January 19, 2021

“Painting the bigger picture” of academic integrity

Kathleen Burke (Beedie School of Business) reminds her students that “we have to create an environment of trust.”

University lecturer Kathleen Burke teaches a business ethics course in the SFU Beedie School of Business. She loves the opportunity—“What could be better than to talk to people about how we make ourselves by the decisions that we make?”—and regularly incorporates discussions about academic integrity and honesty.

Last semester she followed the lead of a colleague in requiring her students to complete the SFU Library’s academic integrity tutorial before they could access the materials for her course in Canvas.

The requirement ensured a common starting point for dialogue: “They had a baseline of understanding that I could build upon in the classroom.”

A matter of perspective

Burke notes that academic dishonesty has always been an issue but concedes that the “temptations” could be greater in the remote learning environment, where instructors are not physically present while students write tests and exams.

She addresses those temptations the way she always has—by seeking to broaden her students’ perspectives on dishonesty and cheating.

“We really have to frame academic integrity in terms of this larger perspective that [cheating is] not fair to anyone—as soon as a student engages in it, they really disadvantage everybody else in the class. And so I think that’s why we have to paint the bigger picture of why this matters.”

It comes down, says Burke, to “reminding students that we have to create an environment of trust” in which they can be confident that the grades they and their classmates receive have been achieved in a “fair and transparent way.” 

Start with course design

Burke stresses that instructors can establish conditions that encourage academic integrity at the course-design stage by incorporating elements “that will be engaging for [students], that will be interesting to them […] and they can see the relevance [of],” so that they are motivated to pursue learning and not merely a good grade.

In designing her own course, she included “a variety of low-stakes assessments,” so that no single assignment would carry the kind of weight, or create a level of stress, to incline students toward cheating. 

And she included a number of team-based assignments to give students the chance to share learning and assist one another legitimately.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Above all, Burke underlines the importance of sharing expectations and information clearly and repeatedly: “You cannot communicate enough.” 

The clear messaging gives students an understanding of what is and is not appropriate conduct, and it also builds a rapport that makes them more likely to turn to her before turning to unacceptable behaviours.

Burke’s emphasis on communication extends to her teaching assistants as well.

“Make sure that they understand what academic integrity is, its expressions and ramifications, how they can best support the class, and let them know to let you know how you can best support them.”

Burke recognizes that academic dishonesty will never be eliminated entirely, but she hopes that her approach will minimize it while helping students understand the deeper significance of their choices.

“The stakes just get bigger as we go further down the road of life.”

Related links

Kathleen Burke’s bio page