Academic integrity is defined as “a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to six fundamental values; honesty, trust, fairness, respect responsibility and courage” (Fishman, 2014). It is a concept that has always been important in higher education but in recent years has garnered more attention around the world as institutions report a rise in plagiarism, contract cheating, and other dishonest practices by students and academic staff.
The Teaching Enhancement Unit (TEU) has been proactive with a strong educational focus on academic integrity as a priority area of work for some time now. Our efforts include commissioning a literature review into the area (Egan, 2018), designing a suite of principles for embedding academic integrity in assessment design, developing and launching an Academic Integrity Hub for DCU staff to learn more about the issues, and running various professional development events internally and externally. Many of the resources were developed primarily as part of an Erasmus+ project and are all available from the INTEGRITY project website under creative commons license.
In October 2019 the TEU ran an academic integrity awareness campaign over the course of a week, based around the International Center for Academic Integrity’s day of action. We repeated it this year, and with the support of DCU Library, Students’ Union, and academic staff, ran an enhanced campaign during 19 – 23 October 2020. This week-long initiative comprised a number of synchronous and asynchronous online events for students and staff to prompt them to think about academic integrity, understand its importance, and learn about how they can uphold it. You can view the full programme on the dedicated section of TEU website. Although in 2019 DCU was the only Irish institution to participate in the day of action, this year there was a greater emphasis across the sector thanks to the work of NAIN, chaired by Billy Kelly, DCU Dean of Teaching and Learning.
Some of the highlights of the week include over 1,500 students engaged in both academic integrity and library challenges. Almost 350 students pledged their commitment to academic integrity in the collaborative declaration bank. Some excellent examples of student declarations can also be found on the TEU website. Almost 100 staff and students took part in the spotlight panel webinar to discuss the ethics of academic integrity.
DCU and the TEU team in particular looks forward to continuing the conversation around academic integrity throughout the remainder of the academic year with all of its stakeholders.
“Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge”.
I felt this quote was appropriate for the current educational context because although it is a very uncertain time, there could be potential to reimagine our approaches to assessment. For example, we could take this opportunity to clear out some of the deadwood or kill a few sacred cows in the educational system. The sacred cow I focused on was the campus-based examination system.
In the literature on assessment, exams are considered to be a poor measure of student learning which emphasizes knowledge reproduction rather than critical thinking. For example:
“they tend to measure lower order thinking skills in a decontextualized manner at a time when the literature frequently argues for the benefits of a richer, authentic approach to assessment” (Villarroel, Boud, Bloxham, Bruna, 2020, p. 38)
If the literature indicates that richer authentic approaches to assessment can benefit student learning, why are higher education institutions so attached to exams? Face-to-face campus-based exams are surrounded by ritual, bureaucracy and awe in higher education. I think we should take advantage of the opportunity that the pivot online created by the Coronavirus pandemic and kill the sacred cow of closed book campus based exams permanently.
Replicating campus-based exams online through timed proctored online exams is not the solution. In her recent presentation at #Gastagoesglobal, Sheila McNeill talked about how online proctored exams promote a culture of distrust and surveillance and how we should instead be creating a culture of support, trust and development for our students.
Student Engagement and Covid-19
When designing alternative emergency assessments for our students we need to think about student engagement in the context of Covid-19 pandemic. Adapting Kahu’s (2013) model of student engagement to encompass the Covid19 pandemic context is a useful lens to help us understand how our students can engage and learn successfully during this crisis.
Important factors that we should consider are lifeload, course and assessment design, access to adequate broadband and computing equipment, the availability and accessibility of institutional remote online supports. Kahu (2013, p. 767) describes lifeload as “the sum of all the pressures a student has in their life, including university”, and is seen as being a critical factor influencing student engagement. Everyone including students and staff are experiencing increased lifeload pressures due to the pandemic, such as illness, caring responsibilities, home schooling, and remote working. Time management and organisational skills are key skills for student success (Farrell & Brunton, 2020). In addition, students are experiencing difficulties with broadband, access to computers, finding quiet study space and sufficient time to study. These pressures are impacting on our students well-being, their time, and their ability to learn successfully.
Our Approach to Crisis Assessment
In Dublin City University (DCU), the institution identified four key principles for crisis assessment:
These principles were applied across the University coupled with coupled advice for choosing alternative assessments to adapt exams into more appropriate alternative assessments. In our DCU Connected Humanities programmes, for example, which are modular online degrees we applied these four principles and adapted our exams into openbook take home assessments. Openbook take home assessments adhered to these principles and were a flexible, low bandwidth asynchronous assessment approach.
Alternative Assessment Ideas
In the webinar, we discussed a number of alternative assessment ideas, such as:
The issue of academic integrity came up frequently in the discussion at the webinar. Our approach to academic integrity involves creative design of authentic assessment, moderation of marking, text matching software, clear guidelines to students about our expectations around referencing and the use of vivas to verify student academic work. These are detailed further in the resource below, and our Academic Integrity Self-Assessment Checklist.
DCU (2018) Academic Integrity Principles
In these unprecedented times, it is important that we support the well-being of our students, while addressing the need to have quality assessment. In the context of student engagement and Covid-19, using low bandwidth, flexible and asynchronous assessments may enable our students to succeed at completing their studies and #keeplearning.
DCU Teaching Enhancement Unit (2018). Academic Integrity Principles. Retrieved from Academic Integrity for Quality Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (INTEGRITY Project): https://teuintegrityproject.wordpress.com/
Villarroel, V., Boud, D., Bloxham, S., Bruna, D., & Bruna, C. (2020;2019). Using principles of authentic assessment to redesign written examinations and tests. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 57(1), 38-49. doi:10.1080/14703297.2018.1564882