Skip navigation
The Skills Agenda

Designing courses that promote academic integrity

Use your concerns about ChatGPT and academic misconduct to redesign your courses to build academic integrity skills.


Welcome back to the final column of my special The Skills Agenda three-part series on academic integrity, coauthored with  Susan Bens, educational development specialist at the University of Saskatchewan’s Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning. In our first column, Susan and I discussed six key reasons students commit academic misconduct and identified opportunities for instructors to use this information to adopt practices to address these reasons. In our second column, we considered what ChatGPT and other generative AI technologies mean for academic integrity. In this final column, we bring the threads together to suggest ways you can use course design to foster academic integrity skill development amongst your students.

Moving from a framework of “academic misconduct” to “academic integrity”

Research about academic integrity and academic misconduct in higher education, including research conducted in Canada, has consistently found that undergraduate students self-report that half to three quarters have engaged in an act they regard as academic misconduct at least once during their studies. Given the likelihood of underreporting of personal academic misconduct, these numbers should give all of us pause.

From an instructor’s point of view, academic misconduct is disheartening and frustrating to deal with. We lament the emotional labour and time suck of the administrative processes involved in dealing with academic misconduct. We can start to lose hope. And if we continue with many of our current approaches, the challenges will only get worse.

Between AI technologies and contract cheating, it is no longer sufficient for instructors to simply warn students about academic misconduct and think we’ve done our jobs. The world has gotten too complex to simply put links to regulations in our syllabus and tell students to read them or to make students complete online tutorials that are generic and awareness focused by design. These limited approaches position instructors to police and enforce rules rather than teach and promote academic integrity.

As individual instructors and across our institutions, we need to shift from a rule compliance culture for academic integrity to a more robust and educative one. We need to be able to say more than “but, we told you not to cheat.” We should be able to say, “We taught you how to and when to and why to uphold academic integrity.” After all, none of us was born knowing all these norms and practices and referencing protocols. Academic integrity is a teaching and learning issue. Someone had to have taught us, or at least created the conditions where we could teach ourselves. We need to do the same for our own students.

Approaching academic integrity as a skill to be developed

Skills require explanation, practice, repetition, and feedback. Skill needs change over time, often with technology or new advances or requirements in professions. Equipping students with disciplinary skills for academic integrity is more necessary than ever as artificial intelligence quickly works its way into workplace practice. This requires instructors and programs to explicitly teach academic integrity skills.

Most programs would say they intend to develop ethical graduates, but how many courses present course-level learning outcomes related to this? Of those that do, how many have aligned instructional and assessment practices to support their achievement? Without explicit instruction, there can be a tendency to simply tell students that academic integrity and other ethical practices matter and to incorrectly assume that this counts as “teaching.” But it doesn’t work.

To be more effective, use academic integrity as a course learning outcome. What could this look like? We asked ChatGPT for 10 examples, then chose five and improved on them for the list below.

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Paraphrase, summarize and use quotation marks and citation styles effectively so as to communicate clearly and to avoid unintentional plagiarism.
  • Verify the reliability and credibility of information sources used in academic work.
  • Recognize consequences of misconduct and unethical practices, both within academic settings and in professional contexts.
  • Attribute and acknowledge contributions when working with peers in collaborative projects.
  • Follow intellectual property rights and copyright laws in academic and creative work.

You can use these examples and adapt one (or more) to your own subject area (here’s a worksheet).

After you have drafted an academic integrity learning outcome for your course, consider the shifting sands resulting from artificial intelligence and what this means for your other learning outcomes. Are any of the skills you want students to develop already being performed by ChatGPT in 2023? If so, are there skills you want students to develop at first without ChatGPT or other kinds of assistance? If there are, be sure to explicitly explain in your syllabus if and when it will be appropriate for students to access the benefits of artificial intelligence tools. It is important that you decide in advance whether or not you will restrict ChatGPT use – and how you can be confident in that restriction. We note that many of the limitations of the tool that gave some solace early in 2023 are being resolved, making it more difficult to build ChatGPT resistant assessments.

Finally, be sure to build time into the course schedule to develop students’ AI literacy so that students have an understanding of how to use AI ethically and responsibly. You may think you don’t have time for this, but chances are good it will take less time than dealing with future academic misconduct processes.

Designing courses that address reasons for student academic misconduct

In the first column of this series, we identified six reasons that students may cheat. This information can be used to inform your course design. As you do so, we encourage you to focus on how do we ensure students are learning?” rather than “how do we stop students from cheating?”, with academic integrity skills being among the things that your students will learn.

Reason for academic misconduct Addressing this through course design
Lack of connection to material
  • Use assessments that are closer to real-world application, that incorporate the value of human expertise, integration, and synthesis
Skill gaps
  • Use practice with feedback to allow students to understand errors and improve with things like referencing conventions and appropriate uses of technology
  • Use explicit instruction to teach academic integrity skills
  • Address common errors that concern you
  • Acknowledge that students may have had different requirements in other courses while clarifying your own expectations
Lack of connection with the instructor
  • Share your personal approaches to the subject material, to completing academic work, and to maintaining academic integrity
  • Explain how breaches of academic integrity affect you personally as an instructor
Tolerance of academic misconduct
  • Explain your commitment to enforcing academic integrity, your options for detection, and the limits of what you can do to detect
  • Build classroom norms for trust and that it’s okay to ask questions about what is allowed
  • Talk with individuals and groups of students about academic misconduct you suspect – and do so as early as possible
Student stress
  • Consider appropriately flexible extension policies
  • Build major assignments to include interim due dates to help students stay on track

As you develop your courses, please be sure to check out the Skills Agenda “Syllabus Bootcamp” series!

This concludes the special three-part series on academic misconduct. I would like to thank Susan for co-authoring this series with me. I have had the pleasure of learning from Susan for years now and it has been a real treat to be able to share her wisdom with you. Please help share this knowledge by forwarding this column to your colleagues.

Continuing the Skills Agenda conversation

Did you find this three part series helpful? Please let me know in the comments below. I also welcome the opportunity to speak with your university about skills training. Please connect with me at [email protected], subject line “The Skills Agenda”. And for additional teaching, writing, and time management discussion, please check out my Substack blog, Academia Made Easier.

Loleen Berdahl is an award-winning university instructor, the executive director of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (Universities of Saskatchewan and Regina), and professor and former head of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Since 2016, Dr. Berdahl has spoken about student skills training and professional development at conferences and university campuses across Canada. Her research on these topics is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant program. Dr. Berdahl’s most recent books include Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD (University of Toronto Press; with Jonathan Malloy) and Explorations: Conducting Empirical Research in Canadian Political Science (Oxford University Press; now in its 4th edition with Jason Roy). Susan Bens is an educational development specialist at the University of Saskatchewan’s Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning.
Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *