Maintaining Academic Honesty is Crucial for Learning

Most educators agree that academic integrity plays an essential role in learning. Will artificial intelligence (AI) destroy or facilitate academic integrity? How do teachers create a classroom culture of integrity, despite fears that AI and programs like ChatGPT (“Generative Pretrained Transformer”) can encourage plagiarism and dishonesty?

While we do not yet know the long-term impact of AI on academic integrity, learning or teaching, alarm bells related to generative AI are being sounded everywhere. The Atlantic, claimed that the “college essay is dead.” Edscoop highlighted a journal article on academic integrity in Innovations and Teaching International that was mostly written by ChatGPT. Its authors suggested that the power of AI to generate sophisticated text “should serve as a wake-up call to university staff to think very carefully about the design of their assessments and ways to ensure that academic dishonesty is clearly explained to students and minimized.”

Yet many educators welcome generative AI and see the emerging technology as an innovation in K-12 education. Learning how to use the power of ChatGPT while fostering academic integrity, educators are working together to share ideas on how to reimagine and redesign innovative curriculum.

What is Academic Integrity?

Academic integrity is based on a moral code of conduct that students (and all learners) can trust that everyone’s work is their own and was performed in an honest, truthful way. Behaviors such as plagiarism and cheating are direct attacks on this revered ideal and are considered detrimental to the learning process.

Most colleges and universities have policies on academic integrity that outline student misconduct and its consequences. However, the teaching of academic integrity begins in the K-12 classroom, with teachers who create cultures of honesty and inspire students to believe in themselves.

Integrity Matters at Every Age

As we seek to prepare young people with skills for career success, Warren Buffett reminds us what makes great employees: “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.”

We live in an age where “the end justifies the means” has become the mantra of far too many adults who are role models for children. Admittedly, the underlying issues that lead to dishonesty are often complex and multidimensional. People rationalize their actions with seemingly valid reasons. But as Buffett suggests, a lack of integrity comes with a high price tag.

How do children learn to be honest, respect societal norms, and act in ways consistent with the values, beliefs, and moral principles they claim to hold? How do teachers instill and reinforce a code of ethics in their classrooms that facilitates academic integrity and the integrity of the whole child? These are tough questions.

Integrity is the Basis of Social Harmony and Action

Children are not born with integrity or the behaviors we associate with it, like honesty, honor, respect, authenticity, social responsibility, and the courage to stand up for what they believe is right. It is derived through a process of cultural socialization — influences from all spheres of a child’s life. In their school environments, students acquire these values and behaviors from adult role models and peers, and in particular, through an understanding of the principles of academic integrity. When students learn integrity in classroom settings, it helps them apply similar principles to other aspects of their lives.

Integrity is part of the Compass Advantage (a framework for engaging families, schools, and communities in the principles of positive youth development) because integrity is the basis of social harmony and action. Despite societal forces that test integrity, children deserve a world that values truth, honesty, and justice. Linked by research to self-awareness, sociability, and the five other abilities on the compass, integrity is one of the Eight Attributes for Genuine Student Success.

Integrity - Academic Integrity

Habits that Build Young Leaders with Integrity

Most K-12 educators recognize that the students they teach today will become the leaders of tomorrow. Academic curriculum is constantly updated to meet the increasing demands of a changing knowledge society. Yet we pay far less attention to the habits that build academic integrity and ethical leaders — habits that develop during childhood and adolescence. Research compiled by the Educational Testing Service suggests troubling issues related to the development of K-12 academic integrity, including:

  • In past decades, it was the struggling student who was more likely to cheat. Today, more above-average students are cheating as pressure mounts to be accepted to competitive colleges.
  • Students who cheat feel justified in their behavior and unfairly disadvantaged if they approach their studies with integrity.
  • Cheating begins in elementary school where children learn to bend rules to win competitive games against classmates. Young children believe cheating is wrong but could be acceptable under certain circumstances.
  • Middle school students feel increased pressure to be dishonest because there is more emphasis on grades.
  • Cheating peaks in high school when 75 percent of students admit to some sort of academic misconduct.

Ways to Increase Academic Integrity

Infuse academic integrity into the classroom culture.

Teachers make integrity the norm in their classrooms in several important ways. They clearly articulate expectations about academic integrity and the consequences of cheating. But they go beyond the issue of cheating to create a culture that rewards success beyond grades. If students have only grades to measure themselves, then cheating is often a justifiable strategy to beat the system. If students are also rewarded for their courage, hard work, determination, and respect for classmates, they see and understand that the process of learning comes first. This kind of culture fosters integrity.

Develop a moral vocabulary around academic integrity.

According to the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI), the six fundamental values of academic integrity are:

  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Fairness
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Courage

Download a PDF from ICAI to understand each value and how they are demonstrated. Incorporate the teaching of these six values into the curriculum and help students use the vocabulary to discuss a variety of historical topics and current events. While dishonesty and disrespect flourish in civil society, ask students to find examples of how individuals stood up for their beliefs and values in ways that made a difference for themselves or for the world.

Respond appropriately when cheating occurs.

While teachers cannot control student behavior, they can respond with consistency when academic integrity is violated — enforcing school and classroom policies. In a classroom culture that places learning first, dishonest behavior is a teachable moment. To help internalize learning, ensure that students reflect on and glean meaning from their behavior. Listen and show respect for their thinking, and then restate your expectations that dishonesty is never acceptable in your classroom.

Use quotes to ignite meaningful conversations about honesty.

Famous quotes can be used as conversation starters, prompting students to reflect on topics related to integrity, moral development, and other attitudes that help them develop positive work habits and respectful relationships. Some teachers use a “quote of the day” as a positive daily exercise for students. Learn how to use quotes in the classroom that promote healthy development. Check out “25 Kid-Friendly Quotes about Integrity” that teach children the importance of character!

Help students believe in themselves and in their own integrity.

Students who stand up for principles in which they believe have high degrees of self-efficacy. In my book, Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation, students who developed integrity reported that their teachers helped them believe in themselves through their:

  • Passion for teaching and giving back to the next generation
  • Modeling a clear set of values and acting in ways that supported those values
  • Commitment to giving freely of their time and talents
  • Selflessness and acceptance of people different from themselves
  • Ability to overcome obstacles and show students that success is possible

When young people learn to believe in themselves, dishonesty and disrespect no longer make much sense. Living with integrity becomes a way of life.

Student Success Series for Educators

Read the nine articles in the Student Success Series:

Student Success Develops from Inside Out – (Introduction to Series)

Curiosity is a Core Predictor of Academic Performance 

Social Emotional Development in the Classroom

Building Resilience in Your K-12 Classroom

Metacognitive Strategies for Student Success

Academic Integrity is Essential to Learning (currently reading)

More to be published soon….

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Free Resources for Teachers

The Compass Youth Survey for Students ages 10-17: An online survey that can help students identify, understand, and strengthen their core abilities and impact their success as a student.

Our Community Promise:  a frame-ready document that many teachers have hung in their classrooms to remind them and their students of the kind of values and habits of thinking that nurture student success.

I Have a Dream: a frame-ready document created by teens that define genuine success—to engage your students.

Reframing Success: Helping Children & Teens Grow from the Inside Out: an eBook that introduces The Compass Advantage. This eBook has been widely used by schools as a “Book Club” reading to engage parents about raising healthy children and teens.

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