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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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.


Comparing E-Proctoring Software to Hydroxychloroquine: An Apt Analogy

November 4, 2020

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To help educators and administrators understand why I urge caution, and even skepticism about the use of e-proctoring software and other surveillance technologies such as those that lockdown students’ Internet browsers, here’s an analogy I have been using that seems to resonate:

In my opinion, e-proctoring software is to higher education what Hydroxycloroquine has been to the COVID-19 virus.

It’s not that e-proctoring software is bad, it is that it was never designed to be used under the current conditions. There are colleagues who would disagree with me about this kind of software being bad in principle. I accept their position. Let’s look at this through the eyes of scholar who is trained to reserve judgement on an issue without evidence to back it up. If we assume the software was designed for a specific purpose – to invigilate exams taken via a computer, then it fulfills that purpose. So, in that sense, it does what it is supposed to do. However, that is not the whole story.

We can turn to Hydroxychloroquine as an analogy to help us understand why we should be skeptical.

Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malaria drug, also used to treat arthritis. It was never designed to be used against the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus. Hasty attempts to do research on the coronavirus, including studies on Hydroxychloroquine, have resulted in numerous papers now being retracted from scientific journals. People ran to this drug as a possible antidote the coronavirus, just as schools are running to e-proctoring software as an antidote for exam cheating. Neither e-proctoring software nor Hydroxychloroquine were designed to be used during the current pandemic. People flocked to them both as if they were some kind of magic pill that would solve a massively complex problem, without sufficient evidence that either would actually do what they so desperately wanted it to do.

The reality is that there is scant scientific data to show that e-proctoring actually works in the way that people want it to, that is, to provide a way of addressing academic misconduct during the pandemic. By “scientific data” I do not mean sales pitches. I am talking about independent scholarly studies undertaken by qualified academic researchers employed at reputable universities. By “independent scholarly studies” I mean research that has not been funded in any way by the companies that produce the products. That kind of research is terrifyingly lacking.

We need to back up for a minute and look about why we invigilate exams in the first place. To invigilate means “to keep watch over”. Keeping watch over students while they write an exam is part of ensuring that testing conditions are fair and objective.

The point of a test, in scientific terms, involves controlling all variables except one. In traditional testing, all other factors are controlled, including the conditions under which the test was administered such as the exam hall with desks separated, same lighting and environment for all test-takers, length of time permitted to take the test, how it is invigilated, and so on. All variables are presumably controlled except one: the student’s knowledge of the subject matter. That’s what’s being tested, the student’s knowledge.

Exams are administered in what could be termed, academically sterile environments. In an ideal situation, academic hygiene is the starting point for administering a test. Invigilation is just one aspect of ensuring academic hygiene during testing, but it is not the only factor that contributes to this kind of educational hygiene that we need to ensure testing conditions control for all possible variables except a student’s knowledge of the subject matter.

During the pandemic, with the shift to remote learning, we cannot control all the variables. We simply cannot assure an academically hygienic environment for testing. Students may have absolutely no control over who else is present in their living/studying quarters. They may have no control over a family member (including their own children) who might enter a room unannounced during a test. The conditions under which students are being tested during the pandemic are not academically hygienic. And that’s not their fault.

E-proctoring may address one aspect of exam administration: invigilation. It cannot, however, ensure that all variables are controlled.

As an academic integrity scholar, I am distressed by the lack of objective, peer-reviewed data about e-proctoring software. Schools have turned to e-proctoring software as if it were some kind of magic pill that will make academic cheating go away. We have insufficient evidence to substantiate that e-proctoring software, or any technology for that matter, can serve as a substitute for an in-person academically hygienic testing environment.

Schools that were using e-proctoring before the pandemic, such as Thompson Rivers University or Athabasca University in Canada, offered students a choice about whether students preferred to take their exams online, at home, using an e-proctoring service, or whether they preferred to drive to an in-person exam centre. During the pandemic, students’ choice has been taken away.

We all want an antidote to academic misconduct during remote learning, but I urge you educators and administrators to think like scholars and scientists. In other words, approach this “solution” with caution, and even skepticism. At present, we lack sufficient evidence to make informed decisions. Educators need to be just as skeptical about this technology and how it works during pandemic conditions as physicians and the FDA have been about using Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus. Its use as being effective against the coronavirus is a myth. The use of e-proctoring software as being an effective replacement for in-person exams is also a myth, one perpetuated by the companies that sell the product.

Forcing surveillance technology on students against their will during a pandemic is tantamount to forcing an untested treatment on a patient; it is unethical to the extreme.

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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.


Planning for school re-closure: We can’t say we weren’t warned

July 26, 2020

Alberta Education Pandemic Planning GuideThe in the Pandemic Planning Guide for Alberta School Authorities, published by the Alberta government there is ample helpful guidance for school administrators and other educational leaders.

Of particular interest right now is Schedule K of the guide: Draft letter to inform parents schools are reopened. We want to pay particular attention to this statement: “… If more people get sick, schools may need to close again.” (p. 64).

So if (when?) schools are closed down again sometime in the 2020-2021 school year, we can’t say we were not warned. This was anticipated in the pandemic planning guide.

Published 7 years ago.

That’s right. This guide was published in 2013, long before most of us even knew what a coronavirus was. In the draft letter to parents, school administrators were guided to prepare parents for the possibility schools needing to close again after re-opening (p. 64).

Other points of note:

“… it is possible employee absenteeism could be in the 30% to 40% range, with at least 20% absenteeism being likely.” (p. 10)

Your influenza pandemic plan is a living document. It needs to be reviewed and revised regularly.” (p. 12) (Note: To the best of my knowledge, the guide has never been updated since it was written.)

Employers could be liable, through possible claims in negligence. Lawsuits could be initiated by students, staff, or third parties who have been harmed.” (p. 14)

the plan should provide for significant staff absences and assess whether the School Authority could provide educational services in the event of staff/student absences. The plan should also take into consideration how the School Authority would continue to operate without a full complement of staff.” (p. 24)

Also important is what is missing from the planning guide. The words “Indigenous”, “First Nations” or “Aboriginal” (with the latter two terms being more common at the time the document was published) are utterly absent from the document. This indicates that at the time the plan was developed, there were no particular considerations made for Alberta’s Indigenous communities.

So, as we are preparing for re-opening, we would be wise to prepare for the possibility of re-closing again, too.

Read the whole planning guide here:

Government of Alberta. (2013). Pandemic Planning Guide for Alberta School Authorities. Retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/media/1477307/pandemicplanningguide.pdf

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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.


New article: Academic integrity during COVID-19

July 13, 2020

ISEA 48(1)

I am excited to share my latest article, “Academic Integrity During COVID-19: Reflections From the University of Calgary”, published in International Studies in Educational Administration (ISEA).

Abstract:
In this paper I document and reflect on our institutional response to the coronavirus crisis from an academic integrity perspective. I contemplate how the rapid transition to remote learning impacted academic misconduct, including how assessment of student learning played a role. I explore the proliferation of commercial file-sharing and contract cheating companies during the pandemic, situating Canada within broader global contexts. Finally, I consider how to address concerns around academic integrity as remote and online delivery continue into the fall 2020 semester and beyond.

Keywords: academic integrity, COVID-19, emergency conditions, higher education, contract cheating, file-sharing

This article is part of a special series of papers focusing on educational responses to the pandemic. ISEA is published by the Commonwealth Council for Educational Administration and Management (CCEAM). According to the journal’s website: “The journal is one of the oldest journals in the educational leadership field” CCEAM retains the copyright, and has granted permission for me (and all authors in this issue) to make their work publicly and widely available on the Internet. Thus, with full permissions, I am happy to share a full copy of the article free of charge in .pdf format: Eaton ISEA 2020 48(1).

Special thanks to Dr. David Gurr, Editor-in-Chief, and his team who managed to turn around these submissions in record time. It is a privilege to be included in this first issue.

Here’s the full reference:

Eaton, S. E. (2020). Academic Integrity During COVID-19: Reflections From the University of Calgary. International Studies in Educational Administration, 48(1), 80-85.

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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.


Strategies for Equitable Student Treatment during COVID-19 and Beyond

July 10, 2020

Questions around equity and access for students during the coronavirus pandemic have come up over and over again. In this post I offer some concrete things you can do to treat students more equitably during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

#1: Stop saying “should”.

“Students should have access to high speed Internet.” (Translation: Students who live in areas with unreliable Internet connectivity are less worthy than their peers with premium telecom packages.)

“Students should be able to submit their assignments on time”. (Translation: I care more about my students complying with assignment deadlines than I care about the students themselves.)

“Students should be able to read a .pdf copy of the readings online. (Translation: Just because I can easily read a .pdf copy of an article online, I don’t care about students who either can’t or prefer not to.)

Stop spouting off about what you think students “should” be able to do. Accept that whatever you think should happen may not (or simply cannot) happen and there is likely nothing you can do about it – except make a commitment to try to meet students where they are at, on their terms. Accept the reality of what is, not what you want it to be.

#2: Stop requiring students to buy new technology.

Requiring students to buy webcams for e-proctoring of their exams is senseless if there are none for sale in any of the shops or online. Requiring them to buy new technology that meets a minimum “standard” of the institution creates financial burdens on less privileged students. It’s a form of financial discrimination that privileges affluent students. If there are “minimum institutional standards” then the institution plays a role in ensuring students have what they need.

#3: Stop the coercive control.

Making statements about what should happen, or what students need to buy is a form of coercive control. The implications are that students will do what they are told “or else” (e.g. or else don’t bother registering, or else drop the course, or else drop out of school entirely) is downright discriminatory. The threat of students not being able to continue their studies if they cannot comply with imposed obligations such as buying a webcam due to financial or other limitations is a form of punishment. The messaging may not be as overt as that, but the implication is there. Trying to coerce students into being something they are not (e.g. financially affluent, academically excellent, socially privileged). This kind of coercive control is not only humiliating for students, it a form of instructional and institutional violence.

#4: Involve students in decision making as much as possible.

I get that institutional leaders are frantically trying to make the right decisions about how to move forward. And there’s lots of factors that are still outside of any individual’s control right now, but that’s no excuse to exclude students from decisions that affect them directly. Whenever possible, engage representatives from student government on committees, councils, and in departmental meetings, or any other meeting where having student representation helps to create inclusivity and equity.

#5: Recognize that there is no such thing as a “typical” student.

The stereotype of the single, white, affluent student who studies diligently in the library and maybe does some varsity sports is long, long gone, if it ever existed in the first place. The reality is that your students are likely to have multiple and competing priorities that include jobs, family or caregiving responsibilities, and come from more diverse backgrounds than the average faculty member experiences in a year. Their living situation might be chaotic, noisy, or unpredictable. This does not equal “bad”. That same living situation could also be happy, lively, and punctuated by moments of spontaneous laughter. Other situations could be the exact opposite: Seemingly calm, cool, and collected to the outside observer, but secretly miserable or abusive. The reality is that we simply cannot know or fathom the multitude of personal or family circumstances students are living in right now.

All of this is to say that as instructors and leaders one of our responsibilities is to stop assuming, and start asking. Stop obliging and start offering. Meet students where they are at, not where you want them to be. In short, focus more students’ dignity and less instructional or institutional demands.

Now more than ever, we need to make a commitment to equitable and just teaching and learning practices.

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.


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