Academic integrity is not plagiarism

Moving assessment online during COVID-19 saw a renewed and passionate focus on academic integrity across the higher education sector, with webinars, articles, technologies and strategies all focusing on minimising plagiarism and contract cheating. However, this association tended to signal that academic integrity and academic misconduct are one. This misses a vital learning opportunity for developing students’ understanding of values and ethics.

By focusing on misconduct rather than on conduct, we risk training students to remain within boundaries while never educating them about the reasons for their existence. By jumping straight into conversations about academic breaches, we fail to provide guidance for our students and develop a shared understanding of the values underpinning their learning, our teaching and research. In this way, we skip over a vital part of what it means to be a scholar.

"Academic integrity relates to a set of values and practices situated within disciplinary and professional communities of inquiry and practice…we cannot expect students to act in ways that are respectful of academic integrity if we don’t explain what it is, why it is so important, and teach in ways that reflect its importance." (Sefcik, Striepe & Yorke, 2020, my emphasis)

In conceptualising academic integrity and the surrounding issues, it may be helpful to consider and separate three aspects: education, prevention and discipline. Each of these has associated practices and underlying values which can often be conflated or confused.

Education

Educative approaches may include:

  • Teaching students about how and why to adhere to codes of conduct, to exercise integrity in academic writing and understand its nuances.
  • Showing students that all members of the university must uphold and commit to the same standards, and that academic integrity is linked to personal and professional integrity (e.g., shown when workshop slides  adhere to proper academic referencing standards).
  • Building understanding of the ‘grey’ areas and how to avoid them (e.g., discussing the decision-making processes around working with others, and using information from different sources).
  • Giving students specific assessment feedback on their capacity to adhere to academic integrity standards.
  • Using software solutions such as Turnitin or MOSS to help students identify and resolve issues in their work prior to submission.

Prevention

Preventive strategies can be employed to enable students to avoid breaches and misconduct.

Preventive strategies may include:

  • Understanding why students cheat and targeting motivators
  • Acknowledging that some student groups are more vulnerable to illegal organisations such as ghost writing and contract cheating services, and providing those students with specific and targeted support to enable them to succeed without using such services.
  • Building relationships and providing an environment where students feel educators care about their learning and success.
  • Designing assessment that limits the opportunities for misconduct, poorly defined constructs or excessive focus on information recall.
  • Focusing on practical and sustainable assessment security measures.
  • Securing some assessment through invigilation while educating through other assessments.
  • Use of similarity-detection software
  • Ensuring students understand what breaches look like and their consequences (e.g., share anonymous cases and their consequences).

Discipline

Even with education and prevention measures, research shows that a small proportion of students will engage in academic misconduct and dishonest behaviours. In addition to moral and ethical duty, there are obligations under TEQSA to ensure that misconduct and dishonesty are addressed through clear policies and procedures, with supporting processes.

These policies and procedures can be strengthened by:

  • Reporting data used for quality assurance and review.
  • Frequent identification of breaches; when we show that we care about misconduct with clear consequences, students are less likely to cheat.
  • Regular review and data collection of breach and misconduct information to inform future actions based on evidence.
  • Communicate actions and outcomes to staff and students.

Join the conversation

The Education Portfolio is establishing a university-wide Academic Integrity Network and seeking students and staff across Faculties to develop a shared understanding of the educative, preventive and disciplinary practices of academic integrity and to share this across Monash.

Join us and be part of the conversation. If you are interested, leave your details here.

Helpful resources:

References

Bretag, T., Curtis, G., McNeill, M. & Slade, C. (2018) Academic Integrity in Australian higher education: A national priority (infographic) (workshop video) (workshop slides)

Bretag, T., Harper, R., Burton, M., Ellis, C., Newton, P., van Haeringen, K., Saddiqui, S. & Rozenberg, P. (2019) Contract cheating and assessment design: exploring the relationship, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44:5, 676-691, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2018.1527893

Husain, F.M., Al-Shaibani, G.K.S. and Mahfoodh, O.H.A., (2017). Perceptions of and attitudes toward plagiarism and factors contributing to plagiarism: A review of studies. Journal of Academic Ethics 15(2), pp.167-195.

Kremmer, M. L., Brimble, M. A., & Stevenson-Clarke, P. (2007). Investigating the Probability of Student Cheating: The Relevance of Student Characteristics, Assessment Items, Perceptions of Prevalence and History of Engagement. International Journal for Educational Integrity 3(2), pp. 3–17.

Rowena-Harper, T. Bretag, C. Ellis, P. Newton, P. Rozenberg, S. Saddiqui & K van Haeringen (2019) Contract cheating: a survey of Australian university staff, Studies in Higher Education, 44:11, 1857-1873, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2018.1462792

Sefcik, L., Striepe, M. & Yorke, J. (2020) Mapping the landscape of academic integrity education programs: what approaches are effective?, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 45:1, 30-43, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2019.1604949

About the author

Rosie Mackay is the Senior Specialist, Learning and Teaching at Monash Education Academy in the Portfolio of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education where she works across institutional projects relating to teaching and learning quality, academic integrity and assessment security. Rosie has worked in education for the past 15 years, leading teams and learning in schools as well as educational change to improve teaching and learning in the domestic and transnational education sectors.