Walking the Walk: Provocations for higher education educators regarding our own academic integrity in an age of artificial intelligence

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At the recent HERDSA conference, artificial intelligence, and concerns about academic integrity in an age of artificial intelligence was a hot topic. This reflects, albeit in a more considered and scholarly fashion, the academic concerns and even moral panic expressed across the higher education sector about student inappropriate use of artificial intelligence (AI) there are concerns that AI will undermine assessment and even the University itself as an institution! This made me reflect on academic integrity from a historical perspective.

Back in the 1990s and early ‘nougties’, the key concern was plagiarism and specifically the perception that students and international students, in particular, were plagiarising on industrial scale. Large scale projects were initiated to educate students, textmatching software was deployed and academic integrity investigators honed their skills at identifying plagiarism and managing breaches. Yet, as Bretag and Carpiet (2007) noted, we as academics are often not as scrupulous ourselves in avoiding (self) plagiarism in our academic work. I would take it further, what about our lecture slides and course materials? Are we crediting all sources including images and are we appropriately synthesising information and referencing it?

In 2020, with the advent of COVID-19 lockdowns, universities needed to quickly pivot to emergency remote teaching which often included open-book online exams. As noted by Euboonyanum et al. (2021), the academic community expressed concerns that these examinations were less valid instruments than their face to face versions. Of most concern, as highlighted by Lancaster and Cotarlan (2021), was that students could more easily engage in contract cheating and collusion by unauthorised use of ‘homework help’ websites or group chats during the exam. Many students were also reported for plagiarising in these exams. Extensive efforts were made to combat contract cheating and collusion, including in the Australian context, including legislation through the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services) Bill 2019. These included strategies for reduction of academic misconduct through addressing the reasons for students engaging in misconduct, enhancing assessment design and enhancing detection and management of misconduct. However, despite extensive student-focussed efforts, we as academics have been less active in addressing our own academic integrity and/or ethics. Open-book online exams have revealed some unethical practices in our own behaviours as academics. For example, exam questions are reused extensively sometimes for years in a row (effectively self-plagiarised) and thus questions are freely available in the public domain. Unethical exam design where the focus is mainly on ease of marking rather than actual assessment of student skills and knowledge has also been revealed. For example, students are asked questions requiring stock responses or definitions, yet penalised for either colluding or plagiarising answers due to ‘not using their own words’.

Finally, as mentioned above, in higher education, we have been quick to condemn inappropriate student use of artificial intelligence and made significant efforts to try to detect breaches. However, we have been keen to embrace the use of artificial intelligence in lightening our own load in developing teaching resources and/or even assessment of student work without necessarily fully exploring the ethical elements of allowing access to student work and data.

We must continue to promote and support student academic integrity, but as argued by Sarah Eaton (2023) in her thought piece for HECU 11, “there can be no integrity without trust” and “there can be no trust without trustworthiness, meaning one must be worthy of trust”. If we expect students to demonstrate academic integrity, we need to do more than ‘talk the talk’. We need “to explicitly and intentionally” teach academic integrity through “demonstration, explanation and practice” (Gray and Jordan, 2021, p.23) and highlight for students the academic integrity requirements of each task. And even more importantly, we need to ‘walk the walk’ of academic integrity and ethical behaviours in our own teaching, research, and service.

Note: This blog draws on the paper I presented at HERDSA entitled "'Walking the walk' in academic integrity. Ethical teaching and assessment.

Photo by Michelle Picard


Bretag, T. & Carapiet, S. (2007), A preliminary study to determine the extent of self-plagiarism in Australian academic research, Plagiary: Cross-Disciplinary Studies in Plagiarism, Fabrication and Falsification. Vol 2(5), 1-15. http://www.plagiary.org/

Eurboonyanun, C., Wittayapairoch, J., Aphinives, P., Petrusa, E., Gee, D. W., & Phitayakorn, R. (2021). Adaptation to open-book online examination during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of surgical education, 78(3), 737-739. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsurg.2020.08.046

Gray, P.W., & Jordan, S.R. (2012). Supervisors and Academic Integrity: Supervisors as Exemplars and Mentors. Journal of Academic Ethics 10, 299–311. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10805-012-9155-6

Lancaster, T., & Cotarlan, C. (2021). Contract cheating by STEM students through a file sharing website: a Covid-19 pandemic perspective. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 17, 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40979-021-00070-0

TEQSA (2020), Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Amendment Bill 2019, https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2019B00143

TEQSA (October, 2022). Contract Cheating, https://www.teqsa.gov.au/preventing-contract-cheating

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