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Why You Need to Talk to Your College Student About Academic Integrity

Values, honesty, kindness, caring, work ethic.  We spend much of our children’s lives teaching them – overtly or through example – about the values that we hold dear.  It’s part of what raising a child is all about.

So by the time that our students reach college, we may assume that we’re done.  We’ve put in the work over the years to teach/show them what we believe and now they’re on their own to put it into practice. If they haven’t gotten it by now, there’s no use doing more talking.

While it’s true that we’ve been teaching and modeling values all through our children’s lives, it’s important – as your student heads to college – that you talk with him about academic integrity.  It matters, and your student’s college career could depend on a solid understanding of what it is, why it matters, and how to prevent getting into “integrity trouble.”

Where do you start?

What do we mean by “academic integrity?”

Academic Integrity is the code of ethical standards and honesty in academic institutions.  The standards and values provide an educational environment in which all students can learn and take responsibility for their work.  According to the International Center for Academic Integrity, this includes a commitment to the values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility.

Academic integrity includes avoiding plagiarism, but it includes many other behaviors as well.  Many students may not realize how inclusive the definitions of academic dishonesty are.  Academic integrity, then, includes avoiding the following behaviors:

  • Buying, stealing or borrowing a paper from another individual or source.
  • Intentionally or carelessly presenting someone else’s work as your own. (This includes copying or cutting and pasting material from the internet.)
  • Loosely paraphrasing material without giving credit to the source.
  • Using someone else’s original ideas without giving credit.
  • Submitting the same paper or material to more than one class without prior permission.
  • Fabricating or making up facts or information.
  • Doing any of the above in oral as well written work.
  • Helping anyone else attempt any act of academic dishonesty.

Why is understanding academic integrity so important?

Most schools and professors take academic integrity very seriously.  Many schools have a zero tolerance policy, which means that, depending on the seriousness of the violation, students who violate the school’s policy are subject to failure on the assignment, failure in the course, or dismissal from the institution.  A claim of “I didn’t know” is rarely tolerated.

Schools view integrity as vital to the code of ethics in the academic world.  Academic honesty is important in fairness to all students, and also to protect the value of a student’s degree.  If an institution gains a reputation for lack of integrity, a student’s degree from that institution loses value.  Many schools also take seriously their charge to teach students important moral lessons.

For students, learning about the ethics of academic integrity is also important as they prepare for their future career.  Most businesses also function with a zero tolerance for dishonesty.  Learning the ethics of integrity early will be an important life lesson.

What causes students to engage in academic dishonesty?

Most students have been taught from early in their educational career that it is wrong to cheat or to copy others’ work.  Why, then, would a student participate in academic dishonesty?

There are many reasons students might make unwise decisions regarding integrity.  Some of the explanations that students often share include:

  • I didn’t understand what I did was wrong.
  • I assumed I’d get away with it. I didn’t think the teacher would catch it.
  • Everyone else does it.
  • I didn’t think a sentence or two would matter. Either no one would notice or they wouldn’t care.
  • I didn’t think the consequences would be that serious.
  • I was rushed because I have too much work to get done.
  • I didn’t trust my ability to do the assignment on my own.
  • I was too stressed and overwhelmed to do the work.
  • I didn’t have time to get it done without copying.
  • My parents expect me to get A’s. They’ll be angry if I get a lower grade.
  • It was easier than doing the real work.
  • I panicked.

Can you help your student avoid academic dishonesty?

The good news is that you may be able to help your student avoid violating the academic integrity policies of his school.  It begins with a conversation.  This may not be a conversation that your student is anxious to have with you, but remind him that you simply want to help him avoid problems.  Of course, decisions will be up to him, but you can help lay the foundation of understanding.

  • One place to begin might be to review with your student what the violations of academic integrity include. Ask your student where he can find his institution’s academic integrity policy.  Most schools state their policy clearly in their catalog or student handbook.
  • Discuss with your student the excuses that students give for poor decisions. Talk to him about how to avoid finding himself in those situations.
  • Affirm for your student that academic integrity is important to you and consistent with the values you’ve always taught him. Let him know that you’d rather have him behave with integrity even if it means a lower grade than cheat and get a better grade.
  • Talk to your student about both his and your expectations – especially as he begins his college career. Many students find that their first semester college grades are lower than those they have received in high school.  This is normal.  Remind your student to continue to trust his abilities and not to panic.
  • Talk to your student about the value of learning through the process of doing the work, not just producing the result at the end.
  • Continue to support your student even if his grades are lower than you and he might like.
  • Remind your student that if he’s not sure, one of the best ways to avoid plagiarism is to ask someone – either a professor, a tutor, or a librarian.
  • Make sure your student has a plan for time management and a clear idea of how much time he should be spending studying and completing assignments outside of class. This will help him avoid last minute stress that might cause him to make a poor decision.
  • Suggest that your student find some online tutorials that will help him understand all of the elements involved. (A good one is published by Purdue University.)
  • Suggest that your student investigate whether his school offers software such as Turn-it-in or Safe Assign to check for plagiarism. Many schools provide access to these for students.
  • Don’t “assist” your student in doing his work. Encourage him to use all of the campus resources available if he needs help.
  • Encourage your student to keep careful notes and drafts of all of his papers. He should make sure that his notes clearly distinguish his thoughts from quotes or material he’s copied from sources.  Keeping all drafts of assignments will allow your student to prove the work is his if it is questioned.
  • Talk to your student about the importance of protecting all of his own work. He should keep track of tests and assignments, be sure to log out of public computers, use passwords to protect his computer.
  • Finally, as difficult as it might be, if your student does make a poor academic decision, don’t defend him or make excuses for him. Allow him to deal with the situation.  He will need to work with the school, face whatever consequences, and learn an important, although painful, life lesson.

Academic integrity is a student issue.  Most schools teach students the important elements and stress its importance.  But as a parent, you can reinforce its value. You can help your student understand what it is, why it matters, and how to prevent it.  Your student will be another step on the road to not only a successful college experience, but also a successful life and career.

Related Posts:

Ten Parental Habits That Can Negatively Affect Your Student

Need to Talk to Your Student?  Choose Your Time and Place Carefully

What to Say to Your Student Who is In Trouble, Dismissed, or On Probation

Nine Poor Decisions You Hope Your College Student Will Avoid

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