Project aims to educate students on academic integrity

Teachers students celebration

By Angela Ward

An Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) project at York University aims to broaden the understanding of academic integrity and the student experience.

“Academic misconduct is a complex and multifaceted issue that involves consequences such as compromised learning, reduced student success and reputational damage to an institution,” says Angela Clark, academic integrity specialist in the Office of the Vice-Provost Academic. Exploring the approaches used to educate students about academic integrity at York University is a key part of Clark’s project.

Angela Clark
Angela Clark

The AIF project, “Understanding Academic Integrity Instruction at York: A First Step to Developing Meaningful Interventions for Students,” will explore the current interventions in place so students can be supported in their understanding of academic honesty at York. It will lead to developing future interventions that are aligned to students’ circumstances and realities and are geared towards supporting their success. 

“There are many reasons why academic misconduct occurs. Although it is normally linked to a student’s lack of morals, it more commonly arises from both a lack of academic skills and a lack of awareness around academic integrity,” Clark explains. At York, Faculties offer different types of interventions, which can include modules, websites, activities and assessments, among others. Clark would like to learn what instruction is taking place, how it occurs, how students interpret it and how it is scaffolded. To that end, this project aims to collect all these interventions into an inventory and evaluate them, starting with co-curricular interventions and moving to curricular interventions in the fall. The next phase will take place in Winter 2024, in which focus groups with students will take place. 

“In education, most interventions that institutions offer are general in nature, but this doesn’t benefit students who are more at risk of engaging in academic misconduct,” Clark notes. “There is research on international students who are non-native English speakers that shows they tend to engage in breaches more often than domestic students. But there is a lack of research on equity-deserving groups such as racialized students, Indigenous students and those with disabilities, and the struggles they may face with academic integrity standards.

“The research does indicate that the development of competence in academic integrity is affected by a student’s starting point: their academic level, their language, their educational level and other contextual factors.” 

Clark is especially interested in these focus groups to understand students’ perspectives and experiences on current academic integrity interventions. “I would like to learn how students are encountering these interventions and where the gaps lie. It’s important to meet students where they are in order to effectively instruct them on this topic.  

“The new interventions, paired with the student voice in focus groups, will help us learn about our students and incorporate their diverse experiences and ideas about what can be offered in academic integrity education to best support them.” 

Clark adds, “It’s particularly important to understand student behaviour now more than ever. During the pandemic and the corresponding move to remote learning, the use of homework help and content-sharing sites like Chegg and Course Hero flourished across higher education institutions. Now we have generative AI (artificial intelligence) technology, prompting more concern about academic integrity.”  

Not only is there a concern around how students potentially use these tools to complete their work, but detecting their unauthorized use has been problematic, as no detection tool to date has been proven to be reliable. 

Choosing whether to leverage AI in classrooms is also based on each individual instructor’s judgment, as outlined in York’s Academic Standards, Curriculum and Pedagogy Committee statement. If instructors do allow the use of AI in course assessments or assignments, it is requested that they clearly communicate the parameters for how students utilize it, including being transparent about its use and providing citations. It is also recommended that they engage students in discussions about the ethical use of the technology and common concerns about inaccurate information, false references, privacy, confidentiality and copyright. 

The topic of academic integrity is timely, with Academic Integrity Month coming up in October at the University. The event encompasses the theme of “Connecting the Community,” as it will bring together students, faculty and staff for a series of discussions on innovative academic integrity approaches and ways instructors have revised their assessments. 

“Generative AI seems to be a popular topic in scheduled discussions, which presents a good opportunity for the York community to learn from each other,” Clark says. 

While sessions are aimed at instructors, there is also an opportunity for students to get involved. “Last year, we hosted an online scavenger hunt for students. Students were tasked with finding the answers to questions from various student service areas on their websites and then sending in their answers for chances to win prizes. This year, we’re hosting an in-person scavenger hunt, encouraging students to visit student support services such as Student Community & Leadership Development, the library, the Writing Centre and the English as a Second Language Open Learning Centre, among others, where they can connect with people in person, collect printed material and feel more comfortable accessing these services on campus,” Clark explains.  

The Academic Integrity Month website can be found here. “It’s not too late to get involved,” Clark adds. “If anyone in the York community has any academic integrity research, practices or ideas that they think would benefit the York community, they can reach out to me.”  

For further information on support and events related to academic integrity, visit the Academic Integrity website. For information about generative AI in particular, visit the AI Technology and Academic Support for Instructors web page, which includes contextual information on AI technology, tips for addressing AI technology with students, managing grey areas and ethical concerns, using AI technology as a teaching and learning tool, and detecting AI content, along with upcoming workshops in October and beyond.