January 19, 2021

Three students talk about academic integrity

Academic integrity concerns have received additional attention since the university's move to remote instruction.

Felipe Patarroyo Singh (sustainable energy engineering), Galvin Huen (honours biomedical physiology) and Sam Yi (criminology) are student members of the Academic Integrity Working Group established by Elizabeth Elle, associate VP, learning & teaching, and Rummana Khan Hemani, associate VP, students & international. Recently, they shared their views about the prevalence and causes of academic dishonesty and what instructors can do to foster academic integrity in their classrooms.

Do you see academic dishonesty as a widespread problem among students?

GH: I do, and to be frank, I believe this will only grow larger as remote learning continues.

FPS: I rarely encountered academic dishonesty amongst peers before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now I believe [the number of] students that cheat [is] increasing. 

SY: I would say no. There’s some people who do it, and then […] some people that just don’t do it. 

Do you think anything has changed since we all moved to remote instruction?

SY: I think what’s changed is the opportunity, so it’s way easier to do it. And so a lot of people see that as a chance—“Oh, if it’s in front of me I’m going to do it”—whereas for a lot of people if it’s in person, then the risk is a lot higher or the perceived risk is a lot higher.

What do you think prompts students to cheat?

FPS: I am a strong believer that cheating is done to get over with a test/assignment. Looking up an answer for a test could be the difference between a 60 percent and a 70 percent, which for unprepared students represents a lot.

GH: Students have many reasons for why they may consider cheating—for example, need to perform, suspicion other classmates are dishonest—but it is the understanding that close friends and acquaintances condone or participate in academic dishonesty, by and large, that prompts them to cheat.

SY: There’s definitely an aspect where you have a high amount of pressure. […] For some students, there’s the aspect where you need a certain GPA or, like for [Beedie School of Business], all your classes are curved, right? So they want to stay ahead of that curve. I think that’s the biggest thing.

Why do you think it is important to address issues of academic integrity?

FPS: Academic integrity builds fairness for students and prevents faulty behaviour that might affect students when they graduate and start working. It is really important for us to be transparent of who we are and what we know as potential employees, and academic integrity touches on that also.

GH: Because it is not only marks and bell curves at stake here. Statistically, students that shrug off cheating are predicted to display deviant behaviours later in their careers. Students are likely underestimating the influence and the effects that dishonest habits may bring about.

SY: I think that keeping a level playing field is always the most important thing. […] If I’m putting in 10 hours of work a week for a certain course and then one person just searches up the answers online and then uses that, there’s this huge disparity in the effort and the amount of work you’re putting into the university course.

Who do you think should be involved in promoting academic integrity?

FPS: I believe everyone should be involved, but I would love to see employers talk about academic integrity, given that for most of us getting hired is the goal of university. The consequences that academic dishonesty has, seen through the lens of workers in our fields, could have a big impact. 

GH: Personally, I feel the discourse works best if it is between peers. So, student leaders, student mentors and classmates.

What can instructors do to reduce academic dishonesty and, even more, to foster and support a culture of academic integrity in their courses?

FPS: In some courses I have taken, my helping students develop their skills instead of heavily testing them has proven to build an environment of learning. In my opinion, stressful situations lead to academic dishonesty, so having a well-constructed course with lots of opportunities for students to succeed should be a priority. 

GH: A personal and honest message at the beginning and throughout the semester can do a lot to allay the concerns of students. In addition, outlining expectations and keeping an open line of communication will also help.

SY: I do think that having very straightforward guidelines at the beginning of the semester is always the best thing to do because I’ve had courses where it’s done right before an exam, and then that just kind of throws everything off because it makes it a little bit more stressful. […] I’ve had a chance to take a bunch of writing courses, and in those writing courses a lot of profs would do a plagiarism tutorial like the SFU Plagiarism Tutorial, and it’s always a good refresher.

What would you like to say to instructors about supporting academic integrity and helping students develop responsible attitudes and practices?

FPS: I have lots of respect for instructors as they are knowledgeable and passionate, but I also appreciate their care for students. […] What I am getting right now from a lot of courses is “If you cheat, this happens,” not "Why must we not cheat,” and I think that would carry a message that would inspire change. Monitoring and keeping cheaters in check is equally as important, but this aspect has been often overlooked.

GH: In the past year of remote learning, I have had a positive experience with professors who took a little time to write reassuring messages or explicitly stated expectations in a guiding manner. I would like to thank the instructors who spend time doing this, as I can assure you these messages do a lot for us as students.