Blog post

Academic integrity in Canada: deepening our commitment to reconciliation, decolonization, and indigenization

Sarah Elaine Eaton

Associate professor of education, University of Calgary; editor-in-chief of the International Journal for Educational Integrity; co-editor of Academic Integrity in Canada: An Enduring and Essential Challenge

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Academic integrity is a foundation of ethical teaching, learning, and assessment. For too long, countries such as Canada have relied on research and guidance from other countries about how to promote academic integrity and address fraud in educational context.

Although Canada has historically been regarded as a country with low levels of fraud, its levels of corruption have been increasing in recent years. Canada is not immune to fraud, and nor is it immune to breaches of educational integrity. For example, it has been shown that the commercial contract cheating industry has been flourishing in Canada since the 1970s, so these issues are not new. Academic cheating is also likely underreported in Canada, compared with other countries.

Although Canadian higher education shares some similarities with the United States, there are also important differences, particularly with regards to academic integrity. For example, the system of honor codes that exists in the US has never taken hold in Canada, and as Julia Christensen Hughes and I have argued, it does not make sense for Canadian schools to try and emulate the American honor code system in
schools
because of differences in cultures and educational governance systems.

The point is that although education in Canada may share some similarities with other countries, it also has its own unique characteristics, some of which are propelling us to consider ethical aspects of education in new ways. For example, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action includes numerous calls to develop culturally appropriate curricula, improve the educational attainment levels for Indigenous students and numerous other recommendations, all with the purpose of making education in Canada more equitable and ethical.

Indigenous and Métis scholars in Canada, such as Gabrielle Lindstrom, Yvonne Poitras Pratt and Keeta Gladue contend that there is a need to decolonize academic integrity, and to value Indigenous ways of knowing, being, teaching, and learning.
For example, Lindstrom points out that:

Within an Indigenous paradigm, integrity is best conceptualized through an oral system of knowledge and transmitted via Elder teachings. These teachings contain moral and ethical guidelines for living a good life in relation to self, other living entities and the natural world.

She notes the ways in which legalistic approaches to addressing breaches of integrity can perpetuate harm against Indigenous peoples. Lindstrom argues that historically, academic integrity has been conceptualized and enacted through a Eurocentric lens that “relies on institutionalized protocols” that perpetuate “power imbalances and hierarchical organization of knowledge that typify universities as sites of ongoing colonization”.

In order to decolonize academic integrity, we must consider how to dismantle hierarchical practices that perpetuate power imbalances, discrimination, and marginalization. This means carefully considering how policies, practices, and pedagogy can be revised and updated to ensure a focus on equity for all learners and members of learning communities. There is no single way to decolonize education or academic integrity, but scholars such as Lindstrom, Poitras Pratt and Gladue challenge us to reconsider how punitive and quasi-legalistic approaches to academic misconduct may be rooted in colonialist practices of subjugation, discrimination, and punishment as a form of behaviour control.

Similarly, Poitras Pratt and Gladue “see academic integrity, a cornerstone of education, as implicated in nation-wide efforts of decolonizing and Indigenizing, and ultimately extending to the national project of reconciliation.” The Indigenous Academic Integrity project at the University of Calgary uses visual storytelling to show how Indigenous principles of relationality, reciprocity, and respect can help to decolonize and Indigenize academic integrity (see Figure 1).

If processes historically used to address breaches of academic integrity are rooted in legal procedures, a key question to ask is: how might these processes contribute to the overrepresentation of individuals from equity-deserving groups in academic misconduct reporting data and in particular, continue to perpetuate harm? The answer may lie in the use of restorative justice and restorative practices, which are used at some universities in Canada to address academic misconduct.

Restorative resolutions seek to repair harm, restore relationships between individuals and strengthen communities, rather than punish people for wrongdoing. Restorative resolutions “have a long tradition and remain at play in Indigenous communities around the world”, note Paul Sopcak and Kevin Hood, two Canadian advocates for the use of restorative resolutions for student conduct issues. They contend that restorative practices “prevent conflict and misconduct while empowering marginalized individuals”. Restorative resolutions are an alternative to the “standard, quasi-legal, adversarial process, emphasizing deterrence and punishment”, note Sopcak and Hood (2022).

Canadian education is not immune to breaches of ethics in educational contexts, and increasingly Canada’s contribution to the global conversation about academic integrity is becoming centred on equity, decolonization, Indigenization, and restorative resolutions. In this way, Canada is differentiating itself from the United States and even other Commonwealth countries in its approaches to academic integrity and educational ethics. Although this may not prevent breaches of ethics in education, it may set the stage for more stainable and equitable approaches to integrity over the long term.

References:

Eaton, S. E., & Christensen Hughes, J. (Eds.). (2022). Academic integrity in Canada: An enduring and essential challenge. Springer. 

Gladue, K. (2021). Indigenous Academic Integrity. Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. University of Calgary.

Lindstrom, G. (2022). Accountability, relationality and Indigenous epistemology: Advancing an Indigenous perspective on academic integrity. In S. E. Eaton & J. Christensen Hughes (Eds.), Academic integrity in Canada: An enduring and essential challenge (pp. 125-139). Springer.

Morrison, M., & Zachariah, P. (2022). Student academic misconduct through a Canadian legal lens. In S. E. Eaton & J. Christensen Hughes (Eds.), Academic integrity in Canada: An enduring and essential challenge (pp. 535-552). Springer.

Poitras Pratt, Y., & Gladue, K. (2022). Re-defining academic integrity: Embracing Indigenous truths. In S. E. Eaton & J. Christensen Hughes (Eds.), Academic integrity in Canada: An enduring and essential challenge (pp. 103-123). Springer.

Sopcak, P., & Hood, K. (2022). Building a culture of restorative practice and restorative responses to academic misconduct. In S. E. Eaton & J. Christensen Hughes (Eds.), Academic integrity in Canada: An enduring and essential challenge (pp. 573-571).

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