Alberta’s Proposed “Student First Act”: Analysis from an Academic Integrity Perspective

November 15, 2021

Last week the Hon. Adrianna LaGrange, Minister of Education in Alberta, published a commentary in the Edmonton Journal about a proposed new legislation she intended to bring forward called the “Student First Act”.

In this blog post I offer my perspective on this editorial through the lens of someone who studies educational integrity, including misconduct. I have pointed out my qualifications to comment on matters related academic misconduct in a previous blog post, so I won’t repeat them here. Suffice to say that I have some expertise related to academic integrity. Those familiar with my work will know that I advocate for a multi-stakeholder approach to academic integrity in which students, educators, and administrators are all held accountable for their behaviours. Academic integrity is about more than student conduct and examining educator and administrator misconduct remains an understudied area, but an important one.

In my analysis of LaGrange’s commentary (which was effectively an announcement about the new proposed legislation), I will examine both the positive and negative aspects of this announcement.

Lack of Transparency

LaGrange opened by stating that, “Fourteen years ago, as a newly elected school board trustee in Red Deer, I began hearing concerns about the lack of transparency in teacher disciplinary process. Now, as Alberta’s minister of education, I hear these same concerns from students and parents across the province.”

It’s a good thing that Minister LaGrange heard these concerns. There shouldn’t be any surprise with regards to misconduct occurring. Misconduct happens in almost every profession and teaching is no exception. Here LaGrange is signalling that she first became aware that there was a “lack of transparency in teacher disciplinary process”.

“Lack of transparency” is a trigger phrase. It is almost a guarantee that readers and members of the public will become offended when they hear about “lack of transparency”, especially from a government. As I have written about in my book, misconduct among educators is usually addressed by human resources. There are strict laws in Canada, including in Alberta, about what a human resources manager or department is legally permitted to disclose regarding an employee misconduct. I am not a labour relations lawyer, but I am confident saying that this “lack of transparency” is a function of existing labour laws, not a flaw in government policy.

Every large organization in Alberta and in Canada has policies and procedures in place to address employee misconduct. There are thresholds in place so that if a misconduct crosses over from an internal disciplinary matter to a criminal one, that these must be reported to police for investigation.

There is an assumption in the LaGrange editorial that school boards lack processes to investigate employee misconduct or that the existing processes are flawed. I suspect that if she dug a little deeper she would find that the existing policies and procedures conform to the labour laws already in place.

Praise… but…

LaGrange goes on to say, “While the overwhelming majority of teachers in the province are dedicated and caring professionals, we know that cases of inappropriate or even dangerous conduct do happen — and sometimes those cases involve a student.”

It’s good to see that the Minister of Education is acknowledging that “the majority of teachers in the province are dedicated and caring professionals”. This is a truism and there’s nothing really new here. In her book, Cheating: Ethics in Everyday Life, author Deborah Rhode guides us to think about cheating and other misconduct behaviours as a bell curve. At one end you have a small minority of people who rarely or never commit misconduct. At the other end, you have another small percentage of people who do bad stuff repeatedly and often. In the middle, there’s about 80% or so who are basically good most of the time, but can be influenced by circumstances on occasion.

One concerning aspect of LaGrange’s statement is that she seems to be focusing on the moral character of the teachers, rather than their behaviour. As someone who studies misconduct, I can say that in Canada, we treat misconduct cases as bad behaviour, not as a moral failing. This is an important distinction because these are drastically different philosophical positions. Bad behaviour can be corrected, but moral failings? That’s an entirely different matter. I am guessing that political scientists might agree that it would be a fool’s errand for any politician to comment on the moral failings of others…

“An extremely concerning case…”

LaGrange goes on to explain that in 2019 an “extremely concerning case” crossed her desk. Wow, that’s got to be bad, right? I mean… an extremely concerning case. We’d better pay attention here, folks.

Let’s unpack that though… A few paragraphs previously, LaGrange commented that she’s been hearing about misconduct cases for fourteen years. It took 14 years for an “extremely concerning case” to cross her desk? As someone who studies misconduct, I am genuinely surprised by this. For those of us who deal with misconduct on a regular basis as part of our jobs, it probably a matter of weeks or months — not years — before we come face to face with an egregious or complicated case. That’s like saying the Minister of Justice didn’t hear about a horrible criminal case until after a decade of being on the job. Really? How remarkably lucky for the minister that she has been in an educational leadership role and has not encountered an extremely concerning case for 14 years.

Of course, we do not know what the details of the case were and nor should we. What we do need to know is that if the case was so concerning that it crossed over into criminal behaviour, it should have been reported to the police. When the minister described that the teacher was “found guilty of inappropriately touching five young students and only a two-year suspension was recommended”. This makes me wonder if the case was reported to the police? Minister LaGrange does not comment on this in her article, but it really is a question worth asking.

Minister LaGrange that she found the recommended penalty for the teacher, “unacceptable” and that she “overturned the recommendation and handed down a lifetime teaching ban”.

Bravo for taking a stand, but the question remains, why was this case not reported to the police? There is no mention that law enforcement was involved. Surely the minister could have insisted that a case of alleged sexual violence against not one but five students be referred to the police immediately?

A Review of the Discipline Process for Educators

LaGrange goes on to say that this incident triggered “a review of the discipline processes for educators”. Periodic reviews of misconduct policies are a good thing. My colleagues and I have recommended such reviews for universities and colleges, for example. If regular reviews of misconduct policies are not already part of the educational policy governance process, then they should be. A review should not be a one-time effort, but a regular part of policy work.

LaGrange states, “cases are dealt with away from the public’s view”. Well, that’s pretty typical in an employee misconduct case, in part due to labour and privacy laws. It would be very unusual for any employer Canada to investigate and address employee misconduct cases in the public view. Employee misconduct cases are dealt with internally in almost every organization, unless the matter is criminal. If a case is criminal it might be prosecuted in court with case-related information being a matter of public record. I reiterate – why are allegations of sexual violence against students not reported to police?

LaGrange also goes on to say that cases “often take years to be settled after a complaint is made”. The timelines for addressing misconduct cases can — and should — be laid out in policy. This is easily fixed through a policy revision that outlines the number of business days permitted to address a case.

In large educational organizations, it is pretty typical for in-house counsel (i.e., the lawyers) to get involved to ensure that procedures are followed and to offer advice. One of the aspects of policy that lawyers provide guidance on is how much time to allow to ensure that a case can be dealt with fairly and in a timely manner.

The Current Legislation

Minister LaGrange states, “current legislation prohibits the government and myself from informing the public”. That’s because when it comes to employee misconduct there are laws in place to protect people’s privacy. This goes back to misconduct being a matter of bad behaviour not a moral failing. I know of no employer anywhere in Canada – including educational institutions – who engage in the practice of publicly naming and shaming every employee (or student) under review for or found responsible of misconduct.

Status of teaching certificates

LaGrange states, “Alberta’s current legislation is lagging behind. British Columbia, Ontario and Saskatchewan all have public registries where parents can easily check the status of their child’s teacher’s certificate”. Well, that’s also an easy fix. But let’s be clear that a public registry of valid teaching certificates should not be conflated with a registry of individuals who have or have not committed misconduct. Teaching certificates can lapse due to illness or any other reason. Besides, every school board in Alberta will ensure its teachers have a valid teaching certificate. Again, this is the job of the HR department.

Others have already commented on the misinformation in LaGrange’s commentary about the need for teachers to undergo police checks, so I’ll refrain from further analysis on that point. Suffice to say that, this point was poorly presented in the editorial.

LaGrange concludes by saying that she will be introducing the “Students First Act” in the legislature next week. I am curious to know what the proposed legislation will say and I’ll be watching carefully. Some key points to keep in mind are:

  • What are some easy ways to update current policies (e.g., the time allowed to address a misconduct case) without having to enact legislation? In other words, what’s the low hanging fruit here? What are some ways to tighten up existing policies and procedures quickly while still ensuring they are fair and comprehensive?
  • How do we keep the focus on identifying and correcting poor behaviour, as opposed to handing down moral judgement?
  • How do we ensure that addressing employee misconduct is not confused with a witch hunt designed to name and shame individuals?
  • And perhaps most importantly… how do we ensure that egregious instances of teacher misconduct that cross into criminal behaviour are reported to the police so the Minister herself does not have to serve as judge and jury in such cases?

We all agree that we want to “keep our students safe, parents informed and teachers accountable”, as LaGrange says. It’s how we do it that matters.

Related posts:

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.


Contract Cheating in Canada: Exploring Legislative Options

November 1, 2021

Contract cheating report coverLast week Alicia Adlington and I presented our work on possible legislative options to address contract cheating in Canada. We did our presentation via webinar with 70+ registrants and launched our report, which is publicly available online:

Adlington, A., & Eaton, S. E. (2021). Contract Cheating in Canada: Exploring Legislative Options. Calgary, Canada: University of Calgary. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/114088

Webinar description

An introductory discussion about the commercial contract cheating industry (e.g., term paper mills, homework completion services, and paid imposters who take exams on behalf of students). One question people often ask is, “Why aren’t these services illegal?” The short answer is: Academic cheating services are not currently illegal in Canada, but they are in other countries. In this session we’ll provide an overview of which countries have successfully enacted legislation against predatory industry that profits from academic misconduct. We will provide an overview of the legal structures in Canada that might facilitate or present barriers to such legislation being enacted in this country. We do not promise answers or solutions to the complex issue of contract cheating, but instead provide an evidence-base for deeper discussion.

The intended audience for this session is primarily for those in Canada interested in contract cheating from the Canadian legal context. Participants from other regions are also welcome.

By the end of this session engaged participants will be able to: 

  • Describe what contract cheating is
  • Understand how legislation against contract cheating has been enacted in other countries
  • Discover legal aspects of contract cheating in Canada and beyond

We are grateful to the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary for hosting the webinar and supporting this work.

You can check out the slides from our webinar here:

I’ll update this blog post with the link to the recording when it is available.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.


Contract Cheating in Alberta and Beyond

October 21, 2021

As co-chairs of the Alberta Council on Academic Integrity working group on contract cheating, Sheryl Boisvert and I presented this webinar on contract cheating in Alberta as part of Integrity Week at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. We discussed essay mills, homework completion services, unethical tutoring services, and thesis consultation services that all cross the line into academic misconduct. Participants learned about the size and scope of this predatory industry and how it preys on our students, including engaging in blackmail and extortion.

Cite this presentation as:

Eaton, S. E., & Boisvert, S. (2021, October 20). Contract cheating in Alberta and beyond. Paper presented at the Academic Integrity Week: Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary [online] Calgary, Canada. 

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.


BC Academic Integrity Day (BC AID) 2021: Recap

October 16, 2021

BC Acdemic Integrity Day 1 2021-10-15 at 10.25.42 AMThis virtual event was hosted by Douglas College, with presenters from across British Columbia on Friday, October 15, 2021. At one point, I counted 123 participants in the virtual meeting room.

Welcome to the BC Academic Integrity Day

BC Acdemic Integrity Day 2 2021-10-15 at 10.25.59 AMJanette Tilley, Associate Dean, Faculty of Language, Literature and Performing Arts, Douglas College, opened the event with a land acknowledgement.

Thor Borgford, Vice President Academic and Provost, Douglas College, offered welcoming remarks. He commented that although academic integrity has been important for a long time, things have changed over the past five years, and particularly during COVID-19. He noted that looking for solutions through enforcement is not the way to go, but instead it is important to promote academic integrity so students have skills they can take with them after graduation.

Tod Denham, Exams Department Supervisor, TRU and founding member of the BC Academic Integrity Network, spoke about the history of the BC Academic Integrity Network (BC-AIN). Talked about attending a number of academic integrity events, including the first Canadian Symposium on Academic Integrity at the University of Calgary. From there they organized the first BC-AID at TRU in 2019, where BC-AIN was born. He offers appreciation to Douglas College for hosting this second BC-AID.

Janette Tilley introduced the other members of the organizing committee for the conference:

  • Tod Denham (TRU)
  • Jaclyn Stewart (UBC)
  • Ainsley Rouse (UBC)
  • Arlette Stewart (SFU)
  • Marian Anderberg (TRU)
  • Laura Prada (UBCO)
  • Sean Zwagerman (SFU)

Keynote: “Deepening the Relational Ecology of Academic Integrity”BC Acdemic Integrity Day 3 2021-10-15 at 10.59.12 AM

Brenda Morrison, Associate Professor. School of Criminology and Director, Centre for Restorative Justice, SFU gave a heartfelt and sincere keynote address about the principles of restorative practices, highlighting the difference between traditional policy and restorative approaches to addressing cases of misconduct. Dr. Morrison generously shared this link to her slides.

Panel: “Inclusion and Accessibility in Academic Integrity”

BC Acdemic Integrity Day 4 2021-10-15 at 12.10.08 PM

Anita Chaudhuri (UBCO) moderated an excellent panel on accessibility and inclusion in academic integrity with these panelists:

  • Mitchell Stoddard, Director, Centre for Accessible Learning, SFU
  • Holly Salmon, Coordinator and Instructor, Learning Centre, Douglas College
  • Laurie McNeill, Professor of Teaching, Dept, of English Language and Literatures, UBC
  • Lisvet Parra Montas, former Writing and AIM Consultant and student, UBC

Some key points shared during the panel for me were:

  • There continue to be many barriers for students including barriers to learning, as well as barriers to navigating higher education systems.
  • Discrimination, along with equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) are topics we must continue to address.
  • Universal design for learning (UDL) helps all students learn with integrity.
  • It is essential for us to listen to students and pay attention to their experiences.

After the panel, there was a lunch break.

Forum: Resource Sharing

After lunch Jackie Stewart (UBC) facilitated a session for participants to share resources related to academic integrity.

Laura Prada (UBCO) shared an academic integrity awareness campaign including resources for faculty members, a Zoom background and some tote bags they are giving away as prizes.

Maggie Ross (Langara College) shared a toolkit for faculty, Encouraging Academic Integrity Through a Preventative Framework, that was showcased on the ICAI blog. Maggie also shared a meme contest they have organized for and a badge they’ll wear to pledge integrity during Academic Integrity Week.

Arlette Stewart (SFU) shared a number of resources, including:

  • SFU’s assignment calculator for students
  • Information about an upcoming webinar on restorative practices in the classroom, Dr. Sheri Fabian, Director of the Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines “Beyond the Classroom: How an incident of academic dishonesty kept someone out of prison” on Wednesday, October 20, 2021 from 10:30-11:30 a.m. PST. Here is the link to register.
  • And a couple of suggested syllabi statements from SFU, such as this one and this one.

Colleen Pawlychka from Douglas College shared her academic integrity resource and talked about how she teaches her students about academic integrity in her classes.

I shared that the University of Calgary is hosting a public webinar on October 29, “Contract Cheating in Canada: Exploring Legislative Options and also the forthcoming edited book Academic Integrity in Canada.

Laurie McNeill (UBC) shared Academic Integrity Faculty Resources

Jaclyn Stewart shared – Some suggested syllabus statements from UBC: https://teachingsupport.forestry.ubc.ca/files/2020/09/Approaches-to-Academic-Integrity-in-the-Syllabus_04-Sept-2020.pdf

Jennifer Kendall shared – HOWL (Habits of White Language) by Asao Inoue, saying it “could be a useful starting point for reflecting on our assessment practices and approaching academic integrity in a more inclusive way.”

Sandra Zappa-Hollman shared a link to this podcast with valuable episodes about citing, referencing, and paraphrasing.

Panel: “Responses to Contract Cheating”

BC Academic Integrity Day 5 2021-10-15 at 2.32.46 PM

Tod Denham (TRU) moderated a panel of experts from across higher education in British Columbia:

  • Jeff Longland, Project Lead and Solutions Architect, Learning Analytics Project, UBC
  • Sean Zwagerman, Associate Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, SFU
  • Will Gunton, Chair, Dept. Physics and Astronomy, Douglas College
  • Marian Anderberg. Director, Student Affairs, TRU

Key takeaways from this panel for me were:

  • There are ways to detect contract cheating, but this work requires resources (dedicated staff and time to do the work).
  • Commercial file-sharing and contract cheating companies are particularly problematic. A shoutout to this article by Thomas Lancaster and Codrin Cortarlan was shared.
  • Need to name contract cheating institutional policy documents.
  • Contract cheating has been increasing during the pandemic and it happens across a variety of courses.
  • Contract cheating is committed by both domestic and international students, but some contract cheating companies are specifically targeting international students, including offering a shadow curriculum in other languages, such as Mandarin, and offering contract cheating as a supplementary service.
  • Companies offering to complete entire online courses on behalf of students seem to be increasing.
  • A model of progressive discipline is common, though there have been more students being suspended for academic misconduct violations including contract cheating during the pandemic.
  • Structural change is needed, including policy revision, and casting an EDI lens on contract cheating. There are myths that need to be busted about who engages in contract cheating and why.
  • Shadow courses and contract cheating companies that have local storefronts are not uncommon in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.
  • Administrators have been receiving an increasing number of anonymous tips about contact cheating. It is not known if these tips are coming from legitimate students or competing contract cheating suppliers.
  • Sean Zwagerman shared the Petition: Academic Integrity Letter to the Ministry 2021.
  • Catching students will not solve the larger contract cheating problem.

Forum: Future Work in Academic Integrity in BC

Tod Denham (TRU) facilitated a closing conversation about the future of the British Columbia Academic Integrity Network (BC AIN). Janette Tilley closed the event and thanked everyone for attending.

All in all, this was a fabulous virtual event that showcased how post-secondary institutions in British Columbia are promoting academic integrity across their province.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.


New Academic Integrity Research from Canada (October, 2021)

October 15, 2021

I think this might be a record for the number of academic integrity research outputs in Canada across different venues, all published in a single week: two articles, each published in a different journal, as well as two conference presentations. It’s one thing to have a series of research outputs from a single source, such as one issue of a journal or a set of conference proceedings, but what’s worth celebrating here is that these are from multiple, peer-reviewed sources.

Hu & Zhang (2021) and Liang et al. (2021) have papers in the proceedings from Teaching Culturally and Linguistically Diverse International Students in Open and/or Online Learning Environments: A Research Symposium hosted by the University of Windsor in June:

Hu, J., & Zhang, C. (2021). ESL student plagiarism prevention challenges and institutional interventions. Paper presented at the Teaching Culturally and Linguistically Diverse International Students in Open and/or Online Learning Environments: A Research Symposium (Online), University of Windsor, ON. https://scholar.uwindsor.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1048&context=itos21

Liang, A., Maddison, T., & England, S. (2021). Proactive not punitive: Strategies to prevent plagiarism and promote international student success. Paper presented at the Teaching Culturally and Linguistically Diverse International Students in Open and/or Online Learning Environments: A Research Symposium (Online), University of Windsor, ON. https://scholar.uwindsor.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1053&context=itos21

Josh Seeland and colleagues from Manitoba published this Classroom Note in the International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology (Taylor & Francis):

Seeland, J., Cliplef, L., Munn, C., & Dedrick, C. (2021). Mathematics and academic integrity: institutional support at a Canadian college. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1080/0020739X.2021.1981472

And last but not least, the latest article from the Contract Cheating in Canada: National Policy Analysis project that I’m leading has been published in the Canadian Journal for Educational Administration and Policy. This paper reports on our policy analysis of Ontario Universities.

Miron, J. B., McKenzie, A., Eaton, S. E., Stoesz, B. M., Thacker, E., Devereaux, L., . . . Rowbotham, K. (2021). Academic integrity policy analysis of publicly-funded universities in Ontario, Canada: A focus on contract cheating. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 197, 62-75. https://journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/index.php/cjeap/article/view/72082

In 2018 when I co-published with Rachael Edino a literature review about existing research from Canada on academic integrity, we reported that we’d found 56 sources published over 25 years. I am so proud to see how far we have come as a Canadian community to build our research and practice expertise and mobilize that knowledge via high quality peer-reviewed journals and conferences.

In case you’re wondering if academic integrity is a field of research, it absolutely is, with high quality scholarly outputs coming out every month, from scholars across the world. Of course, I highlight outputs from my compatriots because I am happy for them and proud of their work, and we are part of a global community of scholars, educators, and professionals across the world doing this work. (Hey, colleagues in Australia and the UK, are you reading this? We are catching up to you!)

Check out these recent publications and see what we’ve been doing in Canada. It’s pretty awesome.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.


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