Rethinking Our Assumptions about Academic Misconduct and Academic Integrity: Unlearning, Learning, and Relearning for Instructors1
The discussion of the following myths is based on research and is not specific to the UBC context.
Whatever our experience as educators, all of us carry with us ideas and attitudes about academic integrity – or, more usually, about academic misconduct. Often, those ideas and attitudes are not something we have had to think very much about, until we are dealing with an issue in a course.
Most of us have not been taught or trained about how to teach academic integrity. As a result, we may be carrying these unexamined ideas as well as assumptions that circulate in higher education and the media into our pedagogies, in ways that might create barriers – even, in some cases, do harm
– for students in meeting these expectations. Issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion intersect with those of academic integrity, and we have urgent responsibilities to address these areas of overlap.
In the spirit of Alvin Toffler’s practice of “learning, unlearning, and relearning,” we outline three ways to start rethinking some common assumptions about academic misconduct and academic integrity, and instead create accessible and inclusive pedagogies.
Assumption 1: Who Commits Academic Misconduct, and Why
A dominant and pervasive idea about academic misconduct is that international students are more likely to commit it than domestic students. Research has consistently shown that international students are not more likely to cheat, although they may be disproportionately represented in disciplinary actions.2
Similarly, gender, class, and first-generation student status were not factors in misconduct – but, again, members of these groups might be more likely to be caught and disciplined. This finding suggests that some groups of students face greater scrutiny and suspicion than others.
Some disciplines, however, do have higher rates of misconduct. Interventions at the level of the department and the classroom to create and support a culture of integrity will be particularly important in those contexts.3
Students engage in cheating behaviors for a variety of reasons. Many students end up committing misconduct because they lack the skills and knowledge that would enable them to meet the expectation of doing their work with integrity. For students who do know but choose dishonest practices, major factors in their decision to do so are a) peer attitudes to cheating (“everyone is doing it”) and b) faculty attitudes: if students think their instructors do not care, they are not motivated to take the care to avoid misconduct.4
These findings suggest the opportunities we have as educators to establish and maintain a culture of integrity, in part by making sure all students know what our expectations are and how to meet them.
Assumption 2: Students “all know” what academic integrity means and how to do it
When we each assume that our students, whatever the course level, all already have the knowledge, skills, and rationale to do their work with integrity in our course, we set many of our students up to fail to meet this expectation. Regardless of the course level, our students come to our courses with varied experiences of and expertise in this topic. Moreover, each discipline’s research practices and our individual courses may have expectations or applications that will be new or present challenges.
We might not be aware of our own assumptions about what our students do already know, or about whether or not our expectations have been clear, or if we have introduced complexities. Checking in with students (e.g., by survey, no-stakes quiz, or class discussion) provides an opportunity to learn from our students about where they need more clarification, information, or resources. By inviting such input, we can normalize asking questions and take away the potential for students who do not already know to feel shame about not knowing.
Making clear expectations and instruction in how to meet those expectations an explicit part of the core content of the course helps students succeed in your class. It also reinforces for students that learning and working with academic integrity is something we all do in the academic community – and that it is an ongoing practice. This consistent and supportive approach to academic integrity helps motivate students to see it as something that is important to them and worth taking the time to do.
Assumption 3: Faculty “all know” what academic misconduct is and how to deal with it
Just as students may not have a very good understanding of what constitutes misconduct, faculty may be equally as confused about these definitions. They may also lack sufficient grounding in the practices and policies of their institution to know what to do when they find a potential problem – or to run one off through proactive, educative approaches.
Make sure – before your course starts – that you know what your departmental guidelines are, how to follow your Faculty’s practice for investigating and reporting misconduct, or what the University’s definition of misconduct includes. Find out who looks after misconduct in your department and can support you if you think you have a case in a class.
- Adapted from McNeill, Laurie. “Inspecting the Foundations: An Academic Integrity Intervention.”
- Sarah Elaine Eaton, “Who Cheats? Reality versus myth”, “Academic Integrity for Teaching and Learning: Insights for Ethical Practice”, UBC Academic Integrity Week, Keynote Lecture.
- Parnther, C. (2020). Academic misconduct in higher education: A comprehensive review. Journal of Higher Education Policy And Leadership Studies, 1(1), 25-45. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.29252/johepal.1.1.25
- Childers, Dan and Sam Bruton. 2016. “’Should It Be Considered Plagiarism?’ Student Perceptions of Complex Citation Issues.” J Acad Ethics 14:1–17 DOI 10.1007/s10805-015-9250-6; McNeill, Laurie. Changing “Hearts” and Minds: Pedagogical and Institutional Practices to Foster Academic Integrity. Academic Integrity in Canada, ed. Sarah Elaine Eaton and Julia Christensen-Hughes. Springer: 2022.