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Do students understand academic integrity?

What a stand-alone course on academic misconduct taught faculty about student readiness.

4 min read


Do students understand academic integrity?


Since November 2017, 3,000 first-year seminar students in University College at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis have taken a voluntary online course on academic integrity. The average pretest scores were 49%, but when these students finished the course, the post-test score averaged 93%.

Our team, which developed the course, wasn’t surprised to find that the course was effective. What was surprising, though, was to discover, through the pre-test, that many students do not have foundational skills of proper citation, setting them up for trouble in their academic and professional careers.

Many students I teach–from freshman to graduate students–think that academic misconduct only includes plagiarism or cheating. They don’t realize that it also includes falsification, fabrication, interference and violating course rules. As an educator sending graduates out into the “real-world,” I felt it was my responsibility to teach them the importance of integrity.

I gathered together faculty from our schools of science, liberal arts, engineering, business and education, plus the university library. We discussed issues about academic misconduct and how we could reach out to our undergraduate students. We also got feedback from other faculty and campus organizational support.

We surveyed faculty for their views on academic misconduct. The data showed that 37% of our faculty agreed that cheating was a serious problem and 41% felt the average student had a poor understanding of policies. Additionally, faculty themselves do not strongly support the campus policies, meaning that faculty don’t always report instances of academic misconduct. Over the course of eight years, the Office of Student Conduct reported that 700 cases were submitted to their office. With a campus of over 30,000 students, this number seemed too low.

Our community group–the Gateway to Graduation Academic Integrity Community of Practice– decided to develop a way to reach to all students, focusing on incoming freshman and transfer students, to help them understand the importance of academic integrity. This included learning about the different types of academic misconduct, what to do if they witnessed it what it meant if they were in a misconduct situation, and how to avoid committing an act of misconduct.

The result of our efforts is a stand-alone online course delivered through our learning management system. It includes a range of materials such as videos, diagrams and quizzes. Scenarios surrounding each of the six types of academic misconduct were created and the campus’ Teaching and Learning Technologies team helped produce videos. The academic misconduct depicted in each video is not obvious, which encourages students and instructors to talk about the options.

Other instructional design techniques were employed, such as backward design to figure out the learning goals and how to measure if students successfully obtained them. Embedded questions ask students about the types of conduct they saw. Interactive slides allow students to see outcomes as if they were involved in the misconduct. There are resources to help students learn to avoid misconduct and how to anonymously report it when the see it occur. And of course, the pre and post-tests that measure course effectiveness.

The dramatic improvement in scores between the pre- and post-test of our initial 3,000 students shows that the course works; students can learn how to recognize academic misconduct. We want to see it become a required class for all first-year seminar courses, plus transfer and online students. To increase access, we have been sharing the course across campus, within our university system (which includes multiple satellite campuses), with the higher education academic integrity community and with the general online-learning community.

Throughout this process, we have refined a few key elements that other universities can employ in developing a similar program:

  • Identify the university’s policies and procedures on academic misconduct
  • Locate how reports of academic misconduct are handled
  • Develop a list of resources for incoming students
  • Design a method to reach all students and teach about the importance of academic integrity at the university
  • Spread the word to faculty and staff about academic integrity through departmental meetings, school convocations, faculty council and other university-wide organizations

Gina Londino-Smolar is a faculty fellow at Indiana University Kelley School of Business, Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, and Teaching and Learning Technologies Senior Lecturer, Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program.

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