Queen's Gazette, December 8, 2008
In this issue, the Gazette introduces a new, ongoing series - Academic Integrity and You.
With December exams under way and assignment deadlines looming, the topic is top of mind at this time of year. However, Jim Lee and Charles Sumbler would like to see academic integrity (AI) as a university priority year round, and not just something that students need to be aware of at exam time.
"Our primary goal is to raise and promote the profile of academic integrity among all members of the Queen's community," says Dr. Lee, who was appointed last year as the university's first Academic Integrity Advisor to the Vice-Principal (Academic). He and his assistant, Mr. Sumbler, have undertaken several initiatives so far, including the creation of an academic-integrity website, which centralizes existing AI policies for the university as well as faculties and schools. It also features information about the topic in the university context, provides links to tools and resources and also offers a venue for students to post their thoughts on AI at Queen's. An AI working group of academic administrators from all Faculties and Schools and representatives from the Alma Mater Society and the Society of Graduate and Professional Students has also been created to work together to promote academic integrity. Senate has also recently approved a new policy to provide guidelines for faculties and schools in developing procedures to handle issues of academic integrity.
Academic Integrity and You will appear throughout the school year on a bimonthly basis.
We have all heard the stories - test answers written on the back of a calculator, study sheets hidden in a washroom stall, or more recently, the use of cell phones to text answers among peers inside and outside the exam hall. While we hope these extreme actions are limited to the desperate few, it does raise the question of what role academic integrity (AI) plays during exam time to prevent or inhibit this type of behaviour.
A student may decide to cheat for several reasons. Personal reasons include external pressures from family or friends; appropriate academic standing to obtain financial aid, a job, or get into graduate school; poor time management and/or organizational skills; extracurricular activities or part-time jobs; or simple laziness. However, there are also many classroom-related reasons, such as ambiguous course expectations, inadequate supervision of tests/exams, unreasonable course workloads, perceptions of unfairness in course evaluations, inadequate explanation/understanding of course materials, the use of identical test questions or assignment problems year after year, and a perception that AI issues are not taken seriously.
Although we, as educators, have no control over the personal factors which may affect students, do we have the ability to address the classroom-related reasons? And thinking beyond the classroom, have our students been taught how AI is a fundamental basis of our academic community and how maintaining one's integrity is fundamental to being a respected individual in society?
I am confident the answer to these questions is yes, but I am equally confident that there is room for improvement. In addition to contemplating and addressing the classroom-related issues above, instructors can spend more time talking to students about the principles of AI in their courses and why or how they are relevant in their field of study. There is also a need for the university to link the core values of academic integrity - honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility - with not only the academic mission of the university but the student's greater role in society. In other words, while the core values of AI are important in order to succeed at Queen's, they also form the foundation upon which our society is built. Thus, we must demonstrate to students why AI is essential in the shared pursuit of knowledge and exchange of ideas. Clearly, this is a message which is just as important to state at the end of term leading into exams as it is to state at the beginning of classes.
As the Academic Integrity Advisor, I will be doing my best to raise the profile of AI on campus to achieve these goals. I would like to support students, instructors, and the university in learning about and promoting a culture of academic integrity to ensure that it is at the core of our academic mission and is central to our achievements. We have already launched some initiatives to do just that, and in the coming months, I will be writing to you through this column about some of these initiatives with the hope of stimulating further conversation and discussion.
Moreover, I would also like to challenge you to think about how we can better engage students and instructors as a community in promoting the values of AI; your thoughts and ideas are always welcome. So what does academic integrity have to do with it? The answer is simple - everything - but stay tuned for more details.