Building a Culture of Integrity, Part 3: What are the ways?

Over the last 9 months, I’ve had the privilege of working with a group of dedicated educators in the Dalhousie Faculty of Engineering to explore building a culture of integrity. In Part 1, I describe our faculty learning community where we read James Lang’s Cheating Lessons together. Part 2 is about a survey we ran with Engineering students and how we analyzed their responses. Here in Part 3, it all comes together with a resource we created for course instructors. Our analysis of responses and the resource for course instructors are still drafts. The co-authors are not ready to have their names appear in public so while I can’t give their names, I want to acknowledge these were collaborative projects and I wouldn’t have anything to write about without these colleagues.

Structures crack when they’re under too much stress. Redesign the structure to remove the excess stress and you stop it from cracking. The rise in academic integrity violations during the year of online teaching and learning is a crack in our teaching and learning practices.

Research into academic integrity1 shows that the way to reduce academic dishonesty is to create a learning environment where students are successful without resorting to dishonest practices and even if they stray, there is no benefit. Creating and maintaining this environment requires ongoing discussion, collaboration, and cooperation of faculty, students, and staff. Together, we can build a culture of integrity that enables more students to be more successful, reduces exam stress and anxiety on both students and faculty, and puts our students on the path to becoming professional engineers.

In June, 2021, Co-author 1 and Peter Newbury surveyed and interviewed 19 Engineering students about their experiences with academic integrity. Co-author 2, Co-author 3, and Peter Newbury coded and categorized their 109 responses to three questions. The most frequent responses are shown here, together with strategies you can use in your courses. The full report and analysis of the students’ responses is available upon request.

1. Lang, J. M. (2013). Cheating lessons. Harvard University Press.

What are the ways I can make my course relevant to students?
You don’t need to link every concept and every example to a relevant application every single time. In fact, artificially forcing relevance into your lessons can demotivate students.

  • Periodically (perhaps once each week) motivate a new concept or example with an application or scenario from engineering practice or a specific field of research.
  • Wrap new concepts and skills in contexts that matter to students in this time, in this place, or in their personal lives so they immediately see the role and impact of engineering on their lives, family, friends, and community.
  • Connect learning outcomes, concepts, skills, and examples to the Graduate Attributes. Emphasize to your students that demonstrating the learning outcomes means they are becoming engineers.
  • Chat with the course instructors who teach courses after yours in the program so you can motivate new topics: “This will be important next Term when you study…”
  • Chat with the course instructors teaching the other courses your students are currently taking. Identify examples, applications, scenarios, or cases that combine concepts and skills from several courses.

What are the ways I can help my students handle the workload and manage their time?
Learning how to manage their time is a skill students are still developing. They may need guidance, especially in 1st year when experiences inside and outside the classroom are new to many.

  • Don’t overload your students: design your course so students can be successful with 6 – 9  hours of work per week (including lectures), 9 – 12 hours per week for courses with labs.
  • During the year of learning online, students appreciated it when course instructors suggested how to spend their time (“On Mondays, spend 2 hours watching videos and taking notes. On Tuesdays, begin the homework. On Wednesdays,…”) Continue to provide this guidance, even for in-person classes.
  • Work with your Department and your students’ other course instructors to coordinate the timing of your assignments, projects, quizzes, and midterm exams. Try to ensure students have no more than one assignment due, project deadline, quiz, or midterm on any day across all their courses.

What are the ways I can communicate effectively and connect with my students?
The year of online learning demonstrated Brightspace can be an effective tools for communicating with students. Continue to use Brightspace to make important announcements (including the ones you made aloud during your in-person classes.)

  • Students appreciate fewer, more comprehensive Brightspace announcements. Consider one (two at most) weekly announcement that includes all the information students need for the upcoming week.
  • Invite people with first-hand experience (students for student events, practicing engineers for community events) to announce extra-curricular events and opportunities.
  • Treat your students as professionals: they are on a path to becoming engineers and that path begins in 1st year.

Speaking of effective communication…

I recognize that course instructors are extremely busy, especially in the last few weeks before the first day of classes. To engage the most number of faculty in the limited amount of time, teaching resources need to be concise. During my time with the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative, we aimed to create “2-pagers” – that’s long enough to say something useful but short enough faculty will read it.

I enjoyed the challenge of distilling 9 months of work into 2 pages and using all my Excel and PowerPoint skills. I’m quite happy with this draft of the resource, Building a Culture of Integrity in Engineering – What are the ways (pdf). My thanks, again, to my co-authors.

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