Investigating Perceptions of Students to a Peer-Based Academic Integrity Presentation Provided by Residence Dons
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- Zivcakova, L., Wood, E., Forsyth, G. et al. J Acad Ethics (2014) 12: 89. doi:10.1007/s10805-014-9206-2
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This study investigated students’ (n = 819) perceptions following a prepared, common presentation regarding academic integrity provided by their residence dons. This peer instruction study utilized both quantitative and qualitative analyses of survey data within a pre-test post-test design. Overall, students reported gains in knowledge, as well as confidence in their knowledge of academic integrity. Notably, students reported increases in their personal value for academic integrity after participating in the presentations. Overall, the quality and content of the presentations were judged positively, and participants’ ratings of the presentation were predictive of increases in personal value of academic integrity, as well as self-reported knowledge and confidence gains. Qualitative analyses supported that the key ideas in the presentation served as the focal material for discussion, but also introduced specific topics that students wanted to explore in greater depth.
KeywordsAcademic integrityAcademic misconductPeer-instructionInstructional intervention
Given the prevalence of academic misconduct among students in higher education contexts (McCabe 2005), it is not surprising that a significant number of programs and interventions have been designed to decrease academic misconduct. Many effective programs have been reported, including highly specific interventions, for example, targeting plagiarism (e.g. Compton and Pfau 2008; Ellery 2008; Landau et al. 2002; Soto et al. 2004) to broad, large-scale programs that target reforms at multiple institutional levels (e.g. Bertram Gallant and Drinan 2008; Martin and van Haeringen 2011). The present study examines a peer-based instructional intervention aimed at informing students about academic integrity as well as discouraging students from engaging in academic misconduct.
An increasingly popular and effective instructional approach to promote awareness about academic integrity, and also to discourage academic misconduct involves using open, discussion-based exchanges between faculty members and students (e.g. Bean and Bernardi 2005; Bertram Gallant and Drinan 2008; Boehm et al. 2009). Recently, for example, Baetz and colleagues (2011) examined the impact of a 45-min discussion-based presentation about academic integrity, delivered by an academic integrity advisor. This presentation was comprehensive in scope including the provision of explicit definitions and examples for 4 basic domains concerning academic integrity (i.e., defining academic integrity/misconduct, detection of academic misconduct, consequences of misconduct, and the importance of academic integrity). Students were prompted to share personal experiences and ask questions through the inclusion of discussion opportunities interspersed throughout the presentation. This design provided a uniform, accurate, and comprehensive opportunity for students to engage in the topic of academic integrity with a knowledgeable presenter – the university faculty member charged with the academic integrity portfolio for the university. Results indicated that this instructional intervention was effective at promoting open, ‘frank,’ and honest conversations between students and this faculty member. In addition, students reported knowledge gains in each of the academic integrity domains covered by the presentation, and valued the opportunity to ask questions, clarify expectations, and provide suggestions for improvements in the future (Baetz et al. 2011).
In a subsequent study, faculty members who had the opportunity to witness and participate in the presentation and discussions of an academic advisor giving these presentations to their classes (Zivcakova et al. 2012a) were surprised and encouraged to see that students were so honest in their discussions, and commented that the discussions were surprisingly emotionally charged. Faculty members were encouraged by the high regard that students held for the issue of academic integrity. Equally encouraging was the report made by several faculty members that they themselves gained new knowledge which they could use in their future teaching (Zivcakova et al. 2012a).
Although these past studies suggest that this faculty administered instructional intervention is a highly effective approach, the reality of employing this intervention on a larger, university-wide scale may not be feasible at many institutions. The resources of most universities and colleges may not be able to sustain the time commitment for their academic integrity personnel to deliver presentations to individual classes—especially in universities and colleges that have limited resources dedicated for this portfolio.
An alternative, potentially more viable and economical approach could be to employ a peer-learning paradigm. Peer instruction has a long history as a relevant, effective instructional approach at all educational levels (e.g., Brown and McIlroy 2011; Fraser et al. 1977; Postholm 2008; Payne et al. 2006; Slavin 1990), and across a variety of domains (Balfakih 2003; Chapman 2005; Nordberg 2008; Sherman and Thomas 1986; Topping et al. 2011). An additional compelling instructional advantage of peer instruction is that it typically benefits both the students receiving instruction and the facilitators providing the instruction (Topping 2005; Goldschmid and Goldschmid 1976).
A recent research study applied the peer instruction model to the instruction of academic integrity (Zivcakova et al. 2012b). Specifically, older peers responsible for oversight of students in residences (residence dons) were asked to instruct or facilitate learning for more junior students under their supervision using the materials developed by Baetz and colleagues (2011). Unlike the uniform presentation employed in the Baetz and colleagues study (2011), dons had the flexibility to choose the slides that they believed would be most useful to students, however all presentations were required to include some opportunities for discussion. Although the presentations differed in content and length, both dons and students found the presentations to be informative, and reported gaining new knowledge regarding academic integrity. In addition, among the students, there was consistent support for the opportunity to openly discuss the topic of academic integrity with their peers, and to ask questions to clarify issues of which they felt uncertain. However, the quality of the presentations received mixed reviews, with many students indicating concerns regarding content and presentation style. The dons indicated feeling uncomfortable in their knowledge of academic integrity. Similarly, they questioned whether they had the experience or authority in this domain to provide accurate answers. They were especially sensitive to the possibility of providing inaccurate or misleading information, which could result in potential harm for students.
In general, these findings suggested that the peer instructional model could provide an economical and instructionally appropriate medium through which to inform large groups of undergraduates. However, in order to maximize the benefits, peers providing the instruction may require additional support and preparation. For example, peer instructors may require explicit training in both the content and instructional style to ensure best teaching practice. Clearly, the advantages of peer instruction as a model for informing larger groups of students, requires further investigation.
A recent study (Zivcakova et al. 2013) addressed the two main limitations of the Zivcakova and colleagues (2012b) peer instruction intervention; namely, the variability of don presentations, and the issue of don training. Specifically, the dons received more extensive instruction, as well as materials they could use for independent preparation for their presentations. These materials included summarized facts regarding frequently asked questions concerning academic integrity, as well as online resources that they could access before and during their presentation. In addition, all dons were provided with a common set of slides to use in their presentations allowing for uniformity in content and length across presentations. A pre-presentation training session allowed dons to ask questions, clarify, and become more comfortable with all of the required presentation slides, and also provided direct instruction regarding instructional style that promotes active learning. These alterations retained the quality of presentation in the Baetz et al. research (2011), as well as the functional and instructional features of a peer instruction approach. Key outcomes included perceived increases in knowledge and confidence for the participating dons, with gains noted after training as well as after presenting materials consistent with previous research demonstrating learning gains following peer teaching (Topping 2005; Goldschmid and Goldschmid 1976). In addition, dons did not report concerns regarding a perceived lack of authority or knowledge as was reported in previous research (Zivcakova et al. 2012b).
The current study extended the previous research conducted by Zivcakova and colleagues (2013) by examining students’ responses to these uniformly designed peer instruction presentations provided by their residence dons.
The participants in this study were comprised of residence students who participated in one presentation on academic integrity delivered by residence dons (senior students charged with the role of supervising students living in residences). In total, 819 residence students participated, of which, 808 indicated their gender: 419 males (Mage = 18.20 years, SD = .94 years), 389 females (Mage = 18.01, SD = .65). Additionally, 817 students indicated their primary faculty of study: 285 were enrolled in Faculty of Arts, 179 were enrolled in Faculty of Science, 303 were in Business and Economics, and 50 self-reported their primary area of study as “other”.
All participants were treated in accordance with the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) ethical guidelines. Consistent with these ethical guidelines, participants were free to decline to answer any and all questions with which they were uncomfortable. Some variation in the number of participants responding to each question is evident in subsequent analyses, however, given the sample size, these small differences would not impact the outcomes.
Materials and Procedures
All participants completed two surveys; the first one before attending the presentation from their don, and the second immediately after the presentation.
All of the dons were provided with a common 11-slide PowerPoint presentation with accompanying notes for each slide. Consistent with the presentation by Baetz et al. (2011), this presentation focused on 4 main topics of academic integrity: Definition of academic integrity, detection of misconduct, consequences of misconduct, and importance of academic integrity. After two introductory slides (i.e., title of presentation and overview), the topic of academic integrity was introduced through one slide, which provided the institutional definition of academic integrity. This was followed by a slide providing examples of academic misconduct, and another slide providing hints and tips about how to avoid engaging in academic misconduct. The topic of detection of academic misconduct involved one slide that identified several methods of detection (e.g., turnitin.com, eye witness reports, and consistency in writing style). The topic of consequences of misconduct was initiated through one slide that outlined, step-by-step, the official institutional procedure of dealing with academic misconduct. Introduction to the importance of academic integrity involved one slide containing regional and national newspaper headlines regarding misconduct that was to be used as an opener for discussion. The presentation also included a “quiz” slide, which gave the students an opportunity to check their understanding of the 4 main topics of academic integrity and misconduct. The last slide provided a brief 3-step strategy for avoiding misconduct (i.e., note the expectations, ask questions, and follow the expectations).
Survey items were adapted from those used by Zivcakova et al. (2012b).
This survey assessed demographic information (i.e., age, gender, and primary program of study), as well as the participants’ personal importance of academic integrity using a 5-point Likert-type scale (1 = not at all important to 5 = very important).
Two scales assessed students’ knowledge and confidence regarding the 4 major topics of academic integrity that would be covered in the presentation. Both of the scales used 5-point Likert-type scales, ranging from 1 (not at all knowledgeable/not at all confident) to 5 (very knowledgeable/very confident). Reliability was α = .85, α = .90 for the knowledge and confidence scales, respectively.
This survey was subdivided into 2 main sections. The first subsection assessed personal experiences related to the session, whereas the second section assessed previous experience with academic integrity.
Specifically, 7 questions comprised the first section. Two single question items assessed whether the session made the issue of academic integrity more important to students personally [employing a 5-point Likert-Type scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree)], and a second question assessed whether students would recommend offering the presentations next year [using a 5-point Likert-Type scale, ranging from 1 (definitely not) to 5 (definitely yes)].
Two brief 4-item scales assessed how the presentation affected the students’ perceived knowledge, and confidence in their knowledge for each of the 4 major aspects of academic integrity [using 5-point Likert-Type scales, ranging from 1 (decreased greatly) to 5 (increased greatly)]. Reliability was α = .92, and α = .93 respectively.
Students rated the effectiveness of the PowerPoint presentation using the same 13-item scale as the dons (Zivcakova et al. 2013), using different descriptors (i.e. informative, relevant, accurate, etc.), utilizing a 5-point Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much). Reliability was α = .93.
Using a four-item scale, students indicated how helpful they found the presentation for helping them make safer choices regarding academic integrity and avoiding unintentional misconduct while: doing tests, writing papers, doing group work, and using technologies. This scale utilized a 5-point Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (not at all helpful) to 5 (very helpful). Reliability was α = .90.
Three open-ended questions concluded this section of the survey. The questions asked about the 2 most significant positive outcomes of the sessions, 2 most significant challenges of the session, and where the students would go should they require further information on academic integrity.
The second section was comprised of 3 questions regarding the students’ previous experience with academic integrity/misconduct. Specifically, the first question asked whether the student had ever been accused of academic misconduct. The second question asked whether the student ever thought that s/he might have unknowingly engaged in academic misconduct. The last question asked whether the student ever asked a friend for advice about activities that might be considered academic misconduct. The responses to all 3 questions were answered using a dichotomous yes/no category.
Analysis of the results involved both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to examine students’ perceptions.
Descriptive summary of students’ confidence/knowledge ratings and personal value of academic integrity pre and post-presentation
Aggregated Knowledge/Confidence Ratings
Pre-Presentation Aggregated Knowledge/Confidence Scale
Post-Presentation Aggregated Change in Knowledge/Confidence Scale
Importance of Academic Integrity Ratings
Pre-Presentation Value of Personal Importance of Academic Integrity
Post-Presentation Value of Change in Personal Importance of Academic Integrity
Descriptive summary of students’ evaluations of the presentation materials
Evaluation of PowerPoint materials
Impact of PowerPoint on decreasing unintentional misconduct in students’ academic work
Students reported high levels of confidence/knowledge (M = 3.78) for the domain of academic integrity at the outset of the study, and considerable learning gains following the presentation (M = 4.04).
Two linear regressions were conducted to examine which factors predicted perceived confidence/knowledge, one for pre-test and the other for post-test. For the first regression, the aggregated confidence/knowledge pre-presentation scale served as the dependent measure with the following three independent variables; gender, age, and personal importance of academic integrity. 1The regression model was significant, F(3, 743) = 14.97, p < .001, R2 = .06) with only one significant predictor. Students who perceived academic integrity as more personally relevant were more likely to report higher confidence/knowledge (t(1, 743) = 6.61, p < .001).
The post-presentation regression for perceived change in confidence/knowledge included age, gender, pre-presentation and post-presentation, ratings of the personal importance of academic integrity, students’ ratings of PowerPoint materials, and perceived usefulness of the material presented for making safer academic choices as the independent variables. The overall model was significant: F(6, 577) = 128.10, p < .001. Only three predictor variables were significant. Specifically, students who reported increases in their value of academic integrity reported higher knowledge/confidence ratings (t(1, 577) = 10.97, p < .001). Similarly, students who rated the PowerPoint presentation more positively (t(1, 577) = 6.69, p < .001), and students who rated the presentation as useful for helping them to avoid academic misconduct reported higher confidence/knowledge gains (t(1, 577) = 8.16, p < .001).
Additionally, a linear regression was conducted to determine what variables predicted whether or not the students would recommend offering the session the following year. Students’ ratings of the change in their personal value of academic integrity, change in confidence, evaluation of the PowerPoint presentation, and the impact of the presentation for decreasing academic misconduct were used as predictor variables. The overall model was significant, F(3, 619) = 110.16, p < .001. All of the predictor variables were significant. Specifically, perceived increases in the value of academic integrity (t(1, 619) = 8.62, p < .001), confidence in their knowledge about academic integrity (t(1, 619) = 2.15, p < .05), positive evaluations of the information provided through the PowerPoint presentation (t(1, 619) = 2.48, p < .05), and a perceived positive impact from the presentation toward behaviours that would reduce academic misconduct integrity (t(1, 619) = 5.25, p < .001), all predicted a greater endorsement for these presentations to be offered to other students in the coming year.
Percentage of students’ responses to questions regarding their past behaviours related to academic integrity and misconduct
Survey Question Topic
Have you ever been accused of academic misconduct?
Have you ever thought you might be engaging in academic misconduct but was not sure?
Have you ever asked a friend for advice about academic misconduct?
A series of 12 independent t-tests were conducted to assess whether student experiences with academic misconduct impacted their responses to the knowledge/confidence measures, or students valuing of academic integrity prior to and after the presentation. Given the number of t-tests a Bonferroni correction was used (p < .004). None of the comparisons were significant, suggesting that students who indicated previous experience with academic misconduct did not differ from those who did not have these experiences on any of the key variables.
Discussion of Students’ Quantitative Data
Students initially reported being quite confident and knowledgeable regarding academic integrity. These initial evaluations of their knowledge and confidence appeared to be an overestimate in light of the sizable gains reported following the dons’ presentation. Indeed, when combined with the finding that over a third of students reported that they thought they may have been engaging in misconduct but were not certain, it is clear that these students, like students in many previous studies (e.g. Roig 2001; Schrimsher et al. 2011; Soto et al. 2004), appeared to lack a basic understanding of fundamental elements about academic integrity and misconduct. These consistent outcomes reinforce the need for direct and comprehensive opportunities for instruction for students regarding academic integrity.
Also participating in the presentation resulted in increases in students’ personal value of academic integrity. In part, these gains may be a function of the instructional design used in the present study, which provided explicit instruction regarding the importance of academic integrity at a personal and institutional level, as well as affording students an opportunity to discuss the value of academic integrity among their peers. It is also possible that hearing the dons advocate the importance of academic integrity was particularly impactful for students. Together, the reported increases in perceived knowledge, confidence, and value for academic integrity support the use of peer instruction in the present context, and they are consistent with a considerable body of research supporting using peer teachers or group facilitators in an effort to enhance learning (e.g., Topping 2005; Goldschmid and Goldschmid 1976; Vygotsky 1978).
Thematic analysis of students’ responses to the open-ended questions were coded using an open-coding method (Strauss and Corbin 1990). Two raters independently scored approximately 15 % of the data. Inter-rater reliability was high (94 %). Disagreements in coding were resolved through discussion, which assisted in fine-tuning the coding scheme. The remaining data was coded by one of the two coders.
Interestingly, when students were asked to identify the two most salient positive outcomes of the presentations one of the most frequent responses (59.8 % of students) identified gaining information about the importance of academic integrity as a key outcome. Understanding the personal consequences (20.9 %), and more broadly, consequences to the University’s reputation and policies (9.8 %) regarding misconduct were highlighted as important outcomes. It may be that providing students with this broader perspective is necessary for students to gain a more complete appreciation of academic integrity beyond their own personal views. This broader perspective may also be key for supporting the higher personal value toward academic integrity that was detected in the quantitative data.
In addition, almost half of the responses indicated that acquiring new knowledge was a key positive outcome (48 % of students). A smaller subset of students specifically highlighted particular domains of knowledge. These included being able to define academic integrity (19.6 %), and having explicit instruction regarding proper citation, paraphrasing, and quoting techniques (11.6 %). These latter areas reflect some of the most common types of student academic misconduct that are cited in the literature (Baetz et al. 2011; Brandt 2002; Christensen Hughes and McCabe 2006; Howard 2002; Kidwell and Kent 2008; Wojtas 1999). Students acknowledgment that these were important areas to gain knowledge suggest that students know where they are likely to have challenges and recognize the importance of having an opportunity for clarification.
Probably one of the most critical and unanticipated outcomes was that a number of students identified a ‘next step’ or ‘future plan’ (19.9 %) that they planned to execute with their newly acquired knowledge. For example, students reported that they were “going to be more honest in [their] work” and that they were “influenced to learn [their] my own study ways”. These plans for the future support the potency of this peer instruction training for not only increasing knowledge, but also for prompting students to use their knowledge in constructive, planful ways.
Just under half of the students (48 %) identified concerns, with the presentations including: boredom (8.43 %), distraction from others talking (6.0 %), lack of student participation (5.5 %), and challenges “seeing the PowerPoints”. Moreover, the timing of some presentations (10.9 %) may have contributed to attendance and attention issues, as some presentations were offered later in the evening to avoid course conflicts, but these times may have been too late for some students who were too tired to focus by this time.
Several interesting omissions or infrequent issues were evident in the open-ended responses. First, only a small proportion of students identified challenges with the materials (9.3 %), and those who did comment found some information confusing or excessive. These findings differ from previous research, where materials were judged to be a more prevalent concern (Zivcakova et al. 2012b). The limited appearance of concerns regarding materials supports the importance of having the dons receive explicit training and providing a common, well supported presentation for positively impacting the quality of the presentations in this study. Finally, very few students commented that they “already knew” (2.21 %) the information, indicating that the material was sufficiently comprehensive to be deemed new for the majority of students. Overall, consistent with the quantitative data, the presentation content and delivery was perceived to be positive and useful in providing new information and an appreciation for the importance of academic integrity. Primary challenges identified by students could best be addressed by providing greater flexibility and sensitivity to the times that presentations were offered and further instruction in class-management strategies for the dons.
Sources of Information for Students
Students were asked about the people or places most likely to be used as resources for additional information about academic integrity. Informal authority figures, such as dons, were the most popular source (33.2 %), followed by formal authority figures (25.3 %), walk-in academic services (22.5 %), resources (web and hard copy) provided by the university (11.5 %), unofficial resources (6.5 %), and no source (1.1 %). Overall, students appeared to be more inclined to seek information from a person, most notably informal figures, who were familiar and accessible, over other types of resources. This outcome may have important implications for policies regarding student support. For example, rather than simply placing information on websites, posters, brochures etc., universities may need to provide specific contact people for students to learn about academic integrity.
Overall, the results support previous research (Baetz et al. 2011; Zivcakova et al. 2012a; Zivcakova et al. 2012b), showing that students perceive benefits from participating in interactive, discussion-based presentations on academic integrity. The present study also highlights the effectiveness of peer-instruction when the peer instructors receive training and access to well-prepared materials. Specifically, when the structure and content of materials was perceived to be more meaningful, students reported greater learning gains. Similarly, students in the present study identified fewer concerns about the content or the presenters than in previous peer-instruction research (Zivcakova et al. 2012b) and identified their peer instructors as a key “go-to” person if they required further information. Finally, the perceived learning gains reported by students in the present study suggest that although the term academic integrity is often used, many students may be uncertain what this term encompasses. Explicit instruction from simply defining this construct to more complex issues appears to be not only necessary and valuable, but also welcome among students.
It is encouraging that students highly valued academic integrity at the outset of the study, and that these personal values increased as a result of participating in this study. Encouraging a culture that supports openness and eagerness to learn more about academic integrity is important, as student culture is an important variable in predicting levels of academic misconduct (i.e. McCabe et al. 2001). Once a culture of high academic integrity has been established among students, institutions need to reinforce the importance of academic integrity through multiple channels, including presentations, as were used in the present study and possibly through additional resources. For example, students in the present study highlighted the importance of knowledgeable, informal university personnel, such as dons, as an important resource in addition to online or hard copy materials for students in need and in search of such information.
It is important to note that this study assessed perceptions of knowledge, rather than actual knowledge. Perceptions and attitudes toward academic integrity form an important foundation for the “culture” of academic integrity, however it would also be important to assess actual changes in knowledge to determine how effectively students might handle academic integrity challenges that they may face. Assessing students’ perceptions and being able to assess possible incongruences between perceived and actual knowledge may add to our understanding of the underlying causes of the high prevalence of academic misconduct, and the development of effective interventions to combat misconduct. For example, if student perceptions of their knowledge exceed their actual knowledge there would be support for utilizing more educational, rather than punitive methods for dealing with academic misconduct.
In conclusion, previous literature suggests that successful intervention programs are those that provide information in numerous areas of academic integrity, including clear definitions of what constitutes academic misconduct, methods, and strategies utilized for detecting misconduct, consequences of reports of academic misconduct, and why academic integrity is an important value (Feldman et al. 2001; Landau et al. 2002; Lawton and Cousineau 2001; Zivcakova et al. 2012a, b). This latter goal is the most challenging, as it requires that students become active partners in understanding and valuing academic integrity. Outcomes from the present study suggest that a well-articulated presentation provided by trained peers who encourage open discussion can create the kind of active learning environment needed to impact both value and knowledge about academic integrity among their student peers.
Before conducting regression analyses, correlations were conducted between the confidence and knowledge measures prior to the presentation and then after the presentation. In both cases the correlations were very high (r(806) = .79 and r(804) = .74 before and after the presentation respectively). Such high correlations suggest that these measures were consistently assessing the same underlying construct. These two scales were combined to form an aggregated confidence and knowledge scale prior to the presentation and an aggregated confidence and knowledge scale after the presentation. Cronbach’s test of reliability suggest that the scales were highly reliable (α = .92 prior to presentation and .94 after the presentation. All analyses for students employed the aggregated measures.
The researchers would like to acknowledge the contributions of Joshua Manuel and Olivia Saccucci regarding the presentations used in this research and the Residence Life Area Coordinators, especially Josh Duarte, for their support and assistance with data collection. Also, we thank Dr. Deborah McClatchy, VP: Academic, for her commitment to this research and financial support.