Using Honour Codes in the Classroom

Students need to understand what honesty means and what kind of citation and other practices are necessary to preserve it. A class “honour code” can be used as a way of helping students both understand and make an initial commitment to the principles of academic integrity.

This idea of a class “honour code” is similar to discussions that occur in many York classrooms around a code of conduct for the class, but extends the discussion to underlying values. There has been considerable research (McCabe, Trevino & Butterfield, 2001) on honour codes, and much of it has suggested that such codes may be effective in reducing breaches of academic honesty.  This is principally survey research which depends on students self-reports on “one or more instances of serious cheating.” So in fact, the difference, (54% on campuses with honour codes, 71% without) may be partly a measure of willingness to disclose.  However, one very encouraging finding (McCabe, Trevino & Butterfield, 1999) is that students at universities with honour codes tend to conceive the academic integrity issues differently and are less likely to argue a view which seeks to rationalize plagiarism or other forms of breaches in academic honesty.

Issues of academic integrity may be reduced if you incorporate discussion around an “honour code” early in your course. The goal is to clarify what we are defending with the rules and procedures around citing sources and not engaging in practices which are  academically dishonest.

How to Develop a Class Honour Code

  1. Engage your class in a discussion about the purposes and values of education. Start with an open question like:  “What purposes does the university serve in society?” and lead through that to discussion of  “What values do you think the university needs to uphold to achieve these purposes?” Alternatively, start with a short presentation on values you think are central to a university and use these to guide the discussion.
  2. Develop a list of values on the board. This list will vary according to what comes up in discussion. However, some examples might be:
    • Education
    • Fairness
    • Scholarship
    • Citizenship

You might encourage discussion of how these values translate into your students lives or how they are understood according to their cultures and backgrounds.

  1. Connect those values with the practices of academic honesty. This can be done in discussion with students, or with a presentation. For example, the values of education and fairness could be connected to academic honesty as follows:
    • Education – Cheating threatens education because students who cheat do not participate in the experiences which lead to intellectual growth. Also, if cheating occurs and is known to occur at York, this can hamper the reputation of the university and diminish the value of a York degree.
    • Fairness – As part of the educational process, students receive grades for the work of the course.  It’s important that students be judged fairly—not only in reference to other students but also in terms that reflect their real abilities and skills.
  2. Incorporate a Commitment to the Values.  A few ways this can be accomplished are:
    • make them part of the class’s “code of conduct”
    • have each student sign some such statement of commitment
    • have students commit to them verbally in discussion or other form

Sample Class Honour Code

As a member of this class and of York University, I commit myself to the following values:

York University, and we in this class,  are committed to the development of the individual student in terms of intellectual growth in the disciplines and subjects of chosen study and the associated critical skills. The value of education is threatened by cheating, plagiarizing etc. because the student thereby fails to undergo the experiences and the activities which give rise to that intellectual growth.  Also, and to the extent that cheating occurs and is known to occur at York, those who look to a York degree as an indicator of development and the achievement of those skills, must do so with some degree of doubt about any individual who possesses that degree.

York is committed to scholarship which is the production of knowledge at every level.  Your professors are engaged in creating knowledge in their fields, as are you as students, particularly in the later years of your programs and in graduate schools.  Similarly the assignments you work on in earlier years are “apprentice” work within the fields—helping you to understand the ways in which knowledge is created in the various disciplines.  Citation practices are crucial to this enterprise—not only in giving credit for the intellectual work of others but also in providing your reader with the means of understanding more fully and following up on the sources that you have used.  A failure to acknowledge sources undermines the commitment to scholarship.

York is committed to helping you develop the intellectual skills and the contextual knowledge which will allow you to assess alternatives and function as active citizens within Canada and the world.

As part of the educational process, students receive grades for the work of the course.  It’s important that students be judged fairly—not only in reference to other students but also in terms that reflect their real abilities and skills.  Clearly when a student has not done the work for the course, but through buying an essay or other forms of cheating receives a grade that reflects that work was done, principles of fairness are violated.

I understand that I have a responsibility to maintain these values, and in order to do so, I will not engage in any form of cheating or other breaches in academic honesty as defined by York’s Policy on Academic Honesty

Sample Class Code of Conduct

(for SBCC 1000.06)

I understand that the learning goals for this course include the following:

(student signature) 

Business History
By the end of the course, students will be able to identify relevant historical forces and to apply an understanding of these forces to their reasoning about the present and future; they will understand and be able to analyze the origins of business in Canada and this country’s involvement in extra-national political and economic arrangements.

Business Ethics
By the end of the course, students will understand and be able to explain in their own words some of the major ethical theories, including those related to utilitarianism, rights, and justice. They will also be able to apply these theories in conducting analyses and constructing moral arguments relevant to making ethical business decisions.

Critical Skills
Throughout the course, students will develop their written and oral communication skills, critical thinking skills and computing skills. They will learn to present and analyze arguments, to make formal presentations, to work in teams, to facilitate the learning of others through class participation and generally to direct their own learning in the context of the course goals.

I understand that I have a responsibility to facilitate the achievement of these learning goals by both myself and others in the class, and in order to do so, I agree to abide by the following:

  1. I will respect my classmates and contribute to the learning of the group.
  2. To the best of my ability, I will complete the reading before each class.
  3. I will participate in class discussions, while showing consideration for other members of the class who wish to make contributions.
  4. In preparing group projects, I will make a fair contribution to the group effort.
  5. When my view differs from one offered by another in the class, I will present my view in a way which is respectful of the thoughts and feelings of others.
  6. I will consider any constructive criticism from my instructor or classmates, on the understanding that we all have room for improvement.
  7. I will keep my instructor informed of any problems or challenges which interfere with my achievement of the course learning objectives.

(student signature)