Blog post

Enhancing academic integrity through a community of practice

Anné Hendrik Verhoef

is professor in philosophy and director of the school of philosophy at North-West University (NWU), South Africa; former co-editor of the journal Transformation in Higher Education; and co-chair of the Community of Practice for Academic Integrity at NWU.

With the perceived increase in academic dishonesty during Covid-19, the North-West University (NWU) in South Africa, responded by establishing a Community of Practice for Academic Integrity (CoPAI). This CoPAI succeeds in various ways to enhance academic integrity at this university, and it can serve as an example to other Higher Education institutions.

The establishment of the CoPAI

The NWU CoPAI was the result of two developments. First, the number of initiatives focusing on various Teaching Learning and Assessment (TLA) aspects and on plagiarism saw an increase during COVID-19, when the switch to “emergency remote teaching” (Hodges et al., 2020:1) took place. Academic integrity (AI) became an urgent and pertinent matter with the move to online TLA.

Second, the discussions on AI gained much more prominence after the annual NWU forum in May 2021, entitled, ‘Cheating, dishonesty, and plagiarism with online teaching and learning. What are the students saying? Can we fundamentally change it?’ This forum brought together all the relevant stakeholders of the NWU on AI, and afterwards staff from the Quality Enhancement Office, the School of Philosophy (the organisers of the forum) and the Centre for Teaching and Learning recognised that there was a need for a collaborative and integrated approach to enhance AI at the NWU. This initial small group approached all interested academic and support staff to gage their interest in the establishment of a CoPAI. A forum (entitled “Towards an Academic Integrity CoP at NWU”) was organized to further discuss this proposal. The idea of a COP for AI was well received by all who attended (about a hundred people) resulting in the establishment of the CoPAI. 

What is the purpose of the CoPAI?

Since its inception, CoPAI was inclusive of all programmes, faculties, and departments (support and academic) on all campuses of the NWU. It follows a bottom-up approach, and its purpose, strategy, and approach were formulated at the first CoPAI forum and not by management. Participation in CoPAI is voluntary and there is no official or closed membership list. Everyone at the NWU is invited to all the CoPAI activities. Persons who attend activities are followed-up for feedback (to determine further needs) and to improve future CoPAI events.

The purpose of CoPAI is to enhance AI at the NWU, by means of:

  • Sharing best practices through appreciative inquiry as a research methodology,
  • Creating and sharing knowledge in the form of research and practical (teaching and learning) outputs,
  • Fostering national and international collaboration on academic integrity, and
  • Establishing a CoPAI identity at the NWU.

How does CoPAI accomplish its mission?

Since its inception, NWU CoPAI has primarily carried out its mission by organising and hosting various discussion forums. The forums have been the basis from which other activities are planned and implemented. Through this means, we succeeded in:

  • Creating opportunities (through the different forums) where lecturers, students and support departments could share best practices in a free and open way. These exchanges also took place on the website and Facebook sites of CoPAI, as well as through email exchanges between participants of CoPAI (colleagues from different faculties who have met through CoPAI).
  • Delivering practical outputs and guidelines, as well as research outputs on AI. The practical outputs and guidelines were shared in conversations on assessment and curriculum design, large-class online assessments, discussions on plagiarism and Turnitin reports, etc.
  • Collaborating with national and international scholars through sharing of best practices, and by inviting them as speakers to the CoPAI forums. 
  • Establishing a CoPAI identity through various marketing strategies. To this end, CoPAI has established its own CoPAI website and a CoPAI Facebook page to enhance collaboration and engagement amongst its community members. An initial report in the university newsletter was also published on the NWU webpage.

How has the CoPAI helped to improve AI at NWU?

Many CoPAI forums led to an exchange of information afterwards between participants, and between different support departments and faculties. Participates reported that the forums also helped to produce a sense of empowerment among lecturers. The student forum helped, for example, to eliminate distrust between students and Student Judiciary Services. One of the main outcomes of the CoPAI forums was the development of standard operating procedures (SOPs) from a TLA perspective for academic integrity at the NWU. The need for such SOPs was consistently communicated by all CoPAI members at various forums. An inter-faculty task team has since been established and are already working on these SOPs.

The NWU CoPAI contributed in several ways to enhance academic integrity at this institution. It also succeeded in identifying some of the most crucial needs for enhancing AI further. The usefulness of this CoPAI lies in its holistic approach, including the valorisation of institutional aspects, the engagement and empowerment of lecturers, and the engagement and empowerment of students.

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