Written by Lasse Nielsen, The Ostrava International School

It has never been easier for students to gain information than it is now. The internet has become an essential part of modern education and for good reason. The students we teach have so much knowledge at their fingertips that they can use to write papers and do research, that we could only dream of when we were at their grade level. But this knowledge comes with some responsibility attached. Along with the ease of obtaining information, it has also never been easier to cheat.

It is more important than ever for teachers to emphasize academic honesty. It is easy for students to get the idea that the information they gain, they also own. These mistakes may not even be any fault of their own. I have seen many students get lost in the sheer amount of information they have and because of poor note-taking skills, they simply neglect to cite their sources. It is our job as teachers to show them how to be responsible digital citizens and give them the skills they need to navigate the pitfalls of the online world. Luckily, there are some steps and tools we can use to make the online learning environment safer and more honest.

Step 1. Collect and Track Data Across All Subject Areas

Data handling is one of the most important skills to teach students. As teachers, we work with data all the time. We keep track of students’ grades, attendance and behavior. We need to keep track of academic honesty problems just the same. You might ask “why does the Math teacher need to know if John has a problem with academic honesty in his English classes?” The answer is simple; John needs to be tracked across all subjects because it helps show what problems John has in his individual subjects. Incidents of academic dishonesty are rarely isolated and are often indicative of other problems, such as poor understanding of the subject, or issues of stress and being overworked. If we keep track of all incidents, we can better help the student deal with the underlying problems.

I found that ManageBac offers an easy way of keeping track of academic dishonesty. Under the behavioral tab, it is possible to add an “academic misconduct/dishonesty” tab where you can write notes about the incident. The smart thing about this feature is that it is available to the homeroom teacher and other teachers as well. Furthermore, it can be sent directly to the parents in an email.

Step 2. Analyse the Data

Having collected the data, you can now analyze it to find out where the problems lie. Are your students cheating because they do not know how to cite correctly, or are they cheating because they are stressed out about their workload? The data can help you get to the root of the issues your school has with academic dishonesty. After analyzing the academic dishonesty data I had collected over the past year, I realized that most of the perpetrators had not intended to cheat but had some lack of knowledge that prevented them from being academically honest.

Based on the data analysis, we changed our school’s policy so that it is focused more on guidance and less on punishment. We started scheduling extra workshops for students with problems and started to implement academic honesty awareness in the lower grades as well. For more information on these conversations in lower grades, see this article written by Turnitin.

Step 3. Using the Results to Guide Students Toward Being Academically Honest Digital Citizens

Most of the students are very well adapted to the digital environment. Most of my students spend a vast amount of their time on some form of device or another, either at school or at home. Therefore, it has become very important for us, as teachers, to help the students navigate the online world. After analyzing the data I collected on academic dishonesty at my school, I found that a lot of the issues have their root in the way the students manage themselves online. As a result of these findings, we have begun focusing on guiding the students to be academically honest digital citizens. We have been focusing on these two learning opportunities to reduce academic dishonesty.

  • Proper note-taking and online management

    • Many students do not take detailed notes when doing online research. This often results in their sources being muddled together or not existing at all. They have multiple tabs open on their screen and neglect to reference where they found what information. Guiding students to the proper use of online citation tools and online self-management can avoid some of the problems students have with academic honesty.
  • Having a critical eye for sources

    • What is a credible source and what is not? This concept is hard for many students and they need us to guide them. There are many very good online tools for teachers and students to look at when it comes to source critique and it is very important in avoiding malpractice due to referencing an improper source.

There are also moral implications of academic honesty. Because of the vastness of the internet, it is easy to “borrow” from others and not be held accountable. A considerable amount of teaching time should be spent educating students on the moral implications of academic misconduct. We all want students who know that cheating is not going to benefit them in the long run. If we focus too much on the punishment we neglect to teach them the reason we want them to stay honest. While we have some good tools for checking for plagiarism, the fact of the matter is that cheating has become easier than ever. We need students to understand that they are the ones getting hurt in the long run.

For me, these steps and learning opportunities have helped reduce the number of students I have to meet with on a monthly basis regarding academic honesty. In the digital learning environment that we have today, it is essential that we track and analyze the data we find, and offer learning opportunities to solve underlying issues of academic honesty. By guiding students in this way, we can prepare them for the online world.

Update since COVID-19
Since many of us have had to switch to remote learning, the struggle with monitoring collusion and plagiarism has become an even more pressing issue. The fact of the matter is that we can never be completely sure that the students are being honest. Despite some excellent programs like Turnitin and others, we simply cannot always be confident that every student has been 100% academically honest. But, there are things we can do to reduce the risk. First of all. It is crucial to make assessments as clear as possible. Make sure the students know if they are not allowed to work together on a task, and for younger students, make sure parents know the level of help they are allowed to provide. This will help avoid accidental collusion on assessments.

One of the best ways to avoid plagiarism, accidental, or intentional, is to customize the assessments we give. In a remote learning situation, this may not be as difficult as it sounds. Most of us have had to change the way we teach and the way we assign assessments anyway. One simple way to customize an assessment is to make the assessment personal for the student. This means that instead of asking students to write an essay on the Roman Empire, have them try to imagine themselves living there. They would still have to do all the research and you would still get to see the level of analysis the student can do, but they would be hard-pressed to find someone on the internet that they could copy because they would have to bring their own life into the essay. This is, of course just an example. I realize that some subjects and assessments do not lend themselves to such alteration, but I would encourage everyone to try. It makes for more authentic work and in my opinion, more enjoyable assessments for the students.

 

Lasse Nielsen is the Academic Honesty Coordinator at The Ostrava International School in the Czech Republic. He has taught all levels of the IB program from Early Years to the DP. He currently teaches Civics & Humanities and Digital Design for MYP and TOK for the DP.

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