How librarians can help support academic integrity at their institution

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When we think about academic integrity, we might think of cases of plagiarism committed by people in the public field that have received media attention in recent years.

However, the topic of academic ethics and integrity encompasses more than just plagiarism. Today’s academic institutions are facing a number of issues, one of them being 'contract cheating', where students 'outsource' their essays or project work to a paid third party provider, an occurrence that seems to have increased during the pandemic.

Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton, Associate Professor at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary and an international leader on academic integrity and ethics in higher education, has found that companies offering to write student essays have expanded their marketing approaches in recent times. The companies are targeting students increasingly on social media platforms offering to 'help' stressed students by providing writing services for academic assignments for a fee.

What measures can academic institutions take to prevent this from happening? The first step can be to educate students on academic integrity but also provide support on how to identify good sources and how to access and use these in a correct way for academic work. While teaching staff at academic institutions play an important role in educating students about academic integrity, so do librarians. According to Eaton they can serve as a hub for academic integrity and educational ethics on campus. At the University of Calgary, Canada, where Eaton is an Associate Professor, librarians have partnered with the Student Success Centre to deliver workshops around academic integrity, not only for citing and referencing but also paraphrasing and other skills around a skills based training.

During their 'integrity week' which takes place in October and is hosted on campus, they raise awareness on issues such as contract cheating, digital citizenship and understanding the perils of connecting with contract cheating companies. The librarians act as key champions and host events in the library such as student and trivia contests. One example is a prize wheel where students have to answer a question related to academic integrity. Their library serves as a real hub of academic integrity where students can turn to, ask questions, and get valuable information.

Eaton believes that librarians 'play a huge role not only for skills training, but also helping students become advocates and agents of their own learning'. She emphasises the importance of discussions with students about the topic, raising awareness and preventative measures instead of penalties for single offenders. But why is it important to address educational integrity early on? The short answer is: today’s students may become tomorrows’ engineers, doctors, lawyers, or teachers. 'When students graduate from our institutions, we want to know that they've earned their credentials. You don't want to go into the office of a medical doctor, and then find out that that medical doctor has cheated their way through medical school,' says Eaton.

If issues are not addressed in school, they can have long term important and sometimes even devastating consequences if people who go out in the field afterwards haven't actually earned the credentials that they hold. When educating students about academic integrity it makes sense to consider the whole picture, rather than focusing on how to catch the cheaters, or punish misconduct. According to Eaton, the idea is to identify opportunities for students to learn and practice ethical decision making as part of their ongoing education. 'We know that academic integrity in the classroom is the foundation for ethical decision making in life. And so we know that the skills that students learn around academic integrity, they will take with them beyond the classroom,' says Eaton.

Eaton, who is also the Editor in Chief of the Open Access International Journal for Educational Integrity, has recently launched a new book series called Ethics and Integrity in Educational Contexts. This new series extends beyond traditional and narrow concepts of academic integrity to broader interpretations of applied ethics in education, including corruption and ethical questions relating to instruction, assessment, and educational leadership. It also seeks to promote social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. The first volume, titled Academic Integrity in Canada, co-edited with Julia Christensen Hughes and has recently been published at Springer Nature as an open access book.

Interested in hearing more about Ethics and Integrity in Educational Contexts?  We invite you to listen to Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton’s podcast series on this important topic here, as well as other key content resources including research highlights, expert blogs and interviews.


Springer Nature