With over two decades of experience across varied industry segments, Chaitali Moitra has served at the helm of various organizations and steered institutions to excellence in key success metrics – in both a financial and strategic growth capacity. Chaitali is well recognized as a leader in Business Development, Marketing and Learning. She has served in leadership positions at Genpact, The Indo-Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Global University Systems, and Macmillan Education. As the Managing Director of Collins Learning, a division of Harper Collins India, she has worked extensively with the education sector in South Asia. She has mentored students of leading management institutes and is often invited by leading institutes to share her knowledge and experience.
At this time when distance learning has become the norm, academic integrity is a matter of great concern. With less student supervision in virtual classrooms, cases of academic misconduct such as plagiarism, student collusion, and contract cheating are on the rise.
The Ministry of Education and authorities at various colleges and universities in India have been forced to implement measures to curb the rise of cheating in online examinations, after reports of widespread student collusion using messaging apps were received. A 10-member committee headed by Indian Institute of Technology-Madras Director Bhaskar Ramamurthi was created to develop a set of protocols for online internal examinations in centrally-funded education institutions, to safeguard the validity and legitimacy of future online examinations.
To combat breaches in academic integrity, educators can leverage various best practices in promoting ethical behavior. Encouraging and inspiring students to prioritize personal integrity and also collaborate effectively with their peers are proven ways to curb academic misconduct. In support of this, various education technology solutions are evolving to identify and discourage academic impropriety.
Understanding academic misconduct in online learning
Safeguarding the security and safety of students, faculty and staff in an online setting is critical, but it is also vital to ensure that the educational process continues and learning objectives are achieved, despite the lockdowns. To confront the issues education institutions face amid the pandemic, the University Grants Commission (UGC) drafted a set of guidelines for examinations and recommendations to support the academic calendar. With e-resources available online, the UGC has been pushing for continuity within the teaching-learning process by leveraging available online learning platforms to boost student accessibility and engagement
In the current situation where educators have limitations placed on their interaction with students, it is more difficult to discern whether a student has intentionally or inadvertently violated academic integrity standards. Students’ intentions can be determined by asking them to explain the process for completing the work, or even using a short, targeted assessment to uncover a skills deficit. However, these approaches may prove time-consuming and even inconclusive for educators who are not experienced in such investigation tactics.
New education technology tools, such as plagiarism detection software to verify originality and prevent text manipulation, are being developed to help teachers examine student work more objectively so that they can make informed decisions, address issues, and take necessary action.
Instilling accountability in virtual classrooms
It is essential that students appreciate and understand the importance of integrity and authenticity throughout the writing process in any learning environment. Academic integrity should be reinforced through instruction, embedded in the learning process and should support the work of educators. For instance, as an exercise at the beginning of the school year, educators can have students sign an honour statement that is then regularly referenced throughout the year. It is also crucial to educate students about academic integrity principles and build trust through regular feedback and one-on-one virtual catch-up sessions.
Educators should empower students by promoting a safe, interactive, and open environment that will encourage them to communicate the learning challenges they are experiencing, and thereby reduce the likelihood for students to take shortcuts or cheat.
If potential plagiarism is suspected, educators must hold students accountable while encouraging them to learn and grow from their mistakes. Educational software designed to support academic integrity enables feedback, assesses skill gaps, and promotes fairness, equipping teachers with the tools to tackle the issue head-on. It helps them verify the quality and originality of students’ work in a more effective and time-efficient manner, and helps identify underlying learning challenges to work on with the student individually. Students can also use such tools to check their own work before submitting it, thus encouraging personal accountability for achieving their learning objectives.
Establishing a culture of integrity
It is crucial for educators to uphold academic integrity among their students to prevent dishonest habits or misconduct, which in turn, will allow students to develop critical thinking skills that are essential to their academic performance and future careers.
Educating students on the consequences of academic dishonesty and the importance of academic integrity can significantly reduce plagiarism cases. When they graduate from university, students bring this core value with them into their professional work and social lives, which helps them become citizens of integrity in the community.
Amidst changing times, students are coming up with newer, more sophisticated forms of plagiarism and academic misconduct, making it even more important to promote personal accountability and uphold proper ethical conduct. Educators should reinforce this principle through explicit instruction around academic integrity that is facilitated by technology, to enhance formative student learning opportunities.
Learning how to learn: shaping the next generation of citizens
With the launch of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 in July last year, the Indian government has been introducing reforms to make space for a more holistic, inquiry-based and discovery-based learning for students. While equity and access in online learning has rightly been the focus, education institutions must also now look at creating an inclusive, engaging and innovative learning environment. To develop engaged and productive citizens, education institutions should now focus on creating an inclusive, engaging and flexible learning environment. This will place greater emphasis on higher-order thinking rather than rote learning and learning-for-exams, as well as creativity and critical thinking to meet emerging 21st century demands.
Academic integrity is critical in achieving these objectives, and schools, colleges and education institutions will play an important role in establishing a system that guides ethical conduct and equitable learning in education regardless of the learning modalities.