Each fall, as we return to classes we have an opportunity to reflect on previous successes--and failures. One of the more persistent failures we seem to have with our students is instilling a sense of integrity in their academic work. The same students who would be mortified if you accused them of shoplifting have been known to lift entire works from other authors and other students. Sometimes, their boldness can leave you breathless and scratching your head, wondering if they had only put that much effort into their work, they would have passed the course without cheating. The following is an example of such audacity.
We had a student who was struggling with her writing skills. Although she came to our program with a high GPA, her writing needed improvement. She was not writing at a graduate level. Angered by an instructor’s detailed feedback, she began to send me enraged emails, not one of which was grammatically correct. When I pointed out her emails could benefit from spell check and grammar check and that she had essentially proven the instructor’s point, she began phoning me repeatedly to complain about the instructor. I listened and encouraged her to work hard, use our writing tutors, and make an effort to incorporate the instructor’s feedback into her work. I also suggested she ask a peer to read her work and give her feedback. She agreed to find a peer reviewer, and did not phone me again.
A few weeks later, the instructor contacted me with concerns about the student’s final assignment, an original case study to be created by each student. As she read the student’s paper, she kept saying to herself, “This sounds so familiar.” Per our university policy, the instructor submitted the suspicious document to our plagiarism software. The instructor discovered this student had taken her peer reviewer’s paper (they swapped them electronically) and changed the name of the characters in the case study analysis, then claimed it as her own work. The student failed the course. At first she claimed she had not plagiarized. However, when informed the documentation was conclusive, she responded, “I was planning to quit the program, anyway.”
This example demonstrates the law of unintended consequences. As an educator, I suggested she work with a peer to improve her writing, hoping the feedback she received from another student would sting less than the feedback of a faculty member (Covil, 2010). Instead, the student saw her classmate’s superior work and decided to appropriate it as her own. Does this mean we should never use peer reviewers to coach students? No, I am not in favor of throwing the baby out with the bath. However, in the hands of someone who is angry, desperate to pass a course, and has a sense of entitlement (“No one has EVER told me I can’t write well!”), peer reviews should be used with caution.
We cannot teach integrity to students who are not receptive to the concept. They arrive at our doors with their values from previous life experiences. What we can do is to educate them what academic integrity is and what it is not, teach them proper citation, referencing, and formatting, utilize honor codes, and draw solid boundaries when a student demonstrates purposeful theft of another’s intellectual property (Kidwell, 2001; McCabe & Pavela, 2004). While I recognize most of us did not sign up to be police officers, to allow students who purposely violate Academic Integrity policies a get out of jail free card dilutes our programs and defeats the efforts of our hard-working honest students. Our discipline, healthcare organizations, and most important, our customers, clients, and patients deserve the best, most qualified, and ethical healthcare managers. It is up to us to deliver on our promises.
Sharon B. Buchbinder, RN, PhD
Sharon Buchbinder is Professor and Program Coordinator for the MS in Healthcare Management at Stevenson University in the Graduate and Professional School and former chair of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA). She is also the author of three books from Jones & Bartlett: Introduction to Health Care Management, Cases in Health Care Management, and Career Opportunities in Health Care Management.
Here are some references if you are interested in this topic.
Covil, A. (2010). Comparing peer review and self-review as ways to improve college students’ writing. Journal of Literacy Research, 42:199–226, 2010
Kidwell, L.A. (2001). Student honor codes as a tool for teaching professional ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 29 (1/2), 45-49.
McCabe, D.L. & Pavela, G. (2000). Some good news about academic integrity. Change, 33 (5), 32-28.
McCabe, D.L. & Pavela, G. (2004). Ten (updated) principles of academic integrity: How faculty can foster student honesty. Change, 36 (3), 10-15.
Sterngold, A. (2004). Confronting plagiarism: How conventional teaching invites cyber-cheating. Change, 36 (3), 16-21.