Category: teaching

Building a Culture of Integrity, Part 1: “Cheating Lessons” book club

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 this, the first of three posts about our work and its outcomes, I’ll describe our faculty learning community. Part 2 is about a survey we ran with Engineering students and how we analyzed their responses. Part 3 brings it all 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.

Like every other Department, Faculty, School, and University, course instructors in the Faculty of Engineering at Dalhousie struggled with a rise in academic dishonesty during the Fall 2020 Term, the first full term forced online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than looking for surveillance solutions, the Associate Dean (“the AD”) was keen to play the long game and find ways to change the culture of the Faculty so that cheating wasn’t an option students considered, and if they did stray, it didn’t help them.

Jim Lang’s Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty (2013) is the blueprint for what came next.

I pitched the idea to the AD that we should run a “book club” where a group of well-situated members of the Faculty read the book together. The AD liked it and immediately contacted each Department Chair inviting them to join the cohort and to bring 1 or 2 influential course instructors from their Department. By January, 2021, we had a cohort of about 15 people, including me, the AD, a good number of the Department Chairs, and a group of course instructors, every one of us dedicated to teaching and learning. With the support of the Dean, everyone received a copy of Cheating Lessons.

From January – April, 2021, I led four 60-minute, online conversations based directly on three critical questions Lang poses in Cheating Lessons.

Conversation 1: Why should students bother to memorize or learn or connect or do their own work when technology can often provide them with the information they need (more) quickly and efficiently?

Themes that emerged from reading Chapter 9 “On Original Work” and our conversation:

  1. There is certain knowledge — vocabulary, mathematical skills, scientific knowledge — engineers need to recall quickly to begin analyzing, applying, and designing and afterwards, evaluating and checking solutions
  2. The act of memorizing and recalling information helps students learn.
  3. You don’t find novel problems and designs on the internet.

Conversation 2: Why should students bother to do their own work when others can do it better and more easily?

Themes that emerged from reading Chapter 4 “Fostering Intrinsic Motivation” and our conversation:

  1. Intrinsic motivation increases as students more get hands-on experience with authentic engineering problems.
  2. There is ample opportunity in the activities of the courses and program to create opportunities where students are intrinsically motivated to engage and learn.
  3. Assessments, from homework problems to term projects, can be intrinsically motivating when they are grounded in the students’ knowledge, skills, and experiences.

Conversation 3: Why should students bother to complete an assignment on their own when three of them working together may complete it more effectively?

Themes that emerged from reading Chapter 7 “Instilling Self-Efficacy” and our conversation:

  1. We need to convince students to invest the time and energy to learn, not to earn marks.
  2. We need to find ways to boost their self-confidence. This might mean rewarding their progress and incremental successes, without punishing them for getting something wrong. It might be their perception (and experience) that getting the correct answer the only way to be successful.

Conversation 4: What do we do next?

Chapter 8 “Cheating on Campus” is very nearly a step-by-step guide for creating and communicating a program for academically honest education:

  1. Begin the Conversation among the Faculty
  2. Continue It Into the Community
  3. Time It Well
  4. Focus Academic Integrity Campaigns on Education, Not Ethics

I’m happy to say we followed this advice quite well. In Part 2, you can read about the academic integrity survey and focus groups we ran with Engineering students, and how we analyzed their responses. And in Part 3, I’ll share the resource we drafted with strategies for course instructors to promote integrity in the way they teach. The goal is to share this resource with every instructor in Engineering in August while their preparing their Fall courses.


Active Learning and Antiracism

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
I’m reading “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. This blog post is a thread I posted on Twitter. Clicking on any of the tweets will open the thread in Twitter where you can more easily follow links, react, and respond.

I’m looking forward to the next 200 pages of “How to Be an Antiracist” and the insights that emerge.

Foundations of Teaching and Learning Part 5: Outcomes

In collaboration with colleagues at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, I designed and facilitated, again and again, a series of discipline-specific workshops called “Foundations of Teaching and Learning in X” where X is Health and Exercise Sciences, Digital Literacy, Nursing, Engineering, and others. In this series of blog posts, I describe the motivation, how the content was made discipline-specific, the format of the sessions, the process for organizing the series, and the outcomes. This final post is about some of the outcomes and consequences of the series.


Has the series been successful? If the number of participants is the only measure, then at first glance, maybe not. In the Series, we had about 10 people from Health and Exercise Sciences, 10 from the Library, 8 in Nursing, about 30 in Engineering. Remember, though, each of these participants attended 6 sessions and invested about 15 hours into the series. Ten participants at 15 hours each is like 100 people attending a 90-minute workshop!  That would be considered a huge success in any Centre for Teaching and Learning. It’s important to measure success by more than just bums-in-seats. In hindsight, some kind of pre- and post-survey of the participants would have been a great idea.

Foundations Spin-offs

One of my goals for Foundations was to create a cohort of colleagues who could continue to talk about teaching and learning in their Department, School, or Faculty after the series was over. I’m thrilled the people I worked with did that, and more:

In Health and Exercise Sciences, my local champion, Greg duManoir, and another teaching professor, Tanya Forneris, created a 2-term, for-credit graduate course about teaching and learning. In the Fall, students learn about teaching and learning in HES with materials based on the ones we used in Foundations. In the Winter, the graduate students are embedded in a particular HES course. They help the course instructor develop materials and have some opportunities to teach some classes.

Sajni Lacey, my workshop partner in the UBC Okanagan Library, adapted Foundations of Teaching and Learning in Digital Literacy into a 10-week orientation for new Library staff.

I’ve run the series twice in the School of Nursing. The first time there were about 8 Nursing instructors and clinical teaching staff. The second time was in Spring 2020 after everyone had pivoted online because of the COVID 19 pandemic. In collaboration with my colleagues Jackie Denison in Nursing and Janine Hirtz in the Centre for Teaching and Learning, we updated the series to the Foundations of Online Teaching and Learning in Nursing. We also managed to open up the series to Nursing instructors from nearby Okanagan College (a cohort of Nursing students start and Okanagan College and transfer to UBC Okanagan after 2nd year.) I say “managed” because it required getting non-UBC people into the LMS, which is takes a quite a few extra forms and signatures.

In the School of Engineering, Ayman Elnaggar used the Foundations series as the anchor to successfully pitch and then organize “Engineering Education Week”, a week of teaching and learning workshops and discussions that runs over Reading Week. (We adjusted the format of Foundations to account for participants having less time before the sessions to prepare.) With the promotion and endorsement from the Director of the School, we attracted close to 30 participants, ranging from graduate students to full professors. The Director also paid for coffee and lunch!

Impact beyond the classroom

The local champions I worked with – Greg, Jackie, Ayman, and others – are Associate Professors of Teaching in UBC’s teaching professor stream. Sajni is the Learning and Curriculum Support librarian. Each of them must demonstrate “impact beyond their own classroom” as part of the merit, tenure, and promotion process. Organizing and co-facilitating the Foundations series is an opportunity to do that. This is another component deliberately built into the series to make it valuable to the participants.

To me, the biggest indicator of the success of the Foundations series was that busy, exhausted course instructors and graduate students returned week after week to the sessions. With so many competing requests and tasks, they judged these workshops were a valuable use of their time and attention.


The series wouldn’t have developed, evolved, and improved without Greg duManoir’s support and enthusiasm. I’m grateful to Rob Shave, Director of the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, for supporting Greg and I. It was a privilege to work with Jackie Denison in Nursing, along with School leaders Manuela Reekie, Sheila Epps, and Marie Tarrant. I always enjoy working with Sajni Lacey in the UBC Okanagan Library and I thank Associate Chief Librarian, Robert Janke, for creating time for the staff to participate. My thanks to Ayman Elnaggar for championing the series in the School of Engineering and to School Director, Mina Hoorfar, for her ongoing support for teaching and learning. Thanks also to my Centre for Teaching and Learning team, especially  Janine Hirtz, for skillfully fulfilling the mission of Centre while giving me the time to develop and teach the series.