Academic Misconduct is on the Rise. Can you make a difference?

Apr 20, 2021 1:45:33 PM

Academic integrity is suffering—another casualty of the pandemic and the sudden pivot to online learning. Colleges and universities everywhere are reporting upticks in plagiarism, contract cheating, and other forms of academic misconduct. How serious is the problem? 

In the UK, proposed legislation would prohibit the operation and advertising of essay mills. Australia has just published research exposing the pernicious practices of contract cheating companies. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently held a webinar to help colleges and universities explore ways to address the problem, asking how better policies, practices, and technologies can help students find a better path.

It’s not an easy task. In 2020 and 2021, we asked college students to continue to learn under extraordinary circumstances. And it has taken its toll. Students on campus were locked down, regularly tested for COVID-19, and quarantined in dorm rooms. Students learning remotely often had trouble logging on to their classes or finding a quiet place to work. Long-standing inequities worsened as the economy floundered and students were often left juggling  too many obligations with not enough support. Anxiety and depression, already on the rise, have been at an all-time high.

It’s not at all surprising that misconduct is on the rise during a year of such upheaval. But it’s important to remember that students don’t always understand what counts as academic misconduct. Or if they do, they don’t understand the consequences of those bad decisions. For the most part, instructors get that. It’s why they communicate their expectations clearly in their syllabi. It’s why they talk to their students about why academic integrity is important and what the consequences can be for failing to uphold it. 

Those conversations, of course, should extend beyond exams and papers to all aspects of academic discourse, particularly discussion forums which depend on mutual respect and trust. When assigning discussion topics, instructors are taking steps to be more transparent about their expectations. Conversations, too, in an academic context, should reflect original thinking. Helping students understand the nuances of academic integrity may take time. Instructors need to provide clear guidance on what constitutes the responsible use of sources. They can amplify those discussions with a deeper dive into the ethical questions facing students. 

More immediately, instructors can provide tools that check student work for authenticity and originality. Harmonize works seamlessly with the leading plagiarism detection software from Turnitin, Unicheck, and Ouriginal. “We partner with Harmonize because we share their belief that integrity is a core component of academic discussion,” said Valerie Schreiner, Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Turnitin. “With the rise in potential academic integrity issues, such as plagiarism and contract cheating, it’s difficult for educators to assess the originality of student work online,” Valerie told us. “Applications like Turnitin provide educators with the necessary tools to ensure that students are doing their best original work while engaged in online discussions.”

Of course, these integrations make it simple for instructors to check student work. But they also provide benefits to students in several ways. Instructors can run a plagiarism check directly from Harmonize on a post to point out issues and discuss issues of academic integrity. Once students understand the “rules,” they can conduct checks of their own work. Their discussions will improve and their anxiety over whether they are using sources correctly may very well be reduced. 

Academic misconduct isn’t a problem that’s easily solved. But as colleges and universities continue to develop new methods for helping students understand why academic integrity matters, Harmonize is helping students engage in discussions more honestly and authentically

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