Kristin McDonald is a Professor and Associate Chair of Human Services and Sociology at Post University
As a Xennial (I refute being identified as a geriatric Millenial) in higher education, I can think back to times when online learning platforms confused even the most tech-savvy college professors. Handing in hardcopy papers and accessing printed resources in the campus library were the norm. Fast-forward fifteen years and the latest technological advances have brought us computer programs that are able to write an entire research paper with a simple command! While I’m a firm believer in the idea of working smarter and not necessarily harder, where do we draw the line in terms of what we consider academic integrity versus dishonesty?
Do students understand the expectations?
As an educator, my goal is to support all students in strengthening their writing skills. This by default includes the ability to write professionally, think critically, and cite responsibly. When information is easily accessible with the simple swipe of a screen, it’s no wonder that today’s students have a different perception of what constitutes an act of plagiarism. The general rule of thumb was that anything not considered “common knowledge” needed to be cited. Well, what do we consider “common knowledge” when I can conduct a quick search and have an answer dictated back to me by my cell phone? If I’m not reading a published article or book to obtain that information, how can I cite it? Why should I cite it?
Many educational institutions focus on strict policies that outline consequences designed to discourage students from committing acts of academic dishonesty. But can we confidently say that students understand what academic integrity is and why it matters? Do students truly understand what it is they’re trying to achieve or only what they’re trying to avoid?
While I’m not arguing that students should receive a free pass when they’ve committed an act of plagiarism, I find that many students genuinely don’t understand how to avoid committing those acts. Considering that the average college student is around 26 years of age, we can no longer assume that students are entering into our courses with a current understanding of citation styles, research skills, or a thorough understanding of what actions constitute academic dishonesty. It’s our responsibility as educators to teach them about their responsibility to uphold academic integrity.
Teaching that supports student learning
When a student commits their first act of plagiarism, whether it be intentional or unintentional, I often try to avoid penalizing them. Instead, I offer them an opportunity to learn and improve. Many students are grateful for the resources. They report having a better understanding of proper citation formatting and a thorough understanding of what they did wrong. Even as adults, we can all admit not truly understanding the consequences of certain choices or actions until we’re facing them in the moment.
Considering this, I’m a strong advocate for requiring all new students to complete an orientation session that defines academic integrity and the different forms of plagiarism. The session should also include a review of the institution’s specific plagiarism policy. In addition, this module should include a quick crash-course in the citation format used by the institution.
I believe that students can’t avoid committing plagiarism if they don’t understand why academic integrity is important. Incorporating this learning module in a new student orientation will support students in developing confidence in their writing and a strong basis to be successful in their academic careers. As educators, it is our responsibility to prepare students for academic success. While the old-school mentality is that students come to us with this knowledge, we need to adjust our train of thought. If we truly want our students to uphold our standards and leave our institutions career-ready with a toolkit full of professional skills and knowledge, we have to be willing to meet them where they are and guide them to success
This year, faculty told us that one of their biggest pain points is handling new forms of student cheating. Read our 2022 report now and look out for more in our upcoming Faces of Faculty report this September.