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Challenges to Academic Integrity

At its core, academic integrity is about fostering and maintaining a culture of trust, fairness, and intellectual rigour in educational and research contexts. Institutional cultures of academic integrity have been historically most at risk of compromise through wilful cheating in exams, intentional plagiarism, or accidental plagiarism. In the context of the ever-increasingly ‘digital’ university, ongoing developments and advances in digital tools and technologies bring with them new challenges to academic integrity.

This section will support you to:

  • identify current & emerging challenges to academic integrity;
  • develop your understanding of how assessment integrity can be compromised by intentional or accidental academic misconduct;
  • determine potential drivers of academic misconduct.

Only got a minute? Jump straight to the Takeaways.

Types of Misconduct

Academic integrity is often defined and made visible through instances of academic misconduct. Ireland’s National Academic Integrity Network (NAIN) and Quality & Qualifications Ireland (QQI) define academic misconduct as:

'morally culpable behaviours perpetrated by individuals or institutions that transgress ethical standards held in common between other individuals and/ or groups in institutions of education, research, or scholarship'

(NAIN 2021, p12)

Instances of academic misconduct may include:

Click on each arrow for more information.

What drives instances of academic misconduct?

Student decisions to engage in undesirable behaviours can be accidental or intentional. According to Brown et al. (2020), where there is an intent to cheat/collude, factors influencing undesirable behaviours can include:

  • age;
  • gender;
  • moral practice;
  • tendency towards dishonesty in the conduct and reporting of research findings;
  • tendency towards not providing appropriate references;
  • pressure to perform well academically.

Fundamentally, cheating, plagiarism, inappropriate ‘outsourcing’ of work to generative AI, impersonation to enable exam cheating, and other behaviours that compromise assessment integrity can take place for the following reasons:

Student understandings and awareness of academic integrity

Accidental cheating occurs because students don't understand or recognise that their behaviour contravenes academic integrity guidelines and associated expectations.

Work overload or pressure to succeed

Consequential cheating occurs because students feel overwhelmed and/or unable to cope: in such instances, students may seek ‘quick’ solutions. Cheating with intent is more likely to occur when students feel under extreme pressure to perform highly and do not believe they can perform to an appropriate standard– perhaps most likely in a high-stakes setting for high achieving students, international students who have taken on significant debt to enrol in a course of study, or in students who have unevenly engaged with their studies across the semester/year.

Perceived lack of consequences

Where detection/follow-up of academic misconduct is or is perceived to be limited or non-existent, there are no repercussions for students engaging in these practices – so they continue to do so.

Cultural Norms

Cultural norms and practices can have a significant impact on academic practice, sometimes leading to accidental academic misconduct.

  • Collectivist cultures may place a stronger emphasis on group success rather than individual contributions – which can potentially lead to situations where sharing answers or collaboration on a task is perceived as acceptable (Marhoon & Wardman 2018).
  • Cultural differences in academic practice, conventions and assumptions can impact on how plagiarism is understood by students. This can lead some to unintentionally plagiarise (Adikhari 2018)
  • Cultures that strongly value academic achievement and success may cause anxiety and stress for students, leading them to resort to dishonest practices in order to meet expectations (Celic & Razi 2023).

This video from QQI gives students a useful introduction to contract cheating, potential consequences and where to get help.

What are the implications for your practice?

Championing academic integrity is a shared responsibility for all members of the College community. A proactive, positive, educative approach is likely to be more successful than a reactive response alone. This involves:

  • setting clear expectations with students from the outset regarding desired ethical behaviours and practice. This includes establishing a shared understanding of what constitutes ‘legitimate’ use of digital tools (for example, spell-check, voice-to-text, grammar support tools) vs fraudulent practices which preach academic integrity (for example, where an AI-generated artefact is presented as a student’s own work).
  • advocating explicitly for academic integrity in your teaching.
  • modelling desired behaviours and practices. For further information, see “Strengthening academic integrity through teaching and feedback”.

Proactive advocacy and boundary-setting are likely to be most impactful when adopted by colleagues across programmes and Schools. For further information, see “Strengthening integrity at the programme level”.

Key Takeaways

  • Championing academic integrity is a shared responsibility for all members of the College community.
  • Ongoing advances in digital tools and technologies present new challenges to academic integrity, leading institutions to reconsider how academic misconduct is framed.
  • A proactive, positive, educative approach to academic integrity is recommended as an effective means of nurturing cultures of academic integrity across an institution (QQI 2021).

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