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Promoting Academic Integrity

Students report cheating is down, but can the honor code affect social life?

By Geoffrey Mock

Friday, September 15, 2006

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Note to Editors: For a copy of the survey on academic integrity, click here.

Undergraduate Duke students report that they’re cheating less in the classroom than five years ago, but unauthorized collaboration and falsification of lab data remain significant problems, according to the 2005-2006 survey on academic integrity at Duke.

Duke’s rate of cheating is generally comparable to other universities with honor codes, though the rate of unauthorized collaboration and falsifying lab data is higher, the report stated.

Vice Provost Judith Ruderman, the chair of the Academic Integrity Council, said the survey has been conducted at Duke every five years since 1995 and is compared with a national survey done by Rutgers Professor Donald McCabe, founder of the Center for Academic Integrity, which is affiliated with Duke's Kenan Institute for Ethics. The survey was presented to the Arts & Sciences Council on Thursday, Sept. 14.

Ruderman and students presenting the data expressed optimism about the results. The previous survey, in 2000, raised great concern when nearly half of the students self-reported unauthorized collaboration or plagiarism. Those numbers were well above national averages and set off a renewed effort to engage both students and faculty members in discussions about the issue.

Recommendations for the Administration

Set clear expectation that the faculty will both promote academic integrity and address cases of academic dishonesty when they arise.

Recognize the efforts of faculty in nurturing a culture of integrity.

Better educate the faculty by providing clearer and more accessible information about policies and processes along with best practices.

Improve the educational materials and orientation programs provided to students.

Recommendations for the Faculty

Recognize the faculty’s influence on student behavior and campus culture.

Consider academic integrity issues to be central, not peripheral, to professional responsibilities as teachers.

Promote academic integrity by explaining the rationale for honest scholarship; referring to the Duke Community Standard on syllabi and in class discussion; and designing assignments in ways that encourage meaningful learning and honest work with special attention to laboratory and group work.

Recommendations for Students

Recognize the importance of academic integrity to a Duke education and uphold the principles of academic in personal behavior.

Recognize alternatives to dishonest behavior including asking questions when in doubt about course expectations, policies and practices; developing good time management and asking for extensions when necessary.

Take ownership of the obligation to improve and sustain a culture of academic integrity by challenging behavior of peers that lend themselves to academic dishonesty and embracing the obligation to act in the face of peer dishonesty.

Recommendations for All Constituencies

Regularly revisit, discuss and reaffirm the Duke Community Standard and its related policies.

Consider how the Duke Community Standard might be used more effectively to promote integrity in social as well as academic life.

Those efforts appear to have brought positive results. Students reported that faculty talked more about integrity issues compared to 2000; however, much of that discussion focused on plagiarism. Reports of plagiarism have dropped from 46 percent in 1995 to 38 percent in 2000 to 26 percent in the most recent survey.

“However, students reported that other than plagiarism, there is less discussion of academic integrity issues by faculty in the classroom at Duke than at other schools,” Ruderman said.

Student confusion does appear to be part of the reason for high rates of unauthorized collaboration and falsification of lab data, Ruderman said.

Rates of unauthorized collaboration fell from 45 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2005.  That’s the good news. But Joe Fore, a Duke Student Government vice president, said that rate is still higher than at other schools with honor codes, which report an average rate of 24 percent.

Twenty-one percent of students reported they falsified lab data, nearly twice the average rate at other schools with honor codes. The survey showed that 40 percent of students termed the practice as “trivial cheating.”

Ruderman said faculty need to clearly state at the start of the semester what constitutes unauthorized collaboration. In the survey, only 30 percent of students said faculty members discuss guidelines on group work or collaboration. The hope is if students better understand the parameters for proper collaboration, they’ll be less likely to engage in inappropriate work.

The lab data results pose a more complicated problem. Ruderman said the best guess about the survey numbers is that students learn to approach lab work as “busy work” that is expected to lead to a particular result. 

“We think the solution here is to look at how the labs are designed,” Ruderman said. “Do students believe that faculty members expect a particular outcome, so they fudge the results? I think we need to think about how to give the students ownership of the lab. We need to teach them that the lab isn’t about coming up with the correct result but to learn research techniques and thinking skills.”

On a related question, students were asked their feelings about cheating on a research project of their own. Only 3 percent indicated that cheating was trivial.

“What strikes me is that when we give students intellectual ownership of a project, you get a result of as much academic integrity as could be possible,” said George McLendon, dean of the arts & sciences faculty. “I’m concerned about the data on the lab work. I think we have to communicate better to the students why this work is meaningful.”

Faculty have great  influence in guiding student behavior, the report says, so should set aside significant time in class to discuss academic integrity  This includes explaining the Community Standard's rationale early in the semester, repeatedly referring to it throughout the year and setting clear standards in the classroom for appropriate work.

The survey also raises the question of how Duke should handle issues of integrity outside the classroom, a discussion brought to the forefront since the lacrosse incident in March. 

Before 2003, Duke separated its academic honor code from rules governing student behavior outside the classroom, but that year the university replaced the 1993 honor code with the Duke Community Standard. The Community Standard states that students are to adhere to Duke’s values in both “their academic and non-academic endeavors.”

Responses were mixed when students were asked about how much the Community Standard influences campus life. More than 80 percent said that it contributes to a general culture of academic integrity. However, almost half of the upper-class students said it contributes nothing to integrity in social life. 

Ruderman said the Academic Integrity Council wants the Duke community to consider how the standard might be used more effectively to promote appropriate student behavior in social life. The report has been sent to the Campus Culture Initiative, which is exploring that issue.

Sample Statements by Students About Faculty Involvement

“Duke professors are not sending the same message regarding academic honesty. In fact, some professors do not make their standards clear until several weeks into the semester. Some seem to take it more seriously than others.”

“Please talk more about collaboration. I don’t think anyone has a clue of what is right and wrong and, instead of asking, they just take advantage of the situation.”

Same Statements by Faculty on Why Some Teachers Ignore Cheating

“[Faculty ignore cheating] because it is an inordinate hassle and ends up being hurtful to a professor (… a horrific evaluation on Rate-my professor.com).”

“Because MOST (not all) faculty who are trying to get tenure or who have tenure and have active research agendas want to minimize the amount of time they spend teaching, which includes time dealing with cheating.”

“Because the expected costs of dealing with the problem exceed the expected benefits.”

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