Setting a more positive agenda with academic honesty in schools

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Last weekend I travelled to Jakarta to lead a workshop for principals, from across the Asia Pacific, who were in the early stages of implementing the IB Diploma Programme in their schools. During our three days together we explored many themes of the programme but one that interested me the most was how academic honesty is addressed.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) require that all IB World Schools to have an academic honesty policy and they provide quite extensive guidance to schools in developing their own policies to fit their own context. We explored the respective roles of the school, the teacher and the student in putting into effect such a policy.

I detected a common thread in the participants’ responses and also, to some extent, the way in which academic honesty was presented in the supporting documents from the IB. This was also similar to the way I see many teachers speak to their students about academic honesty, which is negatively. It appears as though, when academic honesty is taught in schools, the consequences of academic misconduct are emphasised far more than the positive aspects of what it means to ‘do the right thing’. This seems in keeping with the scare tactics we advertising companies use to get people to do certain things, such as stop smoking and avoid drinking and driving. The debate rages on about the effectiveness of such media campaigns.

In the workshop, I posed the question, what if we stopped using the consequences of academic misconduct as a deterrent in promoting academic honesty. All of a sudden the discussions was flipped on its head focusing on the positive values of following the rules. Notably, the values that we want to develop in our students came to the fore.

Partcipants, wanted their students to know that “they are smarter than a photocopier,” capable individuals seeking integrity, trust and respect. We undertook an activity called, ‘The Pitch’, based on a segment of the popular Australian show the Gruen Transfer, which asks advertising representatives to sell the unsellable, such as why “Australia should invade New Zealand” While many of the pitches made on the TV show are made for entertainment value, the nature of the task asks the creators of the adverts to explore a way of thinking that has probably not yet been associated with the topic.

So how did the principals fare in coming up with ideas on positively promoting academic honesty in their schools? There were some great responses, such as examining what our responsibility is in terms of the jobs students hold in the future, thinking about the trust that patients put in doctors and passengers in pilots. The notion that the academically honest student is able to engage in higher level thinking skills, through being able to cite references effectively when constructing an argument. Finally, one group explored the benfits of taking the longer journey, understanding that academic honesty requires a commitment from students to engage in good practice and universities want to recruit students who are principled and good communicators.

The challenge for schools is that they need to give good reason for academic honesty, not just the negatives, so starting with the ‘why?’ and promoting good behaviour based on the values that we want to our students to develop is a much more effective approach.

photo credit: jobadge via photopin cc

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