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

This is the third in a series of four posts about the ways students positioned themselves when discussing matters of academic honesty and dishonesty in my doctoral study.   The metaphor of trainee described below, could also be conceived as the student as investor in or consumer of higher education.  The overarching idea I gleaned is the student viewpoint that the desired outcome of a university education is gainful employment, where coursework is merely a means to that end, education an investment in the future, and enrolment in university a contractual relationship with an educational service provider. 

The Student as Trainee

“This class that I’m taking is not relevant to my end goal.  My effort in this class is lower if I can find ways, or rationalize ways, to get around things.  I think that is much more common [reasoning for cheating]”


“Let’s say I have this math test; I copy the answer.  If I never have to take a math class again, how did I hurt myself?  I got a better mark.  That was it.”

A dual focus on the immediate concerns of being a student and a future vocational identity is not new, nor is seeing aspects of one’s education as “hoops to jump through.” For some, focusing effort on the content they see as most relevant is most important.  And for others, getting that credential can become more important than how they get it. 

What might this mean for teaching and learning?

Students focused on applied, employment-related learning who believe that what they are being asked to do in courses has no relation to the “real-world” may regard the learning required for success on assignments and exams as unworthy of their time and effort.   For the student as trainee, circumventing requirements they deem wasteful would therefore seem practical and wise.  For teachers, communicating the value, direct and indirect, of what is being learned and how it is being assessed and the reasons for that assessment method may reveal to students a benefit that would not have been otherwise apparent.   And, after all, why would we keep such information a secret from our students anyway?

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