Reflections Newsletter

Academic Integrity in Canadian Higher Education: Part Two, Fall 2012

By Ken N. Meadows, Educational Researcher, Teaching and Learning Services

In the spring 2012 issue of Reflections, highlights were presented from an interview I did with Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes, Dean of the College of Management and Economics at the University of Guelph, on academic integrity.  Here we discuss three more questions around academic integrity in the classroom.

You mentioned that one of the findings was that collaboration on individual work is a commonly self-reported behaviour. Do you think that students' previous educational experiences of group work might influence how they perceive learning and the role of collaboration in learning?

At about the time of the first survey in 2002, we were becoming concerned by increasing numbers of students being charged with academic misconduct at the University of Guelph because of unpermitted collaboration. Some students defended their actions arguing that collaboration supported their learning and further, that what they were doing was not wrong as "collaboration" was a stated strategic priority of the university. We realized that this was one area that needed a lot more consideration.

As you know, collaboration has been found to support learning.  As an example, if a student writes something, has somebody give them feedback on it, and then has the opportunity to rewrite it. That is the academic tradition--we write and re-write our work based on the feedback we receive from peers. So why is it then that a student might be charged with academic misconduct for doing the same thing? In what situations might this be appropriate and where might it not? In answering these questions we need to ask ourselves what the learning outcomes of the assignment are and make sure we have constructed it in a way that supports those outcomes. It might very well be that our learning outcomes would be supported by the students collaborating in this way. So we might, for example, want to establish a formal peer review process in the class, set up a written assignment like a journal where the students submit their work, get feedback, and have to show how they have improved their work as a result.

When it is clearly the case that we want a student to do this work on their own, there are ways we can better support that too. For example, if you really want to know what a student is capable of doing entirely on her/his own, without the support of others, without the support of material, we need to provide a supervised testing situation, with well-trained proctors. With online quizzes, faculty can use a random generator of questions so that students are going to get unique questions that will make it more likely that the students will work on their own. Also, I often advise faculty that they may want to include a statement in the course syllabus that says they reserve the right to orally assess any work that a student submits so they can have a conversation about what has been written, if they suspect the work is not the student's. But, again, I would ask "what are the learning outcomes of an assignment?" and maybe it is the case that students would learn more by collaborating with others.

Do you think we will see changes in academic misconduct in some way due to the new technologies?

The ubiquity of information that the Internet provides is what is challenging the "sanctity" of the lecture. People can put their hands on information anywhere anytime now. I believe the Internet challenges the core activity of what the academy has always done. Now what is our purpose? I believe in large part it should be to help students learn how to pose questions or identify problems, how to search for information, and how to judge the efficacy of that information and apply it in useful ways.  How do we teach students how to find credible information, how to decipher it? Do they understand why it is worth wading through a complicated peer reviewed academic journal article to get to some core findings that they can trust, incorporate into their own work, and have that information inform their own thinking?  Because of the Internet we really need to take a hard look at what is our purpose and how well are we achieving that purpose.

In your articles with Don McCabe in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education, you call for a recommitment to academic integrity in Canadian higher education? Have you seen that recommitment?

Yes. That was one of the results of the survey I was really pleased with. I think the study really caught the attention of senior administration in a number of different universities. There is something about having the voices, the opinions, the behaviours of your university's students, faculty, and TAs captured that can help send a pretty powerful message that there is something going on here to which we need to be attending. I saw a lot of activity on campuses with an educational focus for students and faculty--such as hosting academic integrity sessions and developing interactive websites. Some universities also revisited their proctoring procedures in exams and that is important. Other universities revisited their policies and penalties. They found that even though policies and penalties existed, faculty were not necessarily following them. So, you had huge inconsistencies across the institution in terms of how student cases were being dealt with because faculty were dealing with them under the radar. A lot of universities really started having a look at those policies and engaging faculty in their review and modification, hoping that faculty would then be more likely to follow formal policy when they came across such cases. Whether people were using or just starting to Google questionable phrases, I think a lot more of that activity has happened since the survey. So, yes, I would say awareness was raised.

Thank you, Julia. You raise very important points about needing to consider what our learning outcomes are and whether collaborative assignments are valid ways to assess them as well as what our role is in teaching information literacy in this information rich age. Also, it is gratifying to hear that we have improved our policies and procedures for handling academic integrity on campus. I look forward to finding out what has changed in the last ten years as we go forward with our new survey this fall. I will be reporting on that survey in the spring.


Christensen Hughes, J. M., & McCabe, D. L. (2006a).  Understanding academic misconduct. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 36(1), 49-63.

Christensen Hughes, J. M., & McCabe, D. L. (2006b). Academic misconduct within higher education in Canada. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 36(2), 1-21.

Meadows, K. N. (Spring, 2012). Academic integrity in Canadian higher education: A conversation with Julia Christensen Hughes. The Teaching Support Centre's Reflections Newsletter, 66, 1-3. Retrieved from

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