Survey Assesses Student Academic Integrity

In an effort to reevaluate academic integrity policy, the Office of Undergraduate Education will open up an Academic Integrity Assessment on February 7, the College announced yesterday in an e-mail to the undergraduate student body.

The assessment will consist of three different surveys—one intended for students, one for teaching fellows, and one for faculty—which will anonymously gauge the prevalence of academic dishonesty among students.

According to Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris, the assessment is an attempt to open up a conversation about issues of plagiarism and cheating.

“This survey is not motivated by the assumption that students are cheating,” Harris said. “We’re more interested in how they’re thinking about [issues of academic integrity].”

The Academic Integrity Assessment will be launched in coordination with the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, which will process student and instructor responses and return a report to the College in mid-to-late spring.

Understanding student perception of academic integrity is crucial to reducing plagiarism and cheating, according to Teresa Fishman, the center’s director.

“We want to develop in students the sense that a degree has higher value when the reputation of the institution is intact,” said Fishman. “This is all about changing the culture.”

According to data collected by the Center for Academic Integrity, the majority of college professors report having witnessed academic dishonesty in their classes. Eighty-six percent of faculty at universities that have been studied by the organization report to having observed “serious written cheating,” while seventy percent of these professors report that they have seen “serious test / exam cheating.”

Nationwide rates of students admitting to cheating are much lower, according to the data. Only 48 percent of students reported that they had engaged in “serious written cheating,” and a mere 22 percent of students admit to having engaged in “serious test / exam cheating.”

According to Fishman, most academic institutions have similar rates of cheating.

“Almost all schools end up with higher rates than they expect,” she said.

However, Harris added that the technological age has given students greater resources with which to cheat, but has also made professors more wary of plagiarism and cheating.

“There’s a sense among faculty members that because of [the Internet], students may be cutting corners more than they used to,” said Harris. “The question is whether the cases that come to the Ad board are the tip of the iceberg, or the iceberg itself.”

The College, which does not presently have an honor code, may use the survey to evaluate whether such a policy is needed.

“There’s strong evidence that really well-crafted honor codes work well,” said Harris. “But many codes fail to achieve their goals.”

Rather, Harris said he thinks that academic integrity goes beyond an official honor code.

“In the end, what everyone’s looking to accomplish at any university is really to instill a culture of integrity in its students,” Harris said.

—Additional reporting by Julie M. Zauzmer and Stephanie B. Garlock.

—Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached at rrobbins@college.harvard.edu

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