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Academic Integrity and Emotional Well-Being

February 3, 2023

Every year, Pitt chooses a theme and provides grant funding to projects and events that speak to that theme in some way. This year is the Year of Emotional Well-Being. And while it may be too late to submit something for this particular grant, I have been thinking about how we teach academic integrity could have great impact on students’ emotional well-being.

Consider this scenario:

A student is about to turn in their research paper that they worked on over last few weeks. As part of the submission process, they must run their paper through a plagiarism checker. They fret about this because what if they accidentally plagiarized? They don’t want a bad grade and they don’t want their professor to think less of them. So here they are, stressing about their citations.

Anguish over citation formatting and worrying about getting caught accidentally plagiarizing are not positives for emotional well-being. But think about how the topic is usually framed. Discussion about academic integrity and potential violations of it are often framed in punitive ways. “If you get caught cheating, you will get a zero. There is a zero tolerance policy if you are caught plagiarizing. Don’t cheat or plagiarize because it is bad.”

For students new to college and for those more senior, these phrases are not helpful. They are scary. And, before you say anything about them being deterrents, are they? Over the course of this pandemic, there were more reports of cheating at colleges. Part of this is likely because of the rise of detecting tools, which are problematic in and of themselves. Yes, there are going to be some students who cheat because they can. The majority, however, probably do it because they feel like it’s the only way to keep up.

Learner-Centered Approach

Since 2016, the University Library System at Pitt has offered a badge to students upon completion of a set of Academic Integrity modules. While not required across the curriculum, they have been widely used across many programs first embedded in Blackboard and now Canvas. With the help of an internal OER grant, a group of us decided to expand on the existing modules, incorporating new themes, and taking a less punitive approach to the topic. Once the modules are done, we will be licensing them for reuse through Creative Commons licensing.

The updated modules will help faculty contextualize the topic through a learner centered approach. Students are doing their best and the traditional approaches tend to increase anxiety and fears over academic integrity violations. Updates to these modules focus on creating an interactive, learner centered experience encouraging students to think holistically about academic integrity in their own lives. Modules are more personalized to include stories and real life examples that build upon student experiences rather than focusing on deficit thinking.

Yes, cheating and plagiarizing are bad and there are consequences for that behavior. But we want to teach students why they should care in the first place–scholarly conversation and all.

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