Arlene Spector said, “There is no higher value in our society as integrity.”

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Kim Levenhagen is an Assistant Professor in the Physical Therapy and Athletic Training department. She serves on the Reinert Center advisory board. Her areas of interest and expertise include clinical education, scholarship of teaching & learning, service learning, and integrating reflection assignments into teaching.