Solving the Academic Integrity Problem in Higher Ed



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We’ve known about the cheating problem in higher education for years. But thanks to the proliferation of academic resource sites on the internet, it’s getting worse. And all the plagiarism-checking tools in the world don’t seem to be holding back the tide.

How can we solve the academic integrity problem in higher education?

Eric Gibbs, President at Ouriginal, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about how higher ed can navigate the academic integrity issues that have always been with us but which have found new form during last year’s massive migration to online education.

Higher Ed’s Academic Integrity Problem

How academically honest are our students?

The late Dr. Don McCabe and the International Center for Academic Integrity conducted 71,000 student surveys between fall of 2002 and spring of 2015 to find out.

Here’s what the research uncovered:

About 40% of students admitted to cheating on written assignments, 62% confessed to plagiarizing, and 68% admitted to cheating on a test or assignment in some way. 

Cheating was and is common in education, but the character and body of cheating is changing. By character, we mean not only the appearance and form of cheating but also the perceptions of cheating. 

The pandemic didn’t help.

Recent data suggests that cheating cases and trends are tipping the scales towards identifying new ways to cheat during remote online learning. But it’s basically just a magnifying glass that’s exposing an ongoing issue.

Can technology alone solve the academic integrity problem?

Solving complex problems like this one requires multifaceted approaches. Technology is a great efficiency tool, but it’s not a silver bullet. It’s not going to solve the issue. Plagiarism-prevention tools can help provide a deterrence measure, but they need to be part of an overall process. Deterrence is just one piece of a puzzle that interconnects with support services and good course design. 

Course Design for the Digital Sharing Economy

The biggest issue we face is the digital sharing economy. Academic file sharing sites pose a real threat to academic integrity. There’s no easy solution to file sharing sites, but it’s imperative for the educational community (and for parents) to know that these sites exist. 

When trying to address file sharing sites, we find ourselves playing whack a mole. One site hardly gets a cease-and-desist order before another one pops up. 

“Universities and school administrators first and foremost need to be familiar with this,” Eric told us, “and I don’t think that we’re yet at a place where individuals understand the magnitude of content.”

What do we mean by “content” in this case?

An instructor or professor can spend hours creating authentic content that’s now part of a machine in this digital sharing economy. Students can submit the professor’s quiz, lab manual, or essay exam to a file sharing site, and it’s now out there in circulation. 

Collaboration should be encouraged within an educational setting, of course, but it crosses the line when students share artifacts owned by the professor or university with commercial providers. Once this type of behavior becomes the norm, the learning process and instructors’ hard work diminishes.

Next Steps to Solving the Academic Integrity Challenge

The integrity of our degrees is at stake. How can academic administrators start to solve this problem?

We don’t want to normalize the digital sharing economy, but we do need to understand it. Part of our problem is the “study smarter, quicker, faster” model of postsecondary learning. That’s not what higher education was built on.

It’s fundamental that learners submit authentic, original work, whether that’s a high stakes assessment group research presentation or a research blog post. Employers complain that institutions are granting degrees to students who lack the basic skills needed to function in those jobs.

We want to move away from the model that rewards attainment of degrees to one that identifies or approves certified skills. That’s what the workforce demands.

We’ve got to solve this issue.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Eric Gibbs of Ouriginal. To hear this episode and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.