AVPAA's Reflections on Academic Integrity Spring 2009

In the spring of 2009 35 faculty members attended a “Food for Thought” on Academic Integrity.  I promised them that I would share my notes and observations from that meeting with the rest of the faculty. Here they are:
There is a large body of evidence that suggest that nationwide, 20% of students are chronic cheaters and an additional 40% cheat on occasion.  Cheating here is understood to mean presenting material that is not their own in papers/assignments or giving help or getting help on a quiz, test or homework assignment.  That is a lot of students.  Still, studies also suggest that we can cut down on a large amount dishonesty by persuading, deterring and limiting the ease among the “occasionally” dishonest. They are often dishonest ”by opportunity.”
A good deal of our conversation was on how to draw a balance between maintaining a relationship with students, while also maintaining strong climate of academic integrity. Faculty want very much not to function as a police officer, but at the same time they want to both deter all and “punish” those who transgress.
The search, therefore, seems to be for the proper balance.  Faculty members must work this out for themselves. The AVPAA  and Department Heads are happy to offer advice on past practices and current models.
There is a lot that faculty can do to decrease  cheating – especially among the “occasionally” dishonest.
1. Be sure that all phones and PDAs are not accessible – you can ask them to turn them off, put them in bags or leave them on the front desk.

2. Reduce graded exercises where cheating is easy - take home exams, “multiple choice” and “fill ins”.  (Even decreasing the font size and the size of the space provided for answers on exams can reduce the roving eyes.)

3. If we give multiple choice exams, we should create two or more versions and we should let them know this clearly. The goal here is deterrence, not capture.

4. Create individual “course” honor codes that students sign: a) at the start of the semester or b) on each test and paper.

5. Diligently, use aids like “Turnitin.com” or other systems which track originality/ plagiarism. Let students know this is being done – again to dissuade them.

6. Have our class policies very clearly written on syllabi and review this during the semester – perhaps review again right before exams.

7. Monitor the classroom diligently. Walk around. Watch for accessible notes/books in bags. Look at students. Don’t do other work while proctoring. (This is especially important in the ARC where it is very easy for students to access notes on their person).

8. Don’t let students leave the room during an exam.  For many, the prospect and ease of accessing notes – or phoning a life line – is too tempting. Most students, short of a medical condition, can put off a bathroom visit – especially if they visit before the class.

9. While policy should not be set for the 20% of chronic offenders, we should be aware that they may very well be experts. That is, the ones we catch tend to be those who do not cheat well. The “successful” cheaters are less often caught. Some chronic cheaters are thrill cheaters who rise to the challenge of those of us who claim impregnability of our anti-cheating defenses

10. Think critically about these issues each semester and review our assignments, our communication to students, and adjust as necessary.
Our current academic integrity policy is located at Siena College Academic Integrity Policy. Specifically, it says this:
We strongly encourage faculty to submit an Academic Integrity Violation Form ( AIVF) whenever a sanction is given. The rationale for this is twofold:

1) The student is required to meet with the AVPAA  and that meeting sends a very strong signal that academic dishonesty is a major issue and cannot be tolerated.

2) The form remains on file – unseen by anyone unless a second form is filed. If a second form is filed, the student is automatically suspended. They can appeal to the Academic Integrity Committee who can uphold the suspension, create  a new sanction, or reject the accusation outright.
There was some discussion of the fact that the prospect of submitting a form that would lead to automatic suspension was off-putting to some faculty.  If you think strongly that this policy – automatic suspension on the second offence – is too harsh and that it may prohibit you from submitting a form, please ask the Academic Integrity Committee to re-evaluate the policy. It could be that the second offence warrants automatic review by the committee with suspension as a possibility. Keep in mind that our current policy went into effect in fall 07 after several months of deliberations and consultations with faculty. However, we as an institution, can always update a policy.
In order for the policy to work properly,  faculty need to share knowledge of dishonesty.  While we do not want to make life difficult for a student, there may be a strong inclination to assume that this is a student’s first violation and to just handle it oneself (without reporting).  The problem is that if we do that, we never find students who cheat in multiple classes.   We want the policy to function as a deterrent. To do this we need to let them know that all violations will be reported, and they do not start with a clean slate for each instructor.

I’d like to put together a list of how to reduce academic dishonesty for faculty and post it on the web. Any suggestions that you have – to add to the 10 I listed above – would be most welcome.  The Academic Integrity Committee will review them. The committee is currently made up of Dean Amadio, Mark Rosenberry, Kathy Silvester and the AVPAA (me) as the non-voting Chair. There are also three student members with equal vote.
As always, I am happy to discuss these matters – both specific and general – with you. Just let me know.