Promoting Academic Integrity: Some design questions for instructors

Here are some propositions about students’ academic integrity that I’ve been working with:

  1. Students are more likely to do their work honestly when they see the personal value in what is to be learned.
  2. Students are more likely to do their work honestly when they believe the assessment produces actual evidence of what they have learned.
  3. Students are more likely to do their work honestly when they’ve had the chance for practice and feedback.
  4. Students are more likely to do their work honestly when they know the rules and expect them to be enforced.

Designing assessments for academic integrity is much more than tight invigilation processes and tools like Turnitin and SafeAssign (thankfully). There is much that instructors can do to set students on honest learning paths when they design and teach their courses.   Below, I offer some prompting questions instructors can ask themselves when designing course materials, assessments, and learning activities that relate to the four propositions above.

“See-the-Value” Questions for Instructors:

  • How can I convey/demonstrate the value of what students learn in my course?
  • How can I share my enthusiasm for learning this and the value I place on it?
  • How can I connect students to the benefits this learning brings for them individually, for their families or communities, for society or the world?
  • How can I provide opportunities for students to follow their individual interests and values in the context of this course?

“Evidence” Questions for Instructors:

  • What kind of evidence does this assessment provide that students have learned what I wanted them to learn?
  • What other forms of evidence could I use to determine this?
  • What alternatives could I offer students to show me what they have learned?
  • How can I make explicit to students that an assessment is transferrable to other contexts?

“Practice and Feedback” Questions for Instructors:

  • What do students need to be able self-assess their progress before grades are at stake?
  • How can I provide early feedback so that students still have the opportunity to improve?
  • How can I stage larger assignments with feedback so that students have time to improve (and avoid last minute temptations)?
  • How could I best equip students to provide feedback to each other?

“Rules” Questions for Instructors:

  • What are my rules for my assessments within the academic integrity policy framework?
  • How can I clearly explain both the assessments and the rules so that students know how to best proceed?
  • What are some common misconceptions/errors that I can address early on?
  • How can I help students learn how to follow the rules, especially when it involves technical components like a new citation or referencing protocol?
  • How can I show students that I am committed to enforce my own rules?

We have a workshop coming up at the GMCTL on November 14 that will explore assessment practices that promote academic integrity. Please consider registering.

When Performing Gets in the Way of Improving

I encountered the following video in the spring and have been sharing it with faculty and groups with an interest in questions of assessment.  I think it lays a useful foundation for discussions on (1) what it takes to master skills and knowledge, (2) the value of lower stakes practice, (3) the necessity of formative feedback for learning, and (4) recognition that moments of “performance” or assessment for grades are also needed.

Additionally, this video supports the thinking behind a core element of the Instructional Skills Workshop—an internationally recognized workshop and certification offered regularly at our Centre.  For that workshop, participants practice the facilitation of a 10 minute “mini lesson” so valuable for improving instructional skills.  Here’s a link to more information about that workshop.

Happy to discuss the learning zone and the performance zone with Educatus readers!

Interested in Funding for your Teaching Innovation? Check out the “Innovative Teaching Showcase”

Sometimes, that example from a peer is just what is needed to help us move from thinking about it to doing it!

As part of GMCTL Celebration Week, check out a wide range of teaching and learning projects undertaken with assistance of funds administered through the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning since 2012. Four showcases, each organized around a theme and set up as a series of faculty panel presentations, are offered:

  • Teaching approaches and open pedagogy, Wednesday, April 26 9:00 – 12:00
  • Indigenization, Wednesday, April 26, 1:00 – 4:00
  • Program and course design, Thursday, April 27 1:00 – 4:00
  • Experiential learning and undergraduate research, Friday, April 28 9:00 – 12:00

All sessions will be held in the Edwards School of Business room 3.

 Why register?

Come out to learn about how projects were conceived, the ways funds and other supports were used, and lessons learned and impacts on student learning and faculty teaching.  Hearing how others found the time and the funds for implementing their new ideas may help spur your own thinking or get you over the hump to pursue that project you’ve had in mind for awhile.

Faculty from across campus who were successful in securing funding of several kinds administered through the GMCTL have volunteered to describe their initiatives. You will leave the showcases with new campus connections and ideas for your teaching. See the list of presenters and register via our GMCTL Celebration Week site.


During IP3, the Provost’s Committee for Integrated Planning charged the Vice Provost Teaching and Learning to administer funds in support of Experiential Learning initiatives and Curriculum Innovation, and later government funds to support Open Textbooks were added. Funding processes and assistance have been administered through the GMCTL. For more information click on any of these links or e-mail or call us. We can provide direct assistance planning projects, writing applications, and accessing a wide variety of campus supports for projects.

Ideas about Assessing Student Participation

Recently we completed another Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) at our Centre.  This an intensive and engaging 4-day workshop where faculty and instructors learn about and practice participatory learning strategies, and upon completion, receive a certificate of completion that is nationally recognized.

As the workshop unfolds, important questions are brought forward by participants.   Given our focus on student participation in the ISW, the question of how to (and whether to) give participation marks arises.  While the answers depend on the context of the course, the teaching approach, and the design of the learning experiences and assessments, specific ideas from others can help us arrive at ways of doing this that can fit our individual teaching.

So, when I came upon a link to this blog post by David Gooblar –  I thought it was worth highlighting to our recent ISW graduates, and to readers of Educatus.

In particular Gooblar links to an article by Tony Docan-Morgan that includes a participation log template that can be found here.

We would welcome more ideas from our readers on this teaching topic.

3 Ideas for Promoting Academic Honesty

With Elana Geller (Student Learning Services at the University Library) & Heather M. Ross (GMCTE)

A session on this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight on Wednesday August 24, 2016. Register here.

Beauty of Reading
#1 Student skill development (Libraries)

Most students will make the right choices given enough knowledge. In order to support students attaining this knowledge the University Library maintains a number of resources including a citation guide, which can be accessed at Students can also ask questions about citations at the Research Help Desk and Writing Centre, either in person or online. The Library is also looking into the creation of a tool that would have more breadth and would organize academic integrity information in an easy to use format. This tool would go beyond citation styles, to include information on collaboration, possibly specific field or discipline content, and policies. This endeavour will be one of collaboration. If you have any advice about what you would like to see in such a tool please contact Elana Geller at

#2 Technologies to detect potential plagiarism (GMCTE)

Both students and instructors have an interest in preventing and detecting potential plagiarism. For instructors, cutting and pasting questionable passages can assist in detecting materials that may have been taken from websites, journals, and other resources found online. In addition, SafeAssign is a copied text detection tool available within Blackboard. While this can be used for comparing student work to other works found online for the purpose of identifying potential plagiarism, it has great power as a teaching tool. If faculty set SafeAssign so that student can submit and then make changes based on the report, students can learn from their errors.  For more information about these issues, how to use SafeAssign following U of S guidelines, and how to use SafeAssign and Google for plagiarism detection and as learning tools, please contact Heather Ross at

#3 Assessment design (GMCTE)

When students regard what they are being asked to produce to represent relevant, valuable learning and when they believe they know what is expected and that they reasonably have the ability to do what is expected, they are more likely to invest the effort and submit authentic work for grading. With variation in disciplines for what makes an assessment appropriate and valid, not one piece of advice fits all. If you’d like to talk through some ideas for “cheat-proofing” assessments, please contact Susan Bens at

Picture courtesy of Luke Hayter and carries a CC-BY-NC license.


Reflecting on Assessment and Feedback

At this time of year, faculty can see the learning that has occurred for students reflected back through the culminating assessments. Whether it’s the term project, the research paper, the reflective portfolio, the group presentation, or the final exam – this is a means to discover what has been learned by students and to what standard.

Bicyclist Looking in MirrorHere are 10 questions gleaned from a 2004 article by Gibbs and Simpson on assessment that support students’ learning. Looking back at the term, an instructor may ask:

  1. Did the assessment require sufficient time and effort on the kind of learning intended?
  2. Did the assessment indicate the appropriate proportion of effort to be allocated compared to other course elements?
  3. How did the assessment encourage students toward productive practice or learning?
  4. Was feedback provided often enough and in enough detail?
  5. Was feedback focused on learning processes and actions under students’ control rather than grades, competitive rank, or the student as a person?
  6. Did the feedback arrive in a timely way?
  7. Did the feedback align with the purpose of the assessment and to the criteria for success?
  8. Was the feedback at the right level of sophistication for students to benefit from it?
  9. Were students motivated to attend to the feedback?
  10. To what extent was the feedback acted upon?

After a sufficient look back, these questions also help instructors to look ahead and contemplate the adjustments they can make next time around to provide students well designed assessment of learning and effective feedback for more learning.

Several of us in the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness have an interest in assessment design. Feel free to contact us to discuss ideas.

Gibbs, G. & Simpson, C., (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Issue 1, pp. 3-31.

Picture courtesy of Oregon Department of Transportation via Wikimedia and carries a CC-BY license.

Talking with Students About Suspected Plagiarism: Ten Guiding Questions

As assignments start to come in, this can be the time in the term when faculty notice what may be inadvertent or intentional plagiarism by students.  Hopefully, you rarely encounter this yourself. But, if you do suspect plagiarism, how can you best proceed? Here’s what I would do…

First, become familiar with the institutional policy and any particular procedures with respect to this policy in your department or college.

Next, I suggest that you discuss the matter with the student(s) you suspect.  Here are ten guiding questions offered to help you to prepare for and to anticipate the potential directions of a discussion:

  1. Why am I asking to discuss the matter with the student?
  2. How can I best convey my commitment to students’ learning and to fair assessment generally?
  3. What are the facts of the situation from my perspective?
  4. What are the facts of the situation from the student’s perspective?
  5. How will I respond to the student if she or he denies wrongdoing, claims ignorance, admits to the plagiarism, or implicates others?
  6. How interested am I in knowing what contributed to this situation for the student?
  7. How will I handle my feelings about the student’s explanation or comments during our discussion?
  8. How will I handle the student’s reactions during the discussion?
  9. Am I prepared to bring the discussion to an early close if emotions (including mine) are running too high and/or am I prepared to connect the student to other campus resources (e.g., counseling)?
  10. How can I be sure I don’t commit to any course of action before I am ready to do so?

With respect to #10, what the student has to say may or may not affect your ultimate decision, but I do recommend taking some time to reflect on what you heard from the student before you proceed.

  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in a grade penalty and/or a resubmission for the assessment in question, then look to the informal procedure in the U of S policy.
  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in a grade penalty beyond the assessment in question and/or you think there should be a record of the plagiarism, then look to the formal procedures in the U of S policy and expect to participate in a hearing process.
  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in an educational response or a warning, then look to the student’s role as a learner and your role as a teacher. This may involve providing some direct instruction yourself or referring the student to resources in the Library about writing and referencing.

While these concerning situations can be quite straight forward, they can also become quite complicated. Feel free to contact me at the Gwenna Moss Centre if you’d like to think through a situation you face.

Too explicit? No such thing.

Following on Heather’s post last week about the key (and required) elements of the syllabus at the University of Sasaktchewan, I wanted to add a point of emphasis that I think saves time, saves confusion, and may even save you some heartache.

That point is: be explicit with your students about your expectations.

Sometimes, as instructors, we may forget that we too  had to learn about academic expectations and norms.   If we were lucky, we caught on quickly, probably in our first or second years of undergraduate study.   Our new students (new to our disciplines, our institution, our jargon, our everyday language, our Saskatchewan and/or Canadian ways) will benefit from clear instructions and rules about how to complete the work required, and especially the work we will assess for grades.  When we want individual work, we should explain what that looks like and what it does not in the context of our course.  Examples help a lot.  When collaboration is permitted, we should explain what we mean by that and what we would regard as collusion in the context of our course.  Again, examples are very useful.  When we expect students to use outside resources, we should explain what we mean by originality and what we mean by proper referencing, by proper paraphrasing.  Referring students to library and other resources so that they may quickly  learn about these important practices is vital.

It’s also important to note that what we expect may differ from what students have experienced in other programs, in other courses, and with other professors, even those in our same hallways.  The expectations we have can, to some extent, reflect our own beliefs about students and the role of assignments in their learning.

While this GMCTE video sets this same message about being explicit within the concern for academic integrity, you may find a view of this short piece gives you the reminder you need about stating, what may be to you but not to your students, the obvious.

Practice Problem Sets: Issues of Timing and Mixing

While looking for resources for a faculty member in the sciences who was interested in incorporating more problem sets into her lectures to increase student engagement, I came upon a 2007 article by Rohere and Taylor, appearing in Instructional Science. This article describes two experiments where particular timing and mixing of mathematics practice problems improved learning.

The authors point out that it is usual for practice problems to be assigned:
• immediately following the relevant lesson (massed), and
• for problems of the same type to be grouped together (blocked).

15 - September - 2008 -- MathsThrough Rohere and Taylor’s experiments, they found that spacing the timing of two sets of practice problems 1 week apart (they called this spaced rather than massed) and varying the types of problems in a practice set (they called this mixed rather than blocked) greatly improved students’ test performance.

While the experiments used math concepts (one was a permutation task, the other was a volume task), it seems there could be an extrapolation/application to other kinds of practice problem sets for students.

The basic idea I take from this article for teaching is twofold:
(1) have students return to the problem type practiced in the previous week, and
(2) mix last week’s problem type with this week’s problem type.

This approach means students get to try a set of problems again—important especially if they had difficulty first time around. Plus, using mixtures of problems handled at the same time requires students to learn to pair each kind of problem with the appropriate procedure – that is students not only learn how to perform each procedure (learning-how), but also which procedure is for each kind of problem (learning-which) – the authors call this “discrimination training.”

A powerful closing remark in the article is that shuffling problems in this way presented few logistical demands for the teacher, making it an easy change in teaching practice that can have dramatic benefits for student learning.

(And, here I’ll add another easy change that builds on the above…teachers can ask students to do problems sets in small groups, then exchange them with another group and provide peer feedback on their calculations or choice of procedures. The learning that occurs by providing feedback to peers has also shown improvements in student performance.)

Rohere, D, & Taylor, K. (2007). The shuffling of mathematics problems improves learning. Instructional Science, 35, 381-498.

What is Digital Citizenship?

Many teaching and learning conversations include notions of developing and fostering citizenship for our teachers and our learners in our respective disciplines and fields and in society.   Citizenship can be such broad territory. One way to focus it further is to discuss Digital Citizenship. If you’re still stumped, let me point you to a useful set of Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship appearing on a web site dedicated to this topic. Here, among other things, you’ll find types of norms that characterize appropriate and response technology use.

The distinctions between digital literacy, digital communication, digital etiquette, and digital rights and responsibilities strike me as most informative. When we exchange information electronically with others, we are engaging in digital communication.   When we are in the process of learning about technology and how to use technology to learn, we are becoming digitally literate. When we adhere to standards of conduct or procedures in our use of technology, we are upholding digital etiquette. When we accept our rights to privacy and free speech as well as our responsibility to use technology appropriately, we are recognizing digital rights and responsibilities.

Given recent concerns over offensive behavior on Facebook by a group of Canadian university students, additional digital citizenship notions of protecting confidential communication from being breached (digital security or self-protection) and taking responsibility of actions and deeds (digital law) also bring insight.

If you’re like me, looking for some clarifying definitions to assist your role and the roles of others in digital citizenship, you’ll find this useful too. Check out the rest of the website and learn more about Mike Ribble.

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