Academic Integrity and the Roles Students Play: The Student as Subject


This post is the first in a series of four.

My posts largely draw from the insights I gained by conducting a doctoral study of students’ understandings of academic honesty and dishonesty.   In my analysis, I noted that students used, indirectly and directly, four metaphors to describe their sense of their role, place or position in the university.  This is the first of four posts presenting these four metaphors and their potential explanatory power related to students’ understandings of academic integrity.  I begin each with two student quotes that reflect the metaphor used by several students, a short explanation, and ideas about what the metaphor might suggest for teaching and learning.

The Student as Subject 

“In my first degree they were like, ‘we’re going to check everything that you do and it has to be researched, it has to be cited, it has to be everything’… where I stand is, it depends on which program you’re in, [whether] you’re being considered academically dishonest or being honest.”

“We’ve been brought up to be socialized that this is cheating and this isn’t.  That’s always the way it’s been since kindergarten.  So, I think this is perfectly fine because I haven’t been told since I was 5 years old that this was cheating”

When discussing with other students their experiences and understandings of academic honesty and dishonesty, students commonly positioned their professors as the authorities, and ultimately, the policers of academic dishonesty. Consistent with that, students described themselves as subject to that authority and indeed, relying upon it to define the particular (and sometimes peculiar) rules.  While students indicated an awareness that institutional level policies existed and were meant to define and govern matters of academic dishonesty, for students, professors ultimately set the rules either explicitly or implicitly; professors decided whether to pursue their suspicions of academic dishonesty; and professors decided whether to take punitive or educative approaches to their encounters with students’ academic dishonesty.

What might this mean for teaching and learning? 

The student as subject sees him or herself as having little power; as deferent to professors. The subjugated student is less likely to take personal responsibility and more likely to instead deny responsibility and blame professors or the university or some other external pressure for his or her own ignorance of or inability to follow the rules.  The disadvantage of students as passive recipients (empty vessels) for teaching and learning are well known beyond the realm of academic dishonesty.   The metaphor does, however, make the role of the teacher with respect to academic honesty and dishonesty clear:  be explicit and watch closely—that’s what students expect.

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