While it is each student’s responsibility to understand and abide by university standards towards individual work and academic integrity, instructors can help students understand their responsibilities through frank classroom conversations that go beyond policy language to shared values. By creating a learning environment that stimulates engagement and designing assessments that are authentic, instructors can minimize the incidence of academic dishonesty.
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What is Academic Integrity?
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.” We commit to these values to honor the intellectual efforts of the global academic community, of which Columbia University is an integral part.
Why Does Academic Dishonesty Occur?
Academic dishonesty in the classroom occurs when one or more values of academic integrity are violated. While some cases of academic dishonesty are committed intentionally, other cases may be a reflection of something deeper that a student is experiencing, such as language or cultural misunderstandings, insufficient or misguided preparation for exams or papers, a lack of confidence in their ability to learn the subject, or perception that course policies are unfair (Bernard and Keith-Spiegel, 2002).
Some other reasons why students may commit academic dishonesty include:
- Cultural or regional differences in what comprises academic dishonesty
- Misunderstanding directions and/or expectations
- Poor time management, procrastination, or disorganization
- Feeling disconnected from the course, subject, instructor, or material
- Fear of failure or lack of confidence in one’s ability
- Anxiety, depression, other mental health problems
Understanding some of these common reasons can help instructors intentionally design their courses and assessments to pre-empt, and hopefully avoid, instances of academic dishonesty. The following section provides strategies that promote academic integrity which can be adapted to any course format (in-person, online, and hybrid) and context.
Strategies for Promoting Academic Integrity
In his research on cheating in the college classroom, James Lang argues that “the amount of cheating that takes place on our campuses may well depend on the structures of the learning environment” (Lang, 2013a; Lang, 2013b). Instructors have agency in shaping the classroom learning experience; thus, instances of academic dishonesty can be mitigated by efforts to design a supportive, learning-oriented environment (Bertam, 2017 and 2008).
1. Create a supportive learning environment
When students feel supported in a course and connected to instructors and/or TAs and their peers, they may be more comfortable asking for help when they don’t understand course material or if they have fallen behind with an assignment.
Ways to support student learning include:
- Convey confidence in your students’ ability to succeed in your course from day one of the course (this may ease student anxiety or imposter syndrome) and through timely and regular feedback on what they are doing well and areas they can improve on.
- Explain the relevance of the course to students; tell them why it is important that they actually learn the material and develop the skills for themselves. Invite students to connect the course to their goals, studies, or intended career trajectories. Research shows that students’ motivation to learn can help deter instances of academic dishonesty (Lang, 2013a).
- Teach important skills such as taking notes, summarizing arguments, and citing sources. Students may not have developed these skills, or they may bring bad habits from previous learning experiences. Have students practice these skills through exercises (Gonzalez, 2017).
- Provide students multiple opportunities to practice challenging skills and receive immediate feedback in class (e.g., polls, writing activities, “boardwork”). These frequent low-stakes assessments across the semester can “[improve] students’ metacognitive awareness of their learning in the course” (Lang, 2013a, pp. 145).
- Help students manage their time on course tasks by scheduling regular check-ins to reduce students’ last minute efforts or frantic emails about assignment requirements. Establish weekly online office hours and/or be open to appointments outside of standard working hours. This is especially important if students are learning in different time zones. Normalize the use of campus resources and academic support resources that can help address issues or anxieties they may be facing. (See the Columbia University Resources section below for a list of support resources.)
- Provide lists of approved websites and resources that can be used for additional help or research. This is especially important if on-campus materials are not available to online learners. Articulate permitted online “study” resources to be used as learning tools (and not cheating aids – see McKenzie, 2018) and how to cite those in homework, writing assignments or problem sets.
- Encourage TAs (if applicable) to establish good relationships with students and to check-in with you about concerns they may have about students in the course. (Explore the Working with TAs Online resource to learn more about partnering with TAs.)
2. Clarify expectations and establish shared values
In addition to including Columbia’s academic integrity policy on syllabi, go a step further by creating space in the classroom to discuss your expectations regarding academic integrity and what that looks like in your course context. After all, “what reduces cheating on an honor code campus is not the code itself, but the dialogue about academic honesty that the code inspires.” (Lang, 2013a, pp. 172)
Ways to cultivate a shared sense of responsibility for upholding academic integrity include:
- Ask students to identify goals and expectations around academic integrity in relation to course learning objectives.
- Communicate your expectations and explain your rationale for course policies on collaborative assignments, late work, proctored exams, missed tests, attendance, extra credit, the use of plagiarism detection software or proctoring software, etc.
- Define and provide examples for what constitutes plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty in your course.
- Invite students to generate ideas for responding to scenarios where they may be pressured to violate the values of academic integrity (e.g.: a friend asks to see their homework, or a friend suggests using chat apps during exams), so students are prepared to react with integrity when suddenly faced with these situations.
- State clearly when collaboration and group learning is permitted and when independent work is expected. Collaboration and group work provide great opportunities to build student-student rapport and classroom community.
- Discuss the ethical, academic, and legal repercussions of posting class recordings, notes and/or class materials online (e.g., to sites such as Chegg, GitHub, CourseHero – see Lederman, 2020).
- Partner with TAs (if applicable) and clarify your expectations of them, how they can help promote shared values around academic integrity, and what they should do in cases of suspected cheating or classroom difficulties.
3. Design assessments to maximize learning and minimize pressure
High stakes course assessments can be a source of student anxiety. Creating multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning, and spreading assessments throughout the semester can lessen student stress and keep the focus on student learning (see Darby, 2020 for strategies on assessing students online). As Lang explains, “The more assessments you provide, the less pressure you put on students to do well on any single assignment or exam. If you maintain a clear and consistent academic integrity policy, and ensure that all students caught cheating receive an immediate and substantive penalty, the benefit of cheating on any one assessment will be small, while the potential consequences will be high” (Lang, 2013a and Lang, 2013c). For support with creating online exams, please please refer to our Creating Online Exams resource.
Ways to enhance one’s assessment approach:
- Design assignments based on authentic problems in your discipline. Ask students to apply course concepts and materials to a problem or concept.
- Structure assignments into smaller parts (“scaffolding”) that will be submitted and checked throughout the semester. This scaffolding can also help students learn how to tackle large projects by breaking down the tasks.
- Break up a single high-stakes exam into smaller, weekly tests. This can help distribute the weight of grades, and will lessen the pressure students feel when an exam accounts for a large portion of their grade.
- Give students options in how their learning is assessed and/or invite students to present their learning in creative ways (e.g., as a poster, video, story, art project, presentation, or oral exam).
- Provide feedback prior to grading student work. Give students the opportunity to implement the feedback. The revision process encourages student learning, while also lowering the anxiety around any one assignment.
- Utilize multiple low-stakes assignments that prepare students for high-stakes assignments or exams to reduce anxiety (e.g., in-class activities, in-class or online discussions)
- Create grading rubrics and share them with your students and TAs (if applicable) so that expectations are clear, to guide student work, and aid with the feedback process.
- Use individual student portfolio folders and provide tailored feedback to students throughout the semester. This can help foster positive relationships, as well as allow you to watch students’ progress on drafts and outlines. You can also ask students to describe how their drafts have changed and offer rationales for those decisions.
- For exams, consider refreshing tests every term, both in terms of organization and content. Additionally, ground your assignments by having students draw connections between course content and the unique experience of your course in terms of time (unique to the semester), place (unique to campus, local community, etc. ), personal (specific student experiences), and interdisciplinary opportunities (other courses students have taken, co-curricular activities, campus events, etc.). (Lang, 2013a, pp. 77).
Columbia University Resources
Resources for faculty:
- Academic Integrity Best Practices for Faculty (Columbia College & School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)
- Faculty Statement on Academic Integrity (Columbia College)
- FAQs: Academic Integrity from Columbia Student Conduct and Community Standards
- Ombuds Office for assistance with academic dishonesty issues.
Resources for students:
- Policies from Columbia Student Conduct and Community Standards
- Understanding the Academic Integrity Policy (Columbia College & School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)
Student support resources:
- Maximizing Student Learning Online (Columbia Online)
- Center for Student Advising Tutoring Service (Berick Center for Student Advising)
- Help Rooms and Private Tutors by Department (Berick Center for Student Advising)
- Writing Center (for Columbia undergraduate and graduate students)
- Counseling and Psychological Services
- Disability Services
For graduate students:
- Writing Studio (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences)
- Student Center (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences)
Columbia University Information Technology (CUIT)
CUIT’s Academic Services provides services that can be used by instructors in their courses such as Turnitin, a plagiarism detection service and online proctoring services such as Proctorio, a remote proctoring service that monitors students taking virtual exams through CourseWorks.
Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)
The CTL can help you think through your course policies, ways to create community, design course assessments, and setting up CourseWorks to promote integrity, among other teaching and learning facets. To schedule a one-on-one consultation, please contact the CTL at ColumbiaCTL@columbia.edu.
Bernard, W. Jr. and Keith-Spiegel, P. (2002). Academic dishonesty: An educators’s guide. Mahwah, NJ: Psychology Press.
Bertram Gallant, T. (2017). Academic integrity as a teaching and learning issue: From theory to practice. Theory Into Practice, 56(2), 88-94.
Bertram Gallant, T. (Ed.). (2008). Academic integrity in the twenty-first century: A teaching and learning imperative. ASHE Higher Education Report. 33(5), 1-143.
Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (2020). Creating online exams.
Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (2020). Working with TAs online
Darby, F. (2020). 7 ways to assess students online and minimize cheating. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Gonzalez, J. (2017, February). Teaching students to avoid plagiarism. Cult of Pedagogy, 26
International Center for Academic Integrity (2013). Fundamental values of academic integrity.
International Center on Academic Integrity (2020). https://academicintegrity.org/.
Lang, J.M. (2013a). Cheating lessons: Learning from academic dishonesty. Harvard University Press.
Lang, J. M. (2013b). Cheating lessons, part 1. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Lang, J. M. (2013c). Cheating lessons, part 2. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Lederman, D (2020, February 19) Course hero woos professors. Inside Higher Ed.
McKenzie, L. (2018, May 8). Learning tool or cheating aid? Inside Higher Ed.
Bretag, T. (Ed.). (2016). Handbook of Academic Integrity. Singapore: Springer Publishing.
Ormand, C. (2017 March 6). SAGE musings: Minimizing and dealing with academic dishonesty. SAGE 2YC: 2YC Faculty as Agents of Change.
Turn It In. (2017). Teaching about plagiarism. Plagiarism.org, sponsored by Turnitin.
This resource was adapted from the faculty booklet Promoting Academic Integrity & Preventing Academic Dishonesty: Best Practices at Columbia University developed by Victoria Malaney Brown, Director of Academic Integrity at Columbia College and Columbia Engineering, and Abigail MacBain, PhD student in GSAS. We would like to thank them for their extensive support in creating this academic integrity resource.