The Academic Honesty Bonus: Another Advantage of an Aligned Curriculum

In my role as a Curriculum Development Specialist, I get to talk with faculty about their programs and the many reasons to examine and renew curricula in higher education.  In recent months, another advantage to an aligned curriculum has come to mind for me:  academic honesty.

I posit that the three following relationships hold generally true, and promote academic honesty among students.

  1. When faculty alert students to the progressive nature of the curriculum and convey to students how what they are learning now prepares them for, not only life after graduation but for future courses, students can better recognize the benefit of deep learning.   For example, students can come to understand that the course on legal foundations of the profession in 2nd year prepares them for for the policy paper they will need to write as part of their capstone course in 4th year.  Or, students can learn that locating and reviewing journal articles for the intro course helps them learn how to write a research paper in the advanced course.   Naming such connections can provide just the “learning hook” needed to focus students’ attention and make them less likely to cheat themselves via academic dishonesty.
  2. When faculty relieve unnecessary time pressures on students, students become less likely to use cheating as a coping mechanism.  I acknowledge here that working well under time pressure can be a skill we wish students to learn, but in the case it is not a priority learning outcome it can be easily avoided.  For example, if faculty of the three required courses can time their class projects to be due in three different weeks rather than all in the same week, students will be in a better position to devote the time required for higher quality work.   With less unnecessary time pressure students also become less likely to resort to cut-and-paste “shortcuts” or full-blown plagiarism.
  3. When faculty know what assessments their colleagues use, they can be sure to build on past assessment practices and ensure they are not asking students to do the very same thing they have done for other courses.  Repetitive assessments can tempt students to submit work done previously for another class.  For example, the student who has returned from practicum experience and is asked to write reflection after reflection for each post-practicum course the following term, can come to the conclusion that the faculty don’t talk to each other about their teaching and therefore would never discover the “re-submission” or, perhaps worse, believe that the faculty actually doesn’t care.

And, here’s where curriculum conversations win the day! Fortunately, it is typical in curriculum renewal conversations that faculty have the opportunity to learn about what their colleagues teach, the learning outcomes they aim for, the assessments they use, and when they assess.   Given such conversations, most groups will then proceed to align their teaching for optimal learning conditions, and get the added bonus of having created the conditions that support academic honesty.

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