Educators and Academic Integrity: Who watches the watchers?

Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September...Image by George Eastman House via FlickrA couple of years ago Vickel Narayan and I wrote a paper entitle Pedagogy, policing or preventing plagiarism? A little more recently we were asked by Jude Barback (incoming Editor of New Zealand Education Review) to comment on academic integrity and “the issue of governance and disciplining of tertiary educators”. This really got me thinking…with all the focus on students plagiarising, who does watch the watchers? What happens when educators plagiarise? And what sort of Professional Learning and Development could be offered to help avoid unintentional instances of academic dishonesty?

The questions and answers below are pretty much the thoughts we shared with Jude, and although the focus is Unitec NZ the discussion is likely to be relevant for a wide range of education institutions. These are followed by a short video from Rodd Lucier entitled “Creative Commons: What Every Educator Needs to Know” which illustrates some of the issues as well as providing some practical solutions and guidance.

Please join in the conversation by adding your own thoughts in the comments 🙂

Gnu teacherImage via Wikipedia

1) There seems to be emphasis on plagiarism by students, but are there any policies or guidelines for dealing with plagiarism by lecturers?

The only policies and guidelines that exist (at Unitec anyway) are general rather than with specific reference to plagiarism by lecturers (even though “the temptation to…[plagiarise] is as great for lecturers as it is for students” (Hunt, 2010, paragraph 1). As these links illustrate, this is a big issue:

The Unitec Code of Conduct for lecturers states: “The Code is written as a set of general principles rather than detailed prescriptions”; and “While academic freedom is a right, it carries with it the duty of academics to use the freedom in a manner consistent with a responsible and honest search for, and dissemination of, knowledge and truth”. The Code also refers to more general points of respect, fair treatment and privacy. There are separate guidelines around research ethics, and for the supervision of postgraduate students – but again, discussion of academic integrity appears to be around student behaviour, with more general discussion of strategies for supervising postgraduate students.

The central focus at Unitec NZ, and other institutions appears to be captured in the following:

“Last year a team including the author visited all 17 academic schools at Unitec and made half-hour presentations to the teaching staff on the importance of promoting academic integrity and on Unitec‟s policies and processes for dealing with breaches by students.” [Emphasis not in the original] (Donald, n.d., p. 2)

One of the most interesting moments in all of the professional development sessions that Vickel and I facilitated was when lecturers were asked to run a piece of their own work through Turnitin. There were observable levels of stress, and, for example, anger when the box to exclude references had not been ticked and a negative report was received. In the discussion following this exercise, a few lecturers said that they had not previously used plagiarism detection software on their own work, and had found this particular experience extremely negative…although they could see how it might be used in a formative way while they were writing papers. We did not, however, cover explicitly the bigger issues of academic integrity, especially those that are present with the supervision of postgraduates.

Image representing Creative Commons as depicte...Image via CrunchBase

2) Are you aware of how lecturers/teaching staff are disciplined if need be?

No lecturers / teaching staff have been, as far as we are aware, disciplined for plagiarism. It is likely, however, that Unitec NZ would follow similar procedures are Cardiff University in the UK (see below), and investigate a lecturer / teaching staff member under the terms of the Code of Conduct, and Research Ethics to ascertain whether there has been misconduct.

“In a statement, Cardiff University said: “Such allegations are always treated extremely seriously and the university has in place established procedures for the investigation of such cases. The allegations against the member of staff in the Cardiff Business School were considered in accordance with the procedures, and the investigation panel, which was chaired by a judge, concluded that the allegations with regard to two published articles were substantiated.” (THE, paragraphs 11 and 12)
Ga academicImage via Wikipedia

3) Is there any mechanism available to Unitec students (or other tertiary students that you know of) to find out if their lecturers are professionally competent?

Unitec NZ has a couple of formal ways of evaluating lecturers / teaching staff including the Student Evaluation of Quality (SEQUAL), but it would likely be difficult for an potential student to find the results, especially for individual lecturers. There are ways of researching lecturers, but they tend to be informal or Department-based. So, for example, the Department of Business studies runs a blog; and has also videos such as Unitec Management and Marketing Lecturer – Denisa Hebblethwaite. Informal means could also be contacting students who have previously studied with a lecturer, and Unitec NZ is working on putting together an alumni.

About ictenhancedlearningandteaching

I am a director and consultant at Ethos Consultancy NZ ( I have a keen interest in all aspects of ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching (ICTELT) where the focus lies on ways of scaffolding and empowering learners. In particular, I am interested in the way that creative, blended approached to Academic Professional Development can create trust, rapport and encourage reflective practice. As such, ICTELT is approached from facilitation, design, evaluation and assessment as opposed to the tools and what they can offer. I am a strong advocate of the potential of Web 2.0 to empower learners from all walks of life and cultures, especially after my experiences working for 6 years in the Middle East. In particular, I am interested how ePortfolios can be used in the VET sector (especially where Literacy and Language challenges are faced), in Recognition of Prior Learning, and in authentic, applied assessment. I have been involved with designing and developing ICTELT approaches and programmes for ten years. Following research informed approaches and design, I apply a qualitative, iterative process to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, programmes and tools, encouraging learners' voices and input from all stakeholders.
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