How to Establish Academic Integrity in Every Classroom

Steps that instructors can take to create an environment that supports student success.

Marisa Bluestone . Nov, 2022


Academic Integrity

Now more than ever, faculty are considering the role they can play in preventing student misconduct and encouraging academic integrity. While each classroom and campus are different, there are steps that instructors can take to help create an environment that supports student success.

Macmillan Learning spoke with Dr. Camilla Roberts, Kansas State University Director of the Honor and Integrity System, and Cindy Albert, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Associate Director Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, about the state of academic integrity. The pair shared some misconceptions about academic integrity, their insights as to why students cheat, and offered suggestions about how to create the kind of classroom community that supports integrity.

Both Albert and Roberts got their start in academic integrity through their work with students, though their paths there were different. Albert’s interest was sparked when she started working in the Teaching and Learning Center. Her work there created an interest in assessing student learning and levelling the playing field. Roberts' interest in the field of academic integrity began about 15 years ago, when she was hired as the assistant director for the Honor and Integrity System at Kansas State University. Prior to that, she had been involved in student affairs and development through the residential life programs.

“The reality is, there is more opportunity than ever for academic misconduct,” Roberts said. Students’ “technical problems” uploading documents has become the new “my dog ate my homework” with more instructors hearing about problems like a computer uploading the wrong document or a camera that stopped working during proctoring. “Sometimes technology does mess up, but this seems to be a more common excuse recently,” she said. And while misconduct can be a problem, not all of it is intentional.

Misconceptions about Academic Integrity

One widely-held assumption by both faculty and administrators is that students who cheat always know they are cheating. According to both Albert and Roberts, this is not necessarily the case. Many times, students are not clear on what cheating entails. For example, students may believe that if the professor didn’t say work had to be done independently, it was safe to work together on an assignment, explained Albert.

To rectify this, instructors should clarify what the class rules are -- for example, whether it's okay to paraphrase, share work with peers, or look up answers. If an instructor expects a certain style of citation (APA, MLA, or AP), they should make that clear to students as well as offer resources where students can find more information about it. “One thing I say on repeat when I am talking to faculty is that academic integrity and the culture of integrity is not only on the students,” said Roberts.

She believes it’s everyone’s role to create that culture. “If a faculty member is going to hold a student accountable, then they need to take time to make sure the student knows and understands what they should be doing or how they are to be doing it.”

According to Albert, students don’t cheat solely because they want to get a better grade; rather, a variety of factors can play a role. Students may not plan on misconduct, but instead take advantage of what they see as an opportunity -- like when they perceive that all students will get the same questions in the same sequence. Also, they may believe that “everyone cheats” and there’s no harm in it because it’s just what students do. Finally, students may suffer from imposter syndrome, and not feel that they belong, or face other pressures like financial, social, and familial stresses, or mental health challenges.

Cheating Harms Learning:

There are no two ways about it -- cheating harms learning. It’s an issue that Roberts tackles using three words in every presentation she gives on academic integrity: choice, learning, and promise. She believes that everyone has a choice about how they conduct themselves, and those choices impact those around us. Also, learning stops when there is an academic integrity violation because if someone else is doing their work or work is taken from online sources, students are not learning. She noted that having a solid foundation helps students to move through their learning. “When the cheating occurs, the foundation for future classes is weak,” she said. This can impact students’ promise for the future.

But there are actions that instructors can take to stop cheating in its tracks. Albert cites building relationships and class culture as critical steps that instructors can take to help students realise that cheating is not the answer. In addition to discussing what cheating is and why it’s harmful, the pair notes that building a community within the classroom is critical. “When a student is invested in the class, cheating is less likely to occur,” said Roberts.

One way to build both community and trust, as well as explain what cheating entails, is to create a contract with students.Doing so creates an awareness of the class rules and offers students a greater voice in areas like the kind of assignments they’d like to take on and the point values of assignments. “Speak in language students can connect with. Talk with them about what you want them to do and why it’s important, and then explain how misconduct hurts everyone,” Albert said. “When instructors give students a voice and create a connection to the work, they create a culture where students are invested in their success,” she added.

One way to create that connection is to offer assignments that students can relate to or that are in some way related to their careers and interests. Explaining why particular assignments were chosen and are important can also help to curb cheating. “Connect the purpose of the assignment to something they want to learn for their future,” Roberts said. “Tell them regularly you are helping them prepare and improve their skills so they’ll be successful.” Roberts continued, “Helping the students understand why the material in the class matters, why the instructor cares about the class and them as a person, and why integrity matters in the classroom will help them realise that even if the class is hard, doing their own work is worth it.”

Lastly, Albert recommended that instructors offer opportunities for students to practise their work before taking an exam, writing a paper, or working on a class project. She said, “This builds their confidence and gets them started on the work before it is due.”

To learn more about the state of academic integrity and get even more suggestions about how to support it in classes, register to watch our free webinar “Emphasising Academic Integrity in Every Classroom” on demand. The webinar is part of Macmillan Learning’s professional development series for the education community focused on critical challenges for students and instructors.