Blog post

Integrity matters! Using open educational practices to address online integrity

Cindy Ives; Beth Perry; Pamela Walsh; Cheryl Kier

Professors, Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University

Academic integrity entails commitment to the fundamental values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage. At Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University, similar values underpin our open educational practices such as student choice, authentic assessment, and honest communication. The values support a focus on academic integrity in our distance teaching.

What is the link between open education practices and academic integrity?

Building on the work of international colleagues including Andrade et al. (2011), Bozkurt et al. (2019), and Paskevicius and Irvine (2021), we define open educational practices in our open, online university context as:

the explicit use of collaborative teaching, learning designs, and academic practices that draw on multiple open technologies and pedagogies, to facilitate collaborative, inclusive, and flexible learning.

Course design and teaching grounded in principles of trust, respect, choice,
learner-centeredness, co-construction of knowledge, and open resources can maximize the potential for academic integrity and allow educators (whether online or face-to-face) to concentrate on supporting student success. Open educational practices that focus on providing all students with choice in their approaches to learning can de facto help negate real or perceived inequity that can emerge in the granting of accommodations.

For example, if all students can choose from several different types of learning resources (e.g., written articles, videos, podcasts) and different assessment strategies (e.g., presenting orally, writing a scholarly paper, or creating a website), then all students have an equivalent opportunity to exercise their learning preferences and demonstrate achievement of course outcomes.

How can alternative assessments make a difference?

We suggest that authentic assessment is an open educational practice that can help address challenges to academic integrity such as copying work from the Internet, using assignments others have written and submitting these as their own, or contacting websites for answers during examinations. Our open, online and distance education university asks us to consider the purpose of assessment and how it can be done in ways that support greater inclusion, improve learning outcomes, and enhance the learning experience. Authentic assessment is relevant, personal, and engaging. It values students’ learning allowing them to apply concepts to academic and professional experiences (Conrad & Openo, 2018).

As open and online distance educators, we and our colleagues are exploring a variety of authentic assessment practices that offer learners the opportunity to modify and personalize an existing assignment or to create their own assessments within parameters (a process led by the student and facilitated by the instructor). It is thus less likely that an assessment of this design could be completed by anyone other than the students themselves.

Other authentic assessment practices include embedding reflective ePortfolios and learning journals into courses. Enabled by technology, an ePortfolio is a collection of a student's work that provides evidence of what they learned, the process of their learning, and how that learning aligns with course outcomes. Ongoing instructor and peer feedback are features of ePortfolios (Hoven et al., 2022). Learning journals, like ePortfolios, often use prompt questions to trigger student reflections on course content, thought processes, insights, and new learning. ePortfolios, journals, and course projects can be used as alternatives to final exams (Goorts, 2020) and other forms of assessment. A detailed guide to alternative assessments (Elkhoury, 2020) offers many other examples.

What role does open communication play in improving integrity?

We also propose that educators’ open, honest communication with students helps enhance integrity. Instructors who employ open educational practices may share their beliefs explicitly about cheating and the importance of academic honesty and model it as well. Where open educational approaches are used successfully, a sense of community can be established and straightforward communication among students and teachers become the norm. In such an atmosphere, learners are less likely to rationalize dishonest academic behaviours.

Academic integrity matters! Open educational practices, anchored in values aligned with a philosophy of openness, can help create learning opportunities and environments where students and educators can flourish as integrity is preserved. Instructors and learners benefit from development opportunities that encourage them to consider ethical values and practices in teaching and learning environments. Such an evolution is beneficial for students, educators, and society as a whole.

References

About the authors

Cindy Ives is Professor of Distance Education at Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University. She teaches and supervises graduate students online, and conducts research through innovative online and open initiatives. Linkedin

Beth Perry is a Professor in the Faculty of Health Disciplines at Athabasca University. She teaches and mentors graduate and undergraduate learners, and focuses her research on exemplary online education.

Pamela Walsh is an Associate Professor of Distance Education at Athabasca University, where she teaches and supervises doctoral students. Her research interests include open educational practices in online learning and leadership in higher education. Linkedin

Cheryl Kier is Associate Professor of psychology in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Athabasca University. She teaches undergraduate students online, and explores the use of innovative teaching techniques. Linkedin

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