Analysis of Plagiarism in the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum

April 3, 2021

Since the draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum was released by Adrianna LaGrange last week it has been under scrutiny. One of the concerns is plagiarism. Teachers have been posting examples of alleged plagiarism on social media and sending them to me directly for analysis. To be honest, my inbox exploded last week and I can hardly keep up. I lost track of all the messages I received via e-mail and social media, but I estimate that at least 100 examples have been sent to me, some of which are duplicates. In this post, I offer my analysis of a few of these examples.

In the interest of full transparency, I am not, nor have I ever been, a teacher in the K-12 system. My teaching career has been in higher education. I earned a PhD in educational leadership and my research expertise is on academic misconduct including plagiarism and contract cheating. My peer-reviewed scholarly papers include this one in which I analyze definitions of plagiarism. I serve as the Editor-in-Chief of one of the most respected journals in the field, the International Journal for Educational Integrity, published by BMC Springer Nature. I also serve on a multi-country working group for educational policy focused on academic integrity, through the European Network for Academic Integrity. My latest book, released just last month, focuses specifically on plagiarism. And I am one of two Canadians to hold a seat on the 40-person global Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) Council. In other words, I am more than qualified to undertake an analysis of alleged plagiarism.

Definition of Plagiarism

As I have pointed out here and here, there are no absolute definitions of plagiarism. There is general consensus that plagiarism happens when someone uses the words or ideas of another without attribution. This can include copy-and-paste plagiarism (i.e., direct plagiarism), as well as the practice of re-arranging or swapping out words from the original text with synonyms (i.e., indirect plagiarism). Similarly, if an original text is paraphrased without attribution, that is also often considered plagiarism (i.e., also called indirect plagiarism).

Detecting and Declaring Plagiarism

There is no single way to detect plagiarism or declare definitively that it has occurred. There are text-matching software products (e.g., Turnitin) that can find exact matches between two texts quickly. Human detection can also be highly effective, particularly when the individual investigating the case(s) is qualified and experienced, as in my case. In my analysis, I have conducted a manual analysis of individual examples, unaided by any software.

Purpose of this Review

My goal with this review is (1) to determine if there is plagiarism in the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum from my perspective as an expert researcher on this topic; (2) to provide a base of evidence for further dialogue among Alberta citizens, including educators and policy makers; and (3) to offer recommendations and next steps.

My goal is not to critique the content of the draft curriculum. Others, such as Dr. Carla Peck, have already done an excellent job of that. In my inquiry, I focus specifically on the issue of plagiarism.

In the sections that follow, I offer my analysis of some examples from the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum. These examples are not exhaustive, and nor are they meant to be. My inbox has been filling up with examples teachers have sent to me over the past week. I simply do not have time to analyze all of these examples for plagiarism that have been sent to me from the draft AB Curriculum; there are too many. I have randomly selected some and analyze them in depth.

I conducted my analysis April 1 – 3, 2021. It is possible that some of the draft text may have changed during that time. It is easy to change digital text online. Some websites, such as Wikipedia, track every change that is made to text. In other cases, it can be difficult to track how digital text was changed on some websites unless captures of previous versions were taken using tools such as the Wayback Machine Internet Archive. Screen shots can help capture how a text looks on a website at a given moment in time, so I have included screen shots in my analysis, along with a date and timestamp to further validate the work.

I have verified and carefully reviewed each one. Below I offer specific and detailed analysis of individual cases.

Example #1: Draft Physical Education and Wellness Kindergarten to Grade 6 Curriculum

The first example is from the draft physical education curriculum. The specific passages in question, come from the text of the draft Grade 2 curriculum:

“Adventurous play can

  • promote independence and problem solving
  • provide direct experience of cause and effect
  • develop children’s coordination and bodily control
  • boost self confidence and emotional resilience
  • reduce stress
  • satisfy curiosity and a need for challenge” (p. 1-2)
Screenshot 01: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Physical Education, Grade Two. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/pde2 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:05.

Screenshot 01: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Physical Education, Grade Two. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/pde2 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:05.

Screenshot 01: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Physical Education, Grade Two. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/pde2 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:05.

Likely source text: North Vancouver Recreation Centre

The text of the draft curriculum bears a striking resemblance to this text from the North Vancouver Recreation Centre:

“Adventurous play is sometimes called risky play. It is defined as thrilling and challenging forms of play that involve a risk of physical injury. Each time a child has a minor accident, learning and adaptation happen. The benefits of adventurous play are numerous. Challenging play:

  • Promotes independence and problem-solving
  • Provides direct experience of cause and effect (natural consequences)
  • Develops coordination and bodily control
  • Boosts self-confidence and emotional resilience
  • Promotes self-regulation
  • Reduces stress and fears
  • Satisfies natural need for challenge and thrill”
Screenshot 02: North Vancouver Recreation Centre. https://www.nvrc.ca/notices-events-blog/active-living-blog/importance-adventurous-play. Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:11

Screenshot 02: North Vancouver Recreation Centre. https://www.nvrc.ca/notices-events-blog/active-living-blog/importance-adventurous-play. Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:11

Analysis: The two texts are remarkably similar. Although some words have been changed, the substance of the content is largely the same. Also, the items in the list are in pretty much the same order in both cases.

Conclusion: This content should have been attributed to the North Vancouver Recreation Centre. Without attribution, this would be classified as plagiarism.

Example #2: Draft Social Studies Kindergarten to Grade 6 Curriculum

Educators have e-mailed me with numerous concerns about plagiarism in the draft social studies curriculum. In this example, the text in question comes from the Grade 6 draft curriculum:

“The religious affiliation of most Albertans is Christian, and the largest denominations are Roman Catholic, United, Anglican, Lutheran, and Baptist churches.”

Canada and Alberta’s latest census data on Albertan and Canadian religious diversity” (p. 33).

Screenshot 03: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Social Studies, Grade Six. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/sss4 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:38

Screenshot 03: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Social Studies, Grade Six. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/sss4 . Screen shot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:38

The text of the draft curriculum is very similar to text that appears on the Wikipedia page for the Demographics of Alberta:

“Over 60 percent of Albertans identify as Christian, while almost 32 percent of residents identify with no religion. The largest denominations are the Roman CatholicUnitedAnglicanLutheran, and Baptist Churches.”

04 - Screen Shot 2021-04-03 at 8.26.32 AM

Screenshot 04: Wikipedia page, “Demographics of Alberta”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Alberta . Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:26

Analysis: The similarities between the two texts is obvious. What was not immediately obvious was whether the Wikipedia text had been changed recently to make it look as if plagiarism had occurred after the draft had been released. I took a look at the revision history of this Wikipedia page (which is openly available to everyone on the Internet).

Screenshot 05: Revision history for Wikipedia page “Demographics of Alberta”. Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:27

Screenshot 05: Revision history for Wikipedia page “Demographics of Alberta”. Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 08:27

It does not appear to me as though the page was maliciously modified after the draft curriculum was released. (Note: In this blog post from 2012, I state openly that I do not consider Wikipedia to be reliable source material for academic work. This would include curriculum development.)

Conclusion: Although this is a short passage, its similarity to the Wikipedia page is close enough that attribution should be provided. In cases such as Wikipedia, attribution should include a “retrieved from” date to indicate when the source material was consulted. Without attribution, this could be classified as plagiarism.

Example #3: Draft Social Studies Kindergarten to Grade 6 Curriculum

In this example, the text in question comes from the Grade 6 draft curriculum, under the knowledge section:

“A popular theory, proposed as a way of drawing a distinction between two different societies, the United States and Canada: It suggests that there is a difference between the Canadian mosaic, where ethnic groups have maintained their distinctiveness while functioning as part of the whole, and an American melting pot, where peoples of diverse origins have allegedly fused to make a new people.” (p. 32)

Screenshot 06: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Social Studies, Grade Six. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/sss4. Screenshot taken April 3 at 09:03

Screenshot 06: Draft Alberta Curriculum for Social Studies, Grade Six. https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en/c/sss4. Screenshot taken April 3 at 09:03

Original text: The text above is an exact duplication of text published in a 1976 article authored by Howard Palmer, published in the International Journal.

Screenshot 07: Palmer, H. (1976). International Journal. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1290345770?pq-origsite=gscholar&fromopenview=true&imgSeq=1# Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 09:08

Screenshot 07: Palmer, H. (1976). International Journal. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1290345770?pq-origsite=gscholar&fromopenview=true&imgSeq=1# Screenshot taken April 3, 2021 at 09:08

Conclusion: The original author’s words have been duplicated without attribution. This is an obvious case of word-for-word plagiarism.

Discussion

I have identified several different sources in my brief analysis. This indicates that content has been lifted or borrowed from multiple original sources, not just one or two. Others have commented that additional source material might have come from CoreKnowledge and specifically, the Core Knowledge Sequence.

The approach of taking bits and pieces of others’ content and stitching it together into an allegedly new document is called patchwriting, a term used extensively by plagiarism scholars such as Rebecca Moore Howard and Diane Pecorari. Patchwriting happens when writers lack the skills or confidence to paraphrase effectively and is widely regarded as an indication that the writer needs support.

This draft curriculum is a patchwork of material pulled from different sources. Plagiarism happens when source material is not attributed. A basic tenet of academic and research integrity is to give credit where it is due. In this draft curriculum, there is little to no indication of acknowledgement of those whose ideas and words contributed to its development. It appears as though the draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum is rife with plagiarism.

Critics will no doubt jump on the fact that I have analyzed only three examples in this article. Although that is true, I began this post by saying that Alberta teachers have e-mailed me dozens and dozens of passages from the new curriculum that they believe have been plagiarized from a variety of sources. It actually isn’t my job to detect plagiarism in the new curriculum; it is up to the Alberta government to do that. I have provided enough examples here to show that further investigation is warranted, as is further discussion. There is much more to analyze than I had the time to do in a few days. It was important to me to get this post published so as to inform an evidence-based dialogue.

Recommendations and Solutions

The solution for plagiarism is easy: Cite the original source material. Here are three easy steps to fix the plagiarism in the draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum:

Step 1: Identify content replicated or paraphrased from other sources. This will require a line-by-line review of the entire draft curriculum.

Step 2: Document where the original source material came from. Keep detailed notes of who wrote the content, as well as when and where it was published.

Step 3: Cite and reference all the sources consulted in the development of the curriculum. (If you need a refresher on the difference between citing and referencing, I explain it in this post.)  In the References below I have provided details of the original sources I consulted to conduct my analysis for this blog post. I have used APA formatting, but any format would be fine. The key is to publicly show what source material was consulted and give credit to the original authors. Give credit where it is due. In many cases, plagiarism is entirely preventable.

The draft of Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum for English Language Arts and Literature states that:

“Ethical use of information includes

  • asking permission to use, share, or store information
  • acknowledging the ownership of information used to inform writing (citing)” (p. 42 and p. 63)

These are skills that the Alberta government wants children in Grades 4 (p. 42) and Grade 5 (p. and p. 63) to learn. Surely if we are asking children in grades 4 and 5 to demonstrate the skills of ethical use of information, we should expect the same of the adults who develop the curriculum.

Acknowledgements: I wish to acknowledge all those who sent me examples of problematic passages in the new draft curriculum via e-mail or social media. Some of you wish to remain anonymous, so I conclude with a general note of thanks to everyone who has contributed to this inquiry. I am sorry I do not have time to analyze all of your examples, but I appreciate you sending them to me.

References:

Demographics of Alberta. (n.d.). In Wikipedia.  Retrieved April 3, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Alberta

North Vancouver Recreation Centre. (2018). Importance of Adventurous Play. https://www.nvrc.ca/notices-events-blog/active-living-blog/importance-adventurous-play

Palmer, H. (1976). Mosaic versus melting pot?: immigration and ethnicity in Canada and the United States. International Journal, 31(3), 488. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1290345770?pq-origsite=gscholar&fromopenview=true&imgSeq=1#

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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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Preface and Intro: Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Academic Integrity

March 30, 2021

To celebrate the release of Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Academic Integrity, I’m doing a series of blog posts. Each post highlights key ideas from various chapters. I’ll also share some extra trivia and tidbits, so even if you’ve read the book, you’ll get some insider info that isn’t in the book itself. I’ve done a video to accompany today’s post and it has different content than the written blog post, so be sure to check out the video, too.

In today’s post, I share a story a conversation with one of my mentors that had an influence on my writing. I also share you an overview of how the book is organized.

Dedication & Preface

Normally, I wouldn’t talk about the dedication, but in this case, it is worth mentioning. When Libraries Unlimited / ABC Clio approached me in January 2019 about writing a book, at first I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t familiar with the press, but after consulting with some library colleagues whom I trust, they assured me that in the field of library sciences, they are a very well respected and have more than 60 years of experience in academic publishing. After some back and forth with the publisher, I sent in a proposal and in March 2019, I signed the contact.

The next month Tracey Bretag visited us at the University of Calgary to keynote the inaugural Canadian Symposium on Academic Integrity. While she was here, I told her I’d just signed a book contract. Our exchange went something like this:

Tracey: “A book! That’s a big project!”

Me: “I know…”

Tracey: “What will you say that is new?! I’ll be excited to read it… but you’ve got to bring something new to the table!”

Tracey wasn’t the only one to make such a comment. Those words rang in my head at every stage of the writing process. I have learned over the years that two of my strengths as a writer are synthesizing existing information in a straightforward way and also forecasting emerging trends. In this book, I do both of these things, and I also propose a new framework for understanding plagiarism in higher education that goes beyond the traditional notions of text and ideas.

I submitted the full manuscript to the book publisher in May 2020, where it then underwent a rigorous process of editing and feedback. Tracey never got to read the book manuscript, as she was already ill when I submitted it. The academic integrity world reeled in grief when she passed in October, 2020.

I realized that I needed to acknowledge Tracey’s passing in the book itself. Thankfully, my editor at Libraries Unlimited, Jessica Gribble, was gracious and understanding. Jessica and the publishing team allowed changes to the book after it had gone into the copy editing phase of production. I was able to make some updates to the text and add a dedication. The book is dedicated to Tracey and I will remain forever grateful for her constant encouragement, and also her challenge to bring something new to the field.

Table of Contents

Here’s an overview of what’s in the book:

  • Introduction: Overview of the book
  • Chapter 1: A brief history of plagiarism
  • Chapter 2: Contextualizing and defining plagiarism in higher education
  • Chapter 3: Intentionality, textuality, and other complicating factors
  • Chapter 4: A multi-stakeholder systems approach to plagiarism: The 4M framework
  • Chapter 5: Evaluation and assessment
  • Chapter 6: Self-plagiarism
  • Chapter 7: Academic file-sharing: Sharing is caring, and other myths
  • Chapter 8: Contract cheating: Outsourced academic work
  • Chapter 9: Diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Chapter 10: Recognizing, reporting, and resolving plagiarism
  • Chapter 11: Plagiarism by professors and researchers
  • Chapter 12: Conclusion: Contemplating the future of plagiarism

The structure of the book changed somewhat as I was writing it. For example, in the proposal the title of Chapter 9 was “Tackling the taboo: Plagiarism and international students”. Even though I knew I wanted to address the complexities and bust some myths related to international students, that title never really felt comfortable. As I was writing, my university was engaged in a search for its first ever Vice-Provost of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Like so many others during the spring of 2020, I became ever more aware of the need to address bias and discrimination on our campuses and in society. So, the chapter evolved quickly. In the end, it realized it was not a chapter about international students, but about equity. Once I committed to that, the chapter went in an entirely different direction; one I think that is ultimately stronger, more relevant, and more timely.

Other topics I address it the book that I had not anticipated include COVID-19 (see Chapter 5 and Chapter 12), machine learning (see Chapter 12), and the role parents play in how well their children act with integrity in school (see Chapter 4 and Chapter 8).

In the end, although this is a book about plagiarism in higher education, I also wanted it to address academic integrity (and misconduct) more generally. The community of scholars who study academic integrity has been a small one. It has been growing in recent years, and my intention for this book is to provide a solid and interesting book for current and future students, scholars, practitioners, and others who care about academic integrity in their professional practice.

Related posts:

The unboxing: Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Academic Integrity – https://wp.me/pNAh3-2FZ

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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.


Unboxing: Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Academic Integrity

March 26, 2021

Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Academic Integrity has officially been released!

Yesterday was a pretty exciting day because my author copies arrived. The books were delivered during the day, so I waited until after work to open them. I made an unboxing video so I could share the experience with you:

Here’s an overview of what’s in the book:

  • Introduction: Overview of the book
  • Chapter 1: A brief history of plagiarism
  • Chapter 2: Contextualizing and defining plagiarism in higher education
  • Chapter 3: Intentionality, textuality, and other complicating factors
  • Chapter 4: A multi-stakeholder systems approach to plagiarism: The 4M framework
  • Chapter 5: Evaluation and assessment
  • Chapter 6: Self-plagiarism
  • Chapter 7: Academic file-sharing: Sharing is caring, and other myths
  • Chapter 8: Contract cheating: Outsourced academic work
  • Chapter 9: Diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Chapter 10: Recognizing, reporting, and resolving plagiarism
  • Chapter 11: Plagiarism by professors and researchers
  • Chapter 12: Conclusion: Contemplating the future of plagiarism

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some highlights from the book through a series of blog posts, so stay tuned!

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Share or Tweet this: The unboxing: Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough Topics in Academic Integrity – https://wp.me/pNAh3-2FZ

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.


Webinar: Exploring the Impacts of Text Generating Technologies on Academic Integrity

March 12, 2021

Academic Integrity webinar series

Join us for our final webinar in our Academic Integrity: Urgent and Emerging Topics series hosted by the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. I’ll be hosting two incredible presenters who are experts in Generative Pre-Trained Transformer (GPT-3) technology. Ryan Morrison and Michael Mindzak will wrap up our series with a truly emerging topic that #academicintegrity advocates, scholars, and practitioners will want to know about.

Session Description

Natural language processing (NLP) has advanced rapidly in recent years, to the point where algorithms can now generate focused texts that are increasingly indistinguishable from human writing. OpenAI’s Generative Pre-Trained Transformer (GPT-3) has been at the forefront of these developments, with major implications for language-based assessment from Kindergarten to postgraduate levels.

With this technology becoming publicly available in January 2021, educators will have to readily confront some difficult realities regarding the assessment and evaluation of critical writing and the nature of both plagiarism and authorship.

Beyond GPT-3, there are other text and research generating technologies on the horizon which embolden the impetus for educators and researchers to reconsider the definition of academic integrity.

In this webinar, attendees will explore a short history of text generators, examples of GPT-3 generated texts, and possible ideas and approaches to addressing these technologies practice.

Learning outcomes

  • Understand the current state of algorithmic writing
  • Interpret the impact that text generating technology will have on academic integrity
  • Generate ideas and approaches to addressing the problematic impacts through curriculum design

Facilitators: Ryan Morrison and Dr. Michael Mindzak, PhD
Date: Friday, April 9, 2021
Time: 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. Mountain time (Please convert to your local time zone)
Location: Online via Zoom

Space is limited and registration is required. Register here.

Please note: This workshop will be recorded, registration will close on Thursday, April 8, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. (Mountain Time) and a Zoom link for the webinar will be sent to you the morning of the workshop.

Presenters

Ryan Morrison (M. Ed. (IT), TESL) is an English language and Communications professor with the Centre of Preparatory and Liberal Studies at George Brown College in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Fulfilling the role of an educational technologist within the school, outside of the classroom, he investigates trends like AI and digital tools for 21st century education.

Michael Mindzak (PhD) is an educator and educational researcher interested in the intersections of work, schooling and society. More specifically, his research focuses on educational policy issues, the sociology of work, as well as technology in the contemporary period. He works in the Faculty of Education, Brock University, 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 or anyone else.

 


On Becoming an Academic Integrity Activist: Reflections on the Impact of COVID-19 on Scholarly Identity

March 9, 2021

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

** This is a reprint of an essay archived online. Please cite this work as: Eaton, S. E. (2021). On Becoming an Academic Integrity Activist: Reflections on the Impact of COVID-19 on Scholarly Identity. University of Calgary. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/113130 **

During the COVID-19 pandemic I have evolved from being an academic integrity advocate to being an academic integrity activist. I have learned that being an activist does not require being an antagonist. Some activism is big, bold, and public and other kinds are quiet, discreet, and cooperative. Standing up for what matters is important no matter how you do it.

In a book chapter I am writing with Dr. Natasha Kenny for Academic Integrity in Canada (forthcoming, 2021), we discuss how academic integrity work is often invisible. It involves conversations with individuals, small groups, and big committees. These conversations can be unscheduled and informal or they can be formal and demand a ton of preparation, including reports and slide decks. All too often, these reports are internal documents that never become publicly available. I expect many schools have collections of such reports and documents that never see the light of day. These are the invisible artefacts of integrity.

In academia, the work we do must be visible in order to receive recognition in regular performance reports, and applications for promotion and tenure. But much of the work that many of us do as academic integrity leaders, researchers, and activists is entirely invisible. I am sure I am not alone when I become frustrated beyond words when administrators and colleagues demand “evidence” for aspects of this work that are in a pre-evidentiary state. When I – and others – started becoming vocal a few years ago about the ways in which contract cheating companies blackmail students, we were mocked by some colleagues as being sensationalist and dismissed by others who insisted that unless we had “evidence” that we had no business to be making such claims.

When Yorke et al. (2020) published their article on blackmailing of students by contract cheating companies, the academic integrity community finally had evidence to substantiate what we had been talking about for years. When Australia’s national quality assurance body for education, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), developed an infographic to help promote awareness about how contract cheating companies blackmail students, that further legitimized the conversation. Over time, we will gather more evidence and have more conversations about the insidious practices of contract cheating, but the underlying issue of critics shutting down conversations about important issues due to lack of “evidence” remains problematic.

During the Black Lives Matter movement, a number of academic integrity advocates began having conversations about how particular student groups are over-represented in academic misconduct reporting. This is a topic that Tracey Bretag addressed in her workshop, “Academic Integrity and Embracing Diversity” when she joined us at the Canadian Symposium on Academic Integrity. There is some evidence from other countries that students from particular backgrounds get reported more often for misconduct than others, but as yet, we have not collected data on this in Canada. Let’s get one thing straight: Just because we have not yet collected data on a problem does not mean that the problem does not exist.

In 2020, I produced a discussion paper about why we need more data relating to student misconduct to better understand how and when students from particular groups might be over-represented (Eaton, 2020). Critics (particularly in my own country of Canada) emerged from the woodwork to demand “evidence” that there was injustice and implicit bias with regards to which students get reported for misconduct. I am paraphrasing, but the general gist of the comments was, “until you can prove to me that international students do not cheat more than domestic students, then I don’t believe you.” I carefully try to explain that those who get reported for misconduct may not include everyone who commits misconduct. The critics are not interested. Their myopia prevents them from entertaining the idea that a problem might exist even in circumstances where formal data are not yet available. Once again, we find ourselves in a pre-evidentiary state.

Insisting on having “evidence” for invisible work is frustrating, and at times it seems downright ludicrous. Many of us who work in academic integrity research are working as fast as we can to conduct research and gather the necessary data. As I have pointed out in an article I co-authored with a graduate student a few years ago, in Canada, very few researchers have successfully received any federal funding to study these questions (Eaton & Edino, 2018). I will keep applying for federal research grants to study these topics. Until then, I do the work anyway, because it is important and urgent.

For me, doing academic integrity research is not an ideologically agnostic endeavour. This work is not values-free.  It is entirely values-laden. When one studies ethics in educational contexts we do not do so because it is merely an intellectual endeavour. We are not dispassionate, detached, or objective. In many cases, we are passionate not only about the work, but about change that can result because of the work. For many of us, academic ethics inquiry is intertwined with advocacy. We do this work because we care deeply about our students, our colleagues, and the systems that are supposed to support us all.

I have had many sleepless nights mentally preparing for conversations about academic integrity and ethical issues in education, particularly during the pandemic. These conversations may happen quietly or behind closed doors, leaving no trace that they ever occurred. The impact of the conversations can change the trajectory of how individuals or organizations act. Just because work is invisible does not mean that it does not have impact. And in the world of academia where we are under constant and unrelenting pressure to show the “impact” of our work, much of this work will continue to go unrecognized by our superiors. But we do the work anyway knowing that sometimes the invisible efforts are just as effective – if not more so – at creating lasting change.

Dr. Leslie Reid, the University of Calgary’s Vice Provost Teaching and Learning, has commented to me more than once that change happens “one conversation at a time”. During this pandemic, my identity as an academic integrity activist has definitely evolved. I recognize that I must undertake the invisible work in addition to – not instead of – the visible (and quantifiable) work such as research articles, book chapters, books, conference presentations, and so on. But like so many others who engage in this work, I know that the invisible work matters.

I will be an activist on my own terms: having one conversation at a time, sometimes publicly, but also (and often) privately. But no matter how those conversations happen, they matter.

References

Bretag, T. (2019). Academic integrity and embracing diversity. Workshop presented at the Canadian Symposium on Academic Integrity, Calgary, Canada. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/110278

Eaton, S. E. (2020). Race-Based Data in Student Conduct: A Call to Action. Retrieved from Calgary, Canada: http://hdl.handle.net/1880/112157

Eaton, S. E., & Edino, R. I. (2018). Strengthening the research agenda of educational integrity in Canada: A review of the research literature and call to action. International Journal of Educational Integrity, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40979-018-0028-7

Kenny, N., & Eaton, S. E. (2021). Academic integrity through a SoTL lens and 4M framework: An institutional self-study. In S. E. Eaton & J. Christensen Hughes (Eds.), Academic integrity in Canada: An enduring and essential challenge: Springer.

Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA). (2020). Contract cheating and blackmail. Retrieved from https://www.teqsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/contract-cheating-blackmail.pdf?v=1591659442

Yorke, J., Sefcik, L., & Veeran-Colton, T. (2020). Contract cheating and blackmail: a risky business? Studies in Higher Education, 1-14. doi:10.1080/03075079.2020.1730313

Related Reading

Eaton, S. E. (2020). Academic Integrity During COVID-19: Reflections from the University of Calgary. International Studies in Educational Administration, 48(1), 80-85. Retrieved from https://prism.ucalgary.ca/handle/1880/112293

Eaton, S. E., & Turner, K. L. (2020). Exploring academic integrity and mental health during COVID-19: Rapid review. Journal of Contemporary Education Theory & Research, 4(1), 35-41. Retrieved from http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4256825

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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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