Last year, my friend and colleague, Ann Nakaska, invited me to contribute an article to a special issue of the Career Planning & Adult Development Journal for which she was serving as guest editor.
The theme of this special issue is: “How we will work in the future”. This is a robust issue, spanning 291 pages, and is divided into 3 parts:
Part 1: The impact of technology on the workplace
Part 2: Working in the fourth industrial revolution
Part 3: How career practitioners will work in the future
My contribution to this robust publication is in included in Part 2. My piece is, “Career development, academic integrity and counterfeit credentials: Understanding the connections” (pp. 98 – 106).
Ann’s invitation challenged me to write for a different audience: career development professionals. This piece is for a professional practitioner audience, though it may also be of interest to others interested in the topic of fake degrees and fraudulent or faulty credentials.
The purpose of this article is to highlight ethical aspects of career development through the lens of academic integrity. I begin with an overview of academic integrity and the fundamental values that underpin it. Then I discuss fake and faulty academic credentials, including degrees, diplomas, transcripts, and related documents. I explore the impact of fake credentials on society, highlighting a few significant examples that have been featured by mainstream media. Finally, I examine the role that career development professionals play in promoting academic integrity and professional ethics to their clients. I conclude with concrete recommendations for career development professionals to inform themselves and their clients, and in doing so, to become partners in integrity and advocates of ethical education.
The issue has just been released and Ann shared with all of the contributors that just before the issue was published, her co-guest editor, Steven Beasley, who had served as managing editor of the journal for 20 years passed away. My deepest condolences to Steven and all who knew him.
First, let me tell you the story of how I got connect with these two. In the early fall of 2020, Mike Mindzak at Brock University in St. Catharine’s, Ontario (Canada) reached out to me via e-mail to introduce himself. A colleague we have in common had pointed him in the direction of my work on academic integrity. He connected the dots, that I was the person who’d left him a comment on a piece he’d written for University Affairs, entitled, “What happens when a machine can write as well as an academic?”
Mike let me know about some work he was doing with Ryan Morrison at George Brown College in Toronto related to artificial intelligence and algorithmic writing. He asked if I might be interested in collaborating with them. Naturally, I was interested, but also recognized that the field of artificial intelligence is outside of my area of expertise and the demands on time were preventing me from doing a deep dive into any new projects. I suggested that we continue to chat throughout the fall and winter, and look at a possible collaboration for 2021.
I submitted the manuscript for my book, Plagiarism in Higher Education: Tackling Tough topics in Academic Integrity in the final days of May, 2020. In the final chapter of the book I take a future-focused perspective, offering ideas about what the emerging challenges to plagiarism and academic integrity would look like in the not-too-distant future. I cite Mike’s article and contend that the role that artificial intelligence and machine learning will play with regards to ethics in teaching and learning will become a topic that we, educators and educational leaders, will have to contend with.
In late September of 2020, the three of us started working on a proposal to present at the 2021 Canadian Association for the Study of Educational Administration (CASEA). Proposals are normally due in the fall, around October, and undergo a rigorous double-blind peer review process before presenters are notified about whether their presentations have been accepted to the conference.
The three of us stayed in touch during the fall and winter months, as we all observed that the open artificial intelligence technologies (OpenAI) were developing fast. OpenAI’s latest version of its Generative Pre-Training Transformer (GPT),GPT-3 had been released in summer 2020. The technology uses machine learning to simulate human writing through text-generation. We kept an eye on news and developments about the GPT-3 technology, exchanging e-mails with links to new stories we’d seen.
By the time Mike and Ryan presented their webinar, “Exploring the Impacts of Text Generating Technologies on Academic Integrity” at the Taylor Institute of Teaching and Learningon April 9, 2021, our proposal to present at the CASEA conference had been accepted. I was excited to host them for this webinar to kick off this work. I knew the topic of artificial intelligence and machine learning truly fit the theme of the webinar series – urgent and emerging topics in academic integrity. They presented to a small but engaged crowd and as the webinar series convener and host, I watched carefully as questions poured in. As with other topics we had covered in the series, connecting the dots between the new topic and academic integrity was the key.
On June 1, 2021 we had our presentation for CASEA, a scholarly society dedicated to the study of educational administration. I’d been a member of the society since I was a PhD student, as my own supervisor had introduced me to the society and the work years before. My work has focused mainly on higher education, and many of the CASEA members focus on K-12 educational administration, so it hasn’t been a perfect fit for me, but close enough that I have stayed connected over the years. Here’s the abstract for our session:
Paper presented at the Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE) 2021 – Canadian Association for the Study of Educational Administration (CASEA) (June 1, 2021) The purpose of this paper is to provide a theoretical and conceptual discussion of the rapidly emerging field of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithmic writing (AW). The continued development of new tools—most notably at this time, GPT-3—continues to push forward and against the boundaries between the writing of human and machine. As issues surrounding AI continue to be actively discussed by scientists, futurists and ethicists, educational leaders also find themselves front and centre of debates concerning, academic writing, academic integrity and educational ethics more broadly. Three points of focus provide the basis for this analysis. Firstly, we examine the impact of AW on student writing and academic integrity in schools. Secondly, we discuss similar issues in relation to publication and academic scholarship. Finally, taken together, we discuss the broader ethical dimensions and implications that AI and AW will, and are, quickly bringing into education and the field educational administration and leadership.
We had lots of questions and reactions in the Zoom chat, as the conference was held online this year. We have archived our slides publicly online, so anyone can access them. Here is the reference with the link:
Eaton, S. E., Mindzak, M., & Morrison, R. (2021, June 1). The impact of text-generating technologies on academic integrity: AI & AI. Paper presented at the Canadian Association for the Study of Educational Administration (CASEA), University of Alberta [online]. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/113569
We are excited to see where this work will take us next. I have a feeling that the ethics of technology is going to become inextricably intertwined with academic integrity. How that develops is yet to be determined.
In a previous post I talked about how the work of academic integrity is often invisible and unrecognized. Today I wanted to share some exciting news. Over the past couple of years, colleagues at the University of Calgary have been working hard to update an old and outdated manual to address hiring, merit assessment, tenure and promotion for academic staff.
In the fall of 2020, I had an opportunity to connect with the two project leads, Dr. Florentine Strzelczyk and Dr. Francine Smith, to speak specifically about matters relating to ethics and integrity. We talked about the invisible nature of academic integrity work and how I’d heard anecdotally from colleagues that for those without a formal leadership appointment, such as an Associate Dean who investigates and adjudicates academic misconduct allegations and cases, had no formal mechanism to have work relating to academic integrity recognized when it came to our bi-annual review as faculty members. Similarly, there was no formal way to showcase this work in an application for hiring, tenure or promotion.
Dr. Strzelczyk and Dr. Smith listened closely and asked insightful questions about how academic integrity work could be better recognized as legitimate academic work at our university. Generally, our work as professors is broadly classified into three main categories: Research, Teaching, and Service. The amount of time we spend working in each area depends on the type of appointment you have, but in most cases, academic staff are expected to contribute to all three areas.
We had an open and collegial exchange about which categories academic integrity work would fall into. There are a limited number of us at our university who conduct research into academic integrity, so instead we focused on teaching and service. It became obvious that academic integrity work certainly counts towards service when it involves reporting and preparing evidence when a breach of integrity (i.e., academic misconduct) is suspected. We also talked about how it should also be recognized as a teaching and learning contribution. We talked about the need to recognize effort that goes into conceptualizing, designing, and implementing ethical assessments, for example. We explored the idea that when a professor takes time to prepare materials to teach their students how to learn ethically (e.g., developing tip sheets for their students on how to cite and reference properly) that these activities are related to teaching and learning, rather than service. We talked about how faculty work relating to academic integrity isn’t about teaching or service, but rather teaching and service.
I was really impressed with how my colleagues listened and responded. They incorporated changes into the handbook that I’m really quite ecstatic about and I wanted to share with you the specific language around these updates, so that if you are thinking about updating your own faculty handbooks on your campus, this might serve as a model.
The new University of Calgary GFC Academic Staff Criteria & Process Handbook was officially approved last month by our General Faculties Council (GFC) one of the highest governance bodies of the university. In the handbook, academic integrity is now officially recognized as part of our Teaching (Section 1.3) and Service (Section 1.4) responsibilities. The specific passages where academic integrity is highlighted are as follows:
“Teaching may take different forms such as direct or classroom instruction at undergraduate and/or graduate levels, as well as competency-based education, and/or field and practicum supervision. Teaching activities may include lectures, seminars, tutorials, laboratories, clinical sets, advising/counselling, creating lesson plans, assessments, grading, and examinations, and upholding academic integrity. Delivery of instruction and support of student learning may be face-to-face, on-line and blended and may occur inside and outside of the classroom, on and off campus (including land-based education), in collaboration with other instructors, other faculties, associated institutions, community organizations or with Indigenous knowledge-keepers and communities.” (Bolding added).
“Service to the University may include participation in Program or Unit-level, Department or Division, Faculty, and University committees, councils, task forces, ad hoc teams, and governing bodies, or other parts of the University including the Faculty Association. Activities that contribute to upholding academic and research integrity across various parts of the academy shall also be considered as important service contributions to the University.” (Bolding added).
This is the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that academic has been explicitly named in our institutional faculty handbook in this way. To say I am excited about this is an understatement!
The details of exactly how this work can be recognized has yet to be determined, and the devil is always in the details, as they say. Nevertheless, we now have a mechanism by which it can be recognized and that in itself is a huge step forward.
I am hopeful that this will provide colleagues on campus with a means to move academic integrity work from being invisible to being not only visible, but also valued. I also hope that other institutions, both universities and colleges alike, will take similar action to ensure that the work that goes into upholding and enacting academic and research integrity is clearly acknowledged as being legitimate and important contributions to the role of an academic staff member.
It’s that time of year again… performance reporting for academic staff at our university happens every two years, with reports due on June 30. There was an official communication that came out a few months back saying we would not have to submit our reports in the usual way, using the online portal system. (Thank God for that… Even with the new system we got a couple of years ago, it still takes hours and hours to fill to enter one’s activities. It’s maddening). But we still had to do a report.
Earlier this year, the University of Calgary signed the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which I was pretty excited about. It is part of an overall commitment to assess and value research and scholarly activity in a variety of ways, beyond the traditional peer-reviewed journal articles. Indeed, much of my work I share through public scholarship, including blog posts. Now, as long as I can show some impact from that work, it can be considered as part of my scholarship. That was not always the case.
I am not going to rattle off a whole bunch of numbers about how much I did of this or that (though let me tell you, I was exhausted after reading my own report). Instead, I’m going to focus on one blog post that a senior leader and mentor said in a personal communication “arguably may have been your most important public impact that you have made”. It was the blog post I did on April 3, 2021: Analysis of plagiarism in the draft Alberta K-6 curriculum.
Let’s look at the impact of this one blog post:
Total views: 36,000+
This single blog post resulted in more than 36,000 views (see Figure 1).
Viewer statistics (n = 36,147) for “Analysis of Plagiarism in the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum. (Screenshot date: June 30, 2021)
That’s pretty good for a blog post — at least for me. I mean, I’m a professor who researches ethics and integrity. It’s not like my blog shows off the latest fashion or offers delicious recipes. This post was was — let’s be honest – as close to viral as I’m probably ever going to get.
In addition, this work caught the attention of elected officials in Alberta, who shared news of the plagiarism in the draft curriculum on their social media platforms, such as this Tweet from the Hon. Rachel Notley, Leader of the Opposition. (see Figure 1).
On April 6, 2021, the Hon. Rachel Notley, leader of the opposition, questioned the Minister of Education, the Hon. Adriana LaGrange, about the plagiarism in the draft curriculum during the official question period in the Alberta provincial legislature, as documented in the official legislative Hansard.
Although dozens and dozens of teachers and other members of the public commented on social media about the plagiarized passages in the draft curriculum, it is fair to say that my analysis of the plagiarism had an impact on all of that. It is not an impact that is easily quantified, but it is reasonable to conclude that the analysis helped to inform a broader public dialogue about the (deeply flawed) draft curriculum, plagiarism, and the need to pay attention to ethics and integrity in K-12 education.
Collaboration Resulting from the Work
This work led to a collaboration with Carla Peck, Angela Grace and others, supported by our respective Deans of Education, called the Alberta Curriculum Analysis project. Through this project, we are documenting numerous analyses of the draft curriculum, from a variety of contributors with different academic and disciplinary backgrounds. This project has become an important public artefact and act of scholarly advocacy to help hold our government accountable, as well as to inform the public.
Completely non-academic (and a little cheeky) impact
There’s a small business in Edmonton, Canada, called Fehr Play Creative that creates all kinds of custom and novelty products. Not long after I did my analysis of plagiarism in the draft curriculum, they came out with their “Curwikilum” novelty mug. A senior leader at the university bought me one as a gift and it quickly became my favourite, as you can see in this photo:
Curwikilum mug produced by Fehr Play Creative in Edmonton, AB.
I didn’t ask the good folks at Fehr Play Creative to make this mug. It was entirely their idea. They did a play on words with “curriculum” and “Wikipedia”, coming up with “Curiwikilum” and defined it as: “(noun) A program of study drafted in part by plagiarism from Wikipedia and then changed on the fly by anyone with editing rights”.
It’s the perfect social commentary about what was happening with the draft curriculum… Passages lifted straight from Wikipedia and then slightly altered on the official government website in real time. This “on the fly editing” not only happened with plagiarized passages, but also other passages that members of the public and experts flagged as incorrect or objectionable.
One mug literally said it all. And in terms of impact, what can I say? I mean, man alive – Merch! How many academics can say their work has resulted (directly or indirectly) in novelty merchandise?! I honestly don’t think I’ve seen any kind of mug prior to this that talked about plagiarism. I mean — come on!! This is the area I research — and someone made a frikkin’ novelty mug about it! How utterly cool is that?! It’ll probably never happen again for the rest of my career, so I enjoyed the moment while it lasted.
Was any of this published in a peer-reviewed journal? Nope.
Was any of it reviewed by a peer in any way before I published it? Nope.
Did peers review it afterwards (voluntarily) and offer their comments on it in public forums such as Facebook and Twitter? You bet they did. (And they were very nice about it, I might add.)
Can I prove “cause and effect” with any of this?
Nope – and nor do I want to. Public scholarship isn’t about taking individual credit for work as a sole author and saying, “Hey funders (or whoever), see this causal link between my work and this great discovery?!” I don’t know of anyone who engages in public scholarship who would do that because the very idea is ludicrous.
It is imperative to push back on the notion that “impact” must equate to “cause and effect”. It doesn’t. In some cases the very idea is so reductionist it is nonsensical.
It’s not about “if A (i.e., my research) then B (i.e., some great result)”. Public scholarship is about contributing to a broad public discourse in an informed way through scientific and scholarly inquiry. It is one contribution to a great big important conversation over which few individuals (if any) have direct control, but together, we can collectively make a difference. If I can make a difference with my work that puts the focus of education squarely on ethics and integrity, then it’s all worth it.
This is the kind of scholarship I am interested in now: the kind that makes a difference. Of course, I know I still have to do the peer-reviewed journal articles. That’s part of the job. But more and more I am realizing that peer-reviewed journal articles are, ironically, the kind of work that has the least impact.
So my advice to my fellow academic integrity and ethics scholars — and academics in general — is this: Do what you need to do because your job requires it, but keep doing your public advocacy work, your blog posts, and your public scholarship because it can – and does – make a difference.