What Is Academic Integrity, and How Can I Achieve It?

What Is Academic Integrity, and How Can I Achieve It?

What exactly does it mean to have academic integrity? At first glance, the topic may seem cut and dry. 

Most students learn from a young age that cheating is unethical and that there are consequences for dishonest acts like plagiarism and copying a classmate’s work. 

Even though this may be common knowledge for those moving through the academic ranks, a recent meta-study reported that an average of 70% of students in a university setting commit acts of academic dishonesty (Burgason, Sefiha, Briggs, 2019). 

As such, Ashford University administrators are continuously striving to build strong support systems between what students know about academic integrity and what it realistically takes to achieve it. In this blog, we define academic integrity, outline common motivators for academic misconduct, and describe Ashford’s efforts to ensure student success. We also share ways to avoid instances of academic dishonesty and provide several resources that will help you stay on track.

What is Academic Integrity?

The Ashford University Catalog defines academic integrity as “the ethical use of information, thoughts, and ideas from which we build original thought to contribute to the academic conversation.” 

The catalog goes on to outline original thought, academic voice, careful attribution, personal responsibility, and continual improvement as the core components required of Ashford students, faculty, and staff in order to achieve academic integrity.

Some Causes of Academic Dishonesty

There are a variety of reasons why someone may not adhere to the school’s policy of academic integrity. Certain life events, such as a car accident, illness, or death may present a potential obstacle for a student, especially those whose lives are unexpectedly or suddenly impacted. As a result, the student turns to misconduct, says Poppy Fitch, associate vice president of student affairs at Ashford.

“It often takes a while for a student to acknowledge that, but once they do, it helps us to see the phenomenon of academic misconduct as not a character flaw, but simply something that people do out of panic or desperation,” she explains.

This “phenomenon” can also be prompted by two other major contributors: Imposter syndrome and online scams. 

Imposter Syndrome

According to Fitch, much of the University’s highly diverse student population happens to be greatly underserved in higher learning. This may lead to something she calls “imposter syndrome.” 

These students, some of whom experience financial hardship, or perhaps are the first in their family to attend college, might not feel that their academic voice is worthy of expression, explains Fitch. Therefore, they may resort to various forms of plagiarism.

“A student might not be able to articulate that, but when we dig into it, that is a motivator,” says Fitch, as well as “a really important starting point for a discussion about academic integrity.” 

The Internet and Online Scams

While technology casts a wider net in terms of providing valuable access to education, it can also potentially threaten one’s ability to maintain academic integrity. From sites that yield false or unverified search results, to those that sell unoriginal work outright, the internet is full of dangerous and deceptive challenges.

Fitch particularly warns of online tutoring sites that pose as university-sponsored services in an attempt to lure students into spending money on plagiarized work.

“I have engaged with students on appeal who say, ‘I thought this was legitimate. Before I knew it, I was all in,’” she says. “That is one of the most painful things to see a student go through because it happens gradually.”

How Does Ashford Support Academic Integrity Efforts?

Fitch and her colleagues in the University’s academic integrity and student community units are committed to helping students avoid the above pitfalls. She credits the work of Dr. Michelle Warn and the cross-functional Originality Matters Task Force, comprised of participants from all areas of the institution, for what she describes as “a very intentional, coordinated effort” to provide students with the materials they need to succeed. These materials are implemented during orientation and remain prevalent throughout the curriculum.

Fitch also stresses the “continual improvement” component of Ashford’s oversight efforts.

“I am very interested in restorative justice practices and how we can help students recover when they make mistakes,” she says. “Students who are learning to adopt or exercise their academic voice will stumble and fall. The notion that one can get back up, keep going, and do better is really important.”

How Can I Avoid Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty?

There are many institutional resources available for students in need of immediate or ongoing support.

For example, if a sudden life event is impacting a student’s ability to turn in original work, Fitch suggests contacting the faculty member to ask for an assignment adjustment or deadline extension.

“My sense is that the majority of faculty are very responsive to that,” she says. 

Students can also visit the Ashford Writing Center for ongoing help with citations and paraphrasing. Here, they can also utilize paper review services and take advantage of free tutoring.

For further reference, students can review and bookmark official university policies and definitions regarding academic integrity and academic dishonesty.

Additionally, students can learn about Common Forms of Plagiarism, refer to the Recognizing Plagiarism Tipsheet, and read a recent blog on the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarism

Finally, students can avoid scams by reading this article on deceptive online tutoring services.

Administrators, faculty, and staff like Fitch, Dr. Warn, and the Originality Matters Task Force have high hopes that students will consider the complexities of academic integrity, keep these abundant resources in mind, and reach out for continued support as they navigate their studies at Ashford. 

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Written by Ashford University Staff

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