Faculty-to-Faculty: Academic Integrity

Melissa's Website HeadshotPaul Sniegowski

On February 2, Professors Paul Sniegowski, Biology, and Melissa Wilde, Sociology, led the Faculty -to-Faculty discussion on academic integrity. They kicked things off by discussing both abstract reasons, like scholarly virtues, to promote academic integrity and more concrete things to do about academic integrity.

The group discussed a wide range of issues. They talked about ways to discourage academic dishonesty, from explaining that the course uses TurnItIn and that means that students can’t use friend’s papers from previous years to using different versions of multiple choice tests. They also discussed proctering and paying close attention to students as they take exams. The group also considered how helping students plan ahead, so that students don’t get caught up in the last minute stressful decisions that can lead to academic dishonesty. Equally importantly, the group talked about how to create an atmosphere of integrity in class from describing in detail your own expectations for students when they collaborate or when they paraphrase to modeling integrity in your own work.

The group heard from Julie Nettleton who briefly described the recent change in procedures at the Office of Student Conduct. OSC is going to treat minor infractions of the Academic Integrity code — those meriting a warning or a letter of reprimand — as non-reportable offenses. What that means in a practical sense is Penn will not report first time, relatively minor offenses to law schools and medical schools and that there will not be a permanent record of these offenses. A student found responsible for this kind of violation will be connected to academic services, like Wiengarten Learning Resources, to help avoid similar problems in the future. However, Nettleton was careful to note that most academic integrity cases where the student is found responsible do merit a letter of reprimand and so a second cases will almost always automatically be treated as a more serious violation and one that will be reported. The group considered how this might change their decision about reporting what they saw as minor violations of the academic integrity policy and in some cases instructors felt that this shift made them more likely to report because it would not “ruin” a student’s academic life but would instead help the student learn about academic honesty.

The group talked about many concrete strategies:

  • Using TurnItIn (a web application that compares student papers to all the papers available on the web and those turned in previously for the same class) available via Canvas
  • Active proctoring
  • Providing three different versions of multiple-choice exams
  • Organizing students’ seating to make it hard to cheat
  • Having students explain how they reached their answer on multiple choice exams both so that it is harder to copy answers and so that students can get partial credit if they are thinking the right way
  • Explaining clearly and often what constitutes cheating (especially clarifying policies on collaboration and paraphrase)
  • Making sure TAs understand an instructors expectations about honesty
  • Asking students to turn in drafts and workshop papers in class to prevent students being taken by surprise by deadlines.
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