Computer science educators are grappling with ensuring academic integrity as the digital era transforms education.
This blog post distills insights from our recent webinar, “Integrity By Design,” during which Codio’s VP of Product & Partnerships, Elise Deitrick, discusses the current landscape of academic integrity in CS education and plots a path forward for educators through innovative assessment preparation, effective plagiarism detection, and the caring framework.
Root Causes of Academic Integrity Challenges
The rise of online learning and digital resources has created an intricate landscape of academic integrity in computer science education. The root causes of the challenges lie in the following:
- Tech as a cause and a solution: “Technology is often blamed for creating the conditions in which cheating proliferates and is then offered as the solution to the problem it created; both claims are false…our habit of believing that technology will solve pedagogical problems is endemic to narratives produced by the ed-tech community.”
- Training gaps: Many educators need more training to create cheat-proof assessments and cultivate a culture of integrity, leading them to replicate outdated methods ill-suited to today's tech landscape. (Henry & Oliver, 2022)
- Institutional focus: The emphasis on safeguarding the institution's reputation can result in a defensive posture towards academic integrity rather than proactively nurturing it. (Henry & Oliver, 2022)
- Market-driven narrative: The narrative around academic integrity is often driven by ed-tech companies marketing their products as panaceas for cheating and plagiarism, which can overshadow the underlying pedagogical issues.
- High-stakes assessments: Traditional high-stakes exams inadvertently create pressure to cheat, as they may not reflect students' understanding or foster a culture of integrity. (Sheard, Butler, et al, 2017)
Plagiarism Detection: One Tool Among Many
Plagiarism detection tools like MOSS (Measure of Software Similarity) and Dolos provide educators with a mechanism to identify academic dishonesty by comparing code submissions against a database of existing solutions.
However, these tools are just one piece of the puzzle. The ultimate goal is to foster an environment that encourages honesty at its root.
Preparing Students for Assessments
Assessments, far from merely being tools to measure students' grasp of a subject, serve a dual purpose. They gauge understanding and shape students' learning behaviors and attitudes toward the subject matter. This influence is particularly potent when it comes to academic integrity. Thoughtful preparation for assessments can naturally deter cheating by promoting genuine engagement with the material, making plagiarism and dishonesty less appealing or even redundant.
- Alignment with Learning Objectives: The first pillar of effective assessment preparation is alignment with learning objectives. By ensuring that assessments directly measure the skills and knowledge articulated in the course goals, educators provide clear expectations for students. This clarity guides learners in their study and removes the perceived 'need' to cheat. When students understand what is expected of them and see a direct correlation between their efforts and their performance, the temptation to take shortcuts diminishes.
- Authenticity: Authentic, hands-on learning experiences which mirror the complexities and tasks of the 'real world' are a powerful tool in fostering academic integrity. This approach takes students beyond the confines of textbook learning and encourages them to apply their knowledge and skills to genuine problems and scenarios. Authentic assessments make plagiarism more difficult and less beneficial by demanding original thought and personalized application. They elevate learning from mere regurgitation of information to a higher level of understanding, where integrity is the natural outcome.
- Variety and Adaptability: Incorporating various assessment methods cater to diverse learning styles and reduces academic dishonesty opportunities. A rich mix of tests, projects, presentations, and peer evaluations allows students different avenues to demonstrate their understanding. This variety also disrupts patterns that make cheating easier. Moreover, adaptable assessments that consider individual learning trajectories can help to alleviate the pressure that often leads students to compromise their integrity.
- Collaboration and Communication: Encouraging collaboration and open communication can foster a culture of integrity. Group projects and peer feedback sessions allow students to learn from each other, share ideas, and create a sense of community. This approach emphasizes the importance of ethical behavior in group settings and the value of diverse ideas, further discouraging academic dishonesty.
- Regular Monitoring and Feedback: The incorporation of continuous assessment and timely feedback promotes an ongoing learning process. Regularly checking students' understanding helps educators to detect possible integrity issues early. Constructive feedback helps students to recognize their mistakes and learn from them, reinforcing the notion that learning is a process, and failure is a part of this process, not something to be avoided by cheating.
By aligning assessments with learning objectives, providing authentic, hands-on learning experiences, providing a variety of assessment methods, promoting collaboration and communication, and giving regular feedback, educators can foster an environment where integrity is the norm, not the exception. This approach deters dishonest behaviors and enriches the learning experience, encouraging students to take ownership of their education and approach their studies.
The Caring Framework: A Holistic Approach to Academic Integrity
The caring framework (Henry & Oliver, 2022) offers a comprehensive strategy to foster academic integrity, underpinned by empathy, communication, and collaboration. It comprises:
- Caring about: Acknowledging the importance of academic integrity and working together to address challenges.
- Caring for: Actively supporting students' academic and emotional well-being, creating a nurturing learning environment.
- Care-giving: Providing support and resources to help students navigate the complexities of academic integrity.
- Care-receiving: Fostering mutual respect and accountability among students and educators.
Educators can create a culture of integrity that benefits students and educators by adopting a caring framework for academic integrity. This approach addresses the root causes of cheating and plagiarism and recognizes the complexity of academic integrity issues. It emphasizes the importance of empathy, communication, and collaboration in fostering ethical behavior and promoting meaningful learning experiences.
Ensuring academic integrity in computer science education requires an approach that mitigates the problem and addresses its roots. Educators can create an environment that fosters honesty, respect, and transparency by comprehending academic integrity's multifaceted landscape, harnessing plagiarism detection tools' power, ensuring students feel prepared for assessments, and embracing a caring framework.
- While not a panacea, plagiarism detection tools are a critical defense against academic dishonesty. However, proactive measures should complement such tools, such as teaching students about the responsible use of online resources and promoting original work.
- Ensuring students feel prepared for assessments is a core component of proactively promoting academic integrity. By doing so, we maintain the integrity of the education system and instill in students the value of learning, making them less likely to resort to dishonest means.
- The caring framework, focusing on empathy, communication, and collaboration, invites students, educators, and institutions alike to participate actively in cultivating a culture of integrity. It encourages understanding, dialogue, and shared responsibility, turning the challenge of academic integrity into a collective endeavor rather than a solitary struggle.
Ultimately, fostering academic integrity is about shaping future professionals who are ethical, responsible, and reliable. Educators can achieve this goal by creating an environment that values honesty, fosters trust between learners and instructors, and encourages authentic engagement with learning materials. Through rigorous detection strategies, innovative assessment preparation, and a caring approach, we can pave the way for a more transparent and equitable educational landscape, ultimately contributing to the long-term success and well-being of students, educators, and institutions.
Henry, J. V., & Oliver, M. (2022). Who will watch the watchmen? The Ethico-political arrangements of algorithmic proctoring for academic integrity. Postdigital Science and Education, 4(2), 330-353.
Sheard, J., Butler, M., Falkner, K., Morgan, M., & Weerasinghe, A. (2017, June). Strategies for maintaining academic integrity in first-year computing courses. In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (pp. 244-249).