Designing Courses that Foster Academic Integrity

Before you begin designing your course to foster academic integrity, it is helpful to understand why students commit breaches of academic honesty.  This will enable you to determine some simple overarching principles and strategies to overcome these reasons, such as including clear communication of expectations and paying particular attention to the timing of assignments.

Susan Bens identifies seven overarching reasons why students cheat, in her doctoral dissertation and subsequent blog posts:

Although much of the focus on academic integrity centres around student responsibility, fostering such integrity is a key responsibility of academic institutions and faculty. Central to this is the process of modeling.  At every level, it is our responsibility to practice what we preach. The principles of academic integrity must be embedded in the very way that we function in the classroom and create courses and assignments.

This can be accomplished by creating circumstances in which instructors are seen by students to be doing new work or engaging with old work in new ways.  When this is not possible, when there are established information, axioms, or theories that must be communicated, clear attributions of sources help emphasize academic integrity. The caricature of the professor who uses the lecture to read from the text exemplifies an unhealthy academic environment where students perceive a lack of commitment to the principle of original or autonomous work. The impact of the current state of textbook publication, in which multinational publishers are increasingly providing packaged courses, is also worth questioning.

How to promote academic integrity through course design

  • Vary both the curriculum and the course delivery. Courses that remain stagnant encourage breaches in academic honesty. Unchanging texts, lectures, assignments and exams can encourage the creation of databases of used academic materials.
  • Routinely change core course instructors. Even if the new instructor uses exactly the same materials, the emphasis will change. Cycling course directors out of large courses after two years helps create circumstances that discourage breaches in academic honesty. Due to the large amount of work it takes to recreate those classes, this can raise issues regarding instructor workload. Team-teaching may be one way to address such concerns, although it may not always be financially viable.
  • If the instructor cannot be changed, the course’s key texts should be. In some disciplines a single text may be so clearly superior, or completely dominate the discourse in the field, that it must be used. Even then, different aspects of the text may be emphasized. Secondary readings can also change from year to year, and assignments can focus on these newer materials.
  • In Humanities disciplines less known authors, or less known books by unavoidable authors, can be used. For example, in a Shakespeare course, Titus Andronicus can be examined rather than King Lear .