13.01.2021 | Blogpost

Including Students in Building a Culture of Integrity

Zeenath Reza Khan
President, Centre for Academic Integrity in the UAE. Assistant Professor and Chair of Academic Integrity Committee, University of Wollongong in Dubai
Dubai
The year 2020 brought into sharp focus the importance of a culture of integrity on campuses: one that faculty can bank on when having to deal with students remotely. Last year, academics no longer had the luxury to look students in the eye when delivering a lecture; nor did they have the chance to invigilate them in a traditional setting.

Faculties realized they need to ensure that their students engage in assessment processes with honesty, fairness, courage, respect, responsibility and truthfulness – all values of academic integrity recognised by the International Centre for Academic Integrity (ICAI).

Time and again, research has shown that having a culture of integrity on campus can be a natural deterrent to cheating or e-cheating. This culture cannot be developed overnight, and not amidst stress, anxiety, and a whole new mode of teaching and delivery. A recent ETICO blog focused on the importance of policy frameworks that can help govern the institution’s attitude, proactive actions, and reactions to academic dishonesty. While policies are crucial top-down efforts, the practical implementation of these policies often miss the most important stakeholders – namely students.

Most government agencies, institutions and networks involve policy makers, faculty, and management personnel when trying to understand integrity issues and to determine the right approaches. However, students are key stakeholders in ensuring the success of such policies. Instead of speaking “at” students, it is necessary that conversations about academic integrity “include” students and represent their voices.  For instance, when policies are developed or modifications suggested by review boards, inviting students to participate in the discussion can help ensure the necessary “buy in” to the policy or changes proposed.

All students do not engage in cheating. However, most students have at some point been witnesses to acts of cheating committed by a friend or a family member. While staying silent might seem like the natural “code” students follow, sometimes it is simply a case of not finding a safe space to share their thoughts or what they have seen. This can have a cascading impact: from feelings of frustration, to self-doubt, to questioning the system that “allows” such behaviour to be rewarded, to themselves then engaging in such acts. It is, therefore, of the utmost urgency that institutions and bodies look for ways to include students in order to give their voices priority.

Including students in the conversation means involving them in various stages in the development of a culture of integrity. This can take the form of: activities that students participate in; activities that students design and organize for other students; dialogues with students on policies and procedural changes that institutes wish to bring about; or research carried out by students themselves – e.g. studies, academic papers, presentation of findings in international conferences.  Such an approach also enables faculties to understand student viewpoints, provide a safe environment for students to provide feedback, and identify any gaps in academic support that can be filled. Indeed, the barriers and challenges students are facing might very well extend beyond the classroom and necessitate different kinds of support.

The European Network for Academic Integrity (ENAI) launched a Student Working Group in 2020, including a Student Champion Award, and a panel discussion that recognised students and their efforts. Similarly, students featured strongly throughout the 5th International Day of Actions Against Contract Cheating organized by ICAI with a range of panel discussions by and with students during their “Twenty Live in 20”. The first Student Steering Committee also worked side by side with the organizing committee to develop social media campaigns, and manage student competitions.

The Centre for Academic Integrity in the UAE (CAIU) recently launched in the United Arab Emirates, is a voluntary group of academics from universities and schools who have joined hands to support the academic community in the country. The Centre highlights good practices from the country and adopts strategies such as putting students at the forefront. Such a strategy was documented in a recent journal paper, highlighting the increased level of awareness among student populations when university campaigns in the UAE are student-led.  Efforts included: students leading conversations on campus through focus groups, hosting debates and panel discussions; inviting students to join in competitions, video blog and poster campaigns. Results of such efforts showed a systematic increase in student understanding of misconducts and why it is important to avoid them, making the case for including students in building a culture of integrity.

As a model response to such a call to action, the Centre for Academic Integrity in the UAE plans a series of student-centred activities in 2021, including “Why integrity matters” video campaigns, “Essay mills and social license to operate” awareness and research projects, and “I know my campus policy… or do I” discussion and design campaigns. These will be driven by student-led sub committees for students across universities and schools in the country and will produce research papers documenting the strategies and their impact. It is hoped that such events will contribute to building a long-term culture of integrity going beyond classrooms and online learning and showcase effectiveness of including students as good exemplar for others to follow.

 

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