Academic Integrity

What is it?

Michigan State University defines academic integrity as “honest and responsible scholarship” (n.d.). Students are expected to submit their own original work, while giving credit to outside ideas and sources where applicable. Honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility are the five fundamental values that one must commit to in order to practice academic integrity (Center for Academic Integrity, 1999). These are all positive traits for an individual to possess both in and out of the classroom setting. An educational community needs to adhere to what integrity requires and encourage all students and staff to do the same. These values need to be supported by appropriate policies and procedures. All educational institutions should have versions of their own academic honesty policies accessible to students and staff. However, how many of them have actually read them? Out of those who have read them, how many actually understand what it all means?

Millersville University’s Academic Honesty policy (2008) states they expect students to be honest and forthright in their academic endeavors and provides an outline of multiple forms of academic dishonesty for reference (p. 1).

  • Plagiarism is including someone else’s words, data, or ideas, claiming it as one’s own. This includes actual opinions, facts, statistics, ideas, theories, and other illustrative materials that is not common knowledge. If any of the above information is used, it must be cited properly for the specific format being used.
  • Fabrication or falsification of researching or findings. Citing information from a source that is not listed as a reference, listing sources that were not used, and inventing data or information are all forms of fabrication.
  • Cheating occurs when one attempts to misrepresent that they are competent on a subject or to gain an advantage through using illegal or illegitimate means. This includes copying from another student, allowing a student to copy from one’s test or assignment, using unauthorized course materials during a test, collaborating during a test, programming formulas or notes into calculators or writing on skin or clothing.
  • Academic misconduct is altering grades or distributing test materials before the test is administered. Stealing or buying an administered test or course materials, bribing an individual for test information, entering a building or office to change ones grade or obtain an administered test, completed a test or assignment for someone else, continuing to work on a test after the time is up, and submitting work previously submitted for another class are all examples of academic misconduct.

(Millersville University’s Academic Honesty Policy, 2008, pp.1-3)

How does it work?

When dealing with academic integrity, the goal should be to act proactively, rather than reactively. In other words, educators do not want to wait until an academic dishonest incident occurs. They should attempt to educate students to help prevent incidents altogether. By making students aware of the expectations surrounding academic honesty, it protects the integrity of the student, staff, and institution as a whole. Discussing what academic integrity is a crucial first step. The topic can be confusing for students, especially if it has never been discussed with them before.

Students need to be aware of their expectations, which should be clearly defined. Emphasize such expectations in writing and verbally. Constant reminders let students know how serious the topic is. Most professors put a section in the syllabus at the beginning of the semester, but how many go over it with the students? Or are the students expected to go home and read and understand the policies regarding academic honesty? Read over the university policy with the class and implement examples specific to your course to give students an idea of what is allowed and what is not. Do not focus solely on the consequences surrounding academic dishonesty but make sure they are aware of what they could be jeopardizing.

Academic Integrity & Writing Assignments

For courses that require a lot of writing assignments, prepare a lesson on academic integrity. Give students examples of plagiarism, improper collaboration (UNL Office of Judicial Affairs, n.d.) or teach research and citation skills, while identifying common student mistakes (Meizlish, 2005). Contrary to what professors might want to think, not all students arrive at college with proper instruction or knowledge regarding research, citations, and academic honesty. Academic integrity can also be promoted by allowing students to submit an outline or draft for feedback. Preparing new assignments each semester decreases the likelihood of new students using assignments acquired from previous students.

Implement alternative assignments that can take the place of some traditional writing assignments. Students growing up in the ever-changing technological age might be more receptive and willing to participate in assignments that utilize technology. Blogging, podcasting, and Twitter assignments allow students to contribute original work, with a touch of their personality or individual style attached to it. Students need to be given the chance to develop informal personal skills, along with formal personal skills, for the real world. When students are more interested in an assignment, they enjoy creating something unique and are less likely to cheat or be dishonest.

Academic Integrity & Exams

Before administering any exams, make the students aware of the policies and procedures surrounding test taking. Meizlish (2005) recommends using multiple versions of tests by mixing up the order of the questions and responses, making students sit in every other seat, and actively proctoring the exam (p. 6). Circulating throughout the room lets students know there are eyes on them, making them less likely to engage in dishonest behaviors. Some professors require that students put their phones on the corner of their desks during exams. The device can be easily seen and the student cannot hide using in. Rotating or preparing new exam questions is also recommended, to ensure that no two classes will be getting the same test questions (UNL Office of Judicial Affairs, n.d.). Professors can also hang on to the physical tests and just inform students of their grades via an online grading system. If students want to see what they missed or review their tests, they can set up a time to meet with the professor.

Academic Integrity & Online Classes

Fishman (2013) came up with six recommendations for promoting academic honesty within the online classroom setting.

  • Set expectations – Make your students aware of the institution’s honor code by constantly referring back to it throughout the course. From the very beginning of a course students should know about academic integrity and their responsibility to adhere to school policy.
  • Build relationships – It can be more difficult for students and professors to establish a relationship in a virtual classroom. However, when students have a relationship with an instructor they appear to be less likely to cheat, with the fear of disappointing someone they have built a good rapport with. Make an effort to check in with students and see how they are doing, both inside and outside of the classroom. Adding a picture to your online classroom profile allows students to put a face to the person grading their assignments. It makes the virtual classroom more personal.
  • Assist students in transferring face-to-face classroom norms to the online classroom environment – Encourage students to actively interact with one another and exchange thoughts and ideas, just as it would be in a traditional classroom setting. Utilizing discussion boards and requiring so many responses to classmates can increase the level of student interaction. By allowing informal conversations that mimic the physical classroom setting, students share their thoughts and ideas without the pressure of being graded on correctness. Discussion grades can count as participation, not whether their answers are right or wrong. If there is a discrepancy, leave the opportunity to clear the air to the students.
  • Keep groups small – When students get to work together with classmates, the tendency to cheat can decrease. They are able to establish meaningful relationships and have the chance to collaboratively create a larger assignment. Students do not feel all of the pressure as they would if it was an individual project they had to tackle alone. Groups of 5 to 10 students are ideal. Creating multiple smaller assignments that build up to a larger assignment allows students to receive feedback and the opportunity to go back and rework things before their final grade. This has shown to result in higher quality assignments and less final feedback for the professor.
  • Use technology judiciously – There are many forms of technology that detect academic dishonesty but educators should not be over reliant on them. Professors want to be able to detect academic dishonesty or stop it from happening beforehand. Putting too many techniques in place to make cheating impossible for students will only cause them to fight harder to find a way around each barrier.
  • Allow opportunities to play and explore – Students who feel supported, engaged, and have opportunities to explore their own interests have been found to be less likely to cheat. Allow flexibility in assignments to include everything that is required but there is room for exploration if a student gets excited about a specific topic. Get students to be excited about learning by giving them a chance to expand, grow, and play. 

Who is doing it?

McCabe (2005) published an article stating 42% of college students have admitted to working with peers on individual assignments. Thirty eight percent admitted to plagiarizing. Stuber-McEwen, Wiseley, and Hoggatt (2009) reported between 9% and 90% of students, undergraduate and graduate, admitted to cheating. There is a significant gap between these two percentages however, the authors suggest that a lot of students do not see their behaviors as cheating. For example, students who find material online tend assume the internet is an “open forum”, therefore they are not required to cite found material (McCabe, as cited in Jones, 2011). These numbers suggest that students are not receiving adequate knowledge regarding academic honesty and integrity. Price-Mitchell (2015) stated that the prevalence of cheating peaks in high school, with 75% of high school students admitting to some form of academic dishonesty. Professors need to encourage academic integrity from the students’ freshman year until graduation. It has been suggested that academic integrity in the classroom results in students carrying that sense of integrity and pride in their abilities into the real world.

Educators from campuses around the world are implementing creative and engaging alternatives to written papers or exams, with hopes of decreasing the students’ likelihood or abilities to cheat.

Deborah Zarka Miller described a lesson on plagiarism she conducted in her classroom.

During class on the third Friday of the semester, Zarka Miller gave her students the assignment of creating an original work articulating their understanding of one of the university’s core values. They could choose from a poem, collage, song, essay, short story, slide show, or 2 minute video and everyone would have 60 seconds in class on Monday to present their project.

After all of the students presented, Zarka Miller instructed everyone to walk around the room, review the projects, and find their favorite. They could select any work, including their own. Once they found their favorite, students were instructed to stand by their favorite project, “claiming” it. More than one student could claim a project. The students who carelessly threw their projects together claimed another student’s work that was thoughtfully planned out.

Zarka Miller told the students to cross out the student’s name on the project they claimed and to write their own. She said she would give the grade to the names written down, not to the person that created the project initially. Zarka Miller was faced with angry stares from those who worked hard on their creations. There was a student who did not complete the assignment at all, who stated he felt lucky but also guilty.

The students continued asking their professor why she would do something like this, until one student realized what she was attempting to show them. They then understood what it felt like to be the victims of someone taking credit for another person’s work. This activity allowed Zarka Miller’s students to better comprehend plagiarizing and the importance of academic integrity.
(Zarka Miller, 2012)

Why is it significant?

Students are under an immense amount of pressure to be the best of the best, in order to get good grades and a good job. Meizlish (2005) stated the following three factors as contributors to academic dishonesty;

  • Student demographic and attitudinal variables, such as age, gender, scholastic ability, financial stress, family, status
  • Classroom context variables, including perceived workload, competitiveness, class size
  • Institutional factors, not limited to honor codes, clarity of academic integrity policies, understanding of sanctions

Academic integrity is directly related to ethics and honesty. Students who do not learn the importance of integrity as a whole will not carry such skills into their lives post-graduation. Fang (2012) stated “Improving academic integrity not only preserves the integrity of an assessment, a class, or an academic program but also serves as part of an ongoing education that enables a person to grow as a learner, an employee, and a public citizen”. The reputations of students and educational institutions could be tarnished if academic honesty is not taken seriously. Academic integrity is not meant to punish students or add more stress to their workloads. Instead, it is meant to guide them to achieving success and a degree they deserve. 

What are the downsides?

Unfortunately, increasing technology often means increasing awareness for educators as to what the newest ways are for students to cheat. Technology can be one’s best friend but also a worst enemy. Constantly keeping up with what students are using can be difficult. Creating new ways to prevent cheating can add more to a professor’s commitments. Initially rearranging the course schedule to include lessons on academic honesty, coming up with activities surrounding academic honesty, creating more test questions or alternative written assignments, and learning about the newest plagiarism software can be a cumbersome task. However, extra legwork then can cause less stress down the road.

Once the course schedule is adjusted, it can be followed for semesters to come. Keep track of what activities work well and fit them into future classes. Having a large test question bank makes it easy to randomize tests and quizzes. Alternative writing assignments will prevent having to read the same assignment consecutively for years. New software can help you understand where the students might need more guidance or to determine if the prevalence of plagiarism is really decreasing. Chances are, professors chose their jobs because they are passionate about what they do and want to make a lasting impression on students’ lives. What better way than to teach them to be honest, trustworthy, fair, respectful, and responsible adults without leaving the classroom?

Where is it going?

Since its establishment in the late 1990s, Turnitin is used by 15,000 higher educational institutions in 140 countries to detect plagiarism in student papers (, 2017). Turnitin works with school platforms, such as Desire2Learn, to review student papers submitted as an assignment. In the future, Turnitin could expand its capabilities to also review student discussion posts. Twitter, Podcasts, blogging, and other social media outlets are creating a variety of alternative assignments for professors to use their creativity. They can think outside of the box and experiment with new and different ideas. Making students and educators more aware of the importance of academic integrity will improve the quality of student work. Students will find pride in their personal capabilities, while potentially learning skills they never knew they had. 

What are the implications for teaching and learning?

Academic integrity has everything to do with teaching and learning. For policies to be successfully enforced in the classrooms, professors need to educate themselves on school policies and regulations. They need to learn to create and implement new techniques and projects to decrease students’ abilities to cheat. Professors are able to learn from these techniques and activities what works well and what does not. They are able to make adjustments accordingly. Successful assignments can be used in future semesters or be tweaked before repeating.

Once professors become more confident with their abilities to reinforce academic integrity policies, they educate their students. Lessons are planned to explicitly explain the significance of academic integrity and how it has the ability to affect each students’ future endeavors. Assignments are tested and materials are rotated. Students begin to understand behaviors they might have had that would be considered academic dishonesty. They start to comprehend the importance of creating their own work. They are proud of their original works.

Students have learned about academic honesty and how to incorporate it into their assignments. They can relate some of the same concepts to larger, real-life situations. A lesson initially created to address integrity within the classroom is taken into the occupational arena. Former students are now employees or employers. The lesson they received regarding academic integrity is being altered and taught to students, interns, and fellow employees. Just as the educational institutions and faculty want to maintain their reputations so do the occupational institutions and their staff. 

Want to learn more?

Academic Integrity at Millersville 
English Department, Millersville University

A Lesson in Academic Integrity as Students Feel the Injustice of Plagiarism 
Deborah Zarka Miller, Assistant Professor, English, Anderson University 

Teaching About Academic Integrity and Plagiarism 
Center for Teaching and Learning, Yale University 

Sample Plagiarism Warnings for Syllabi
Center for Teaching and Learning, Yale University 


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