Let’s Talk about Academic Integrity

Ethical conduct is essential in professional life. As with other professional organizations, IEEE has a Code of Ethics that defines professional standards of conduct. Academic programs need to introduce students to ethical expectations related to their career preparation as well as to their conduct as students. Dr. Deborah Trytten, a Professor in the School of Computer Science at the University of Oklahoma, shared her perspective as faculty regarding academic integrity during a recent interview. Dr. Trytten, an IEEE member active in the engineering education community, said “most of us [faculty] are very sincere about preparing our students for industry. It’s about the rest of your professional life.” One of the primary faculty motivations for promoting academic integrity is the commitment to graduate excellent professionals—technically competent graduates who know right from wrong. University stakeholders, e.g., alumni and employers, share this point of view.

So, what is academic integrity? The International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) defines academic integrity as a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to six fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage. Most colleges and universities have honor codes prohibiting cheating, falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism to uphold these fundamental values. The consequences of academic misconduct can be severe and far-reaching, ranging from taking a zero on an assignment, paying money to redo a course, or expulsion. More than that, academic dishonesty can potentially undermine a degree’s value, impacting not only the cheaters but their peers, as well. The promotion of academic integrity can take many forms.

Monitoring Student Work

While cheating can occur during in-person exams and quizzes, some of the most problematic situations are online assessments, writing/programming assignments, and other student work created outside the classroom. Opportunities exist to cheat through plagiarizing parts of essays, lifting code from existing computer programs, utilizing paid internet sites, or collaborating without permission. As universities moved online during the global pandemic, faculty gave more attention to academic misconduct. With the added stress of online learning and social isolation during the pandemic, students found more temptations and opportunities for cutting corners. In an article with NPR last year, James Orr, a board member of the International Center for Academic Integrity, said, “Just because there’s an increase in reports of academic misconduct doesn’t mean that there’s more cheating occurring,” adding, “in the online environment…faculty across the country are more vigilant in looking for academic misconduct.”

Online proctoring platforms are one tool that faculty use to monitor misconduct. With the onslaught of a variety of group chats or posting exam content to testing “cheat sites,” a proctoring platform can provide a more secure testing environment. Thus, ensuring that the exam environment is equal for all students. Another popular tool for detecting cheating, especially in Computer Science courses, is MOSS (Measure of Software Similarity). The software program objectively and automatically checks all program solutions for evidence of plagiarism. MOSS works with programs written in C, C++, Java, Pascal, Ada, and other languages and looks for similar code structures in different documents.

Learning from Mistakes

Allowing students, even in the face of a wrong decision, to learn about Academic Integrity is vital. They are students, after all, and part of the role of educators is to help them learn from their mistakes. According to ICAI, one way to enhance academic integrity is to form a committee that includes student, faculty, and staff representatives to establish a baseline measure of academic integrity and address any academic misconduct violations.


“It works well to give students ownership of misconduct hearings,” says Dr. Trytten, who has dealt with hundreds of cases in her 30 years of teaching. On the Academic Integrity Council at the University of Oklahoma, the majority of people who sit on each case are students, not faculty, because cheating affects other students more than anyone else. “Giving students ownership of the decisions from the Academic Integrity Council has been a philosophical change that has made a huge difference,” notes Dr. Trytten.

Dr. Trytten also stressed the importance of keeping in mind that college students are young, just learning. “You can use it to create learning experiences—development opportunities while being sensitive to the context and the level of the student.” Many measures can be taken to teach students about academic misconduct, from giving a zero on an assignment or requiring the student to take a class about academic integrity—but any measure taken should be balanced against the actual violation. 

Promoting Academic Integrity 

A new study from the University of California, Riverside, evaluates how six simple interventions, including quizzing students on academic honesty, appear to have reduced cheating in a computer science course. The interventions from the study included: 

  • Discussing academic integrity early in the course
  • Requiring students to achieve 100 percent on an academic integrity quiz
  • Allowing students to withdraw assignments they may have second thoughts about handing in
  • Reminding students about the cheating policy partway through the term
  • Demonstrating anti-cheating tools, such as software that identifies similarities in completed student assignments
  • Normalizing academic help and support

The study found that these low-effort tactics can be effective in curbing cheating. This sentiment is echoed by Dr. Trytten, who talks about academic integrity on day one with her students and outlines her expectations on the class syllabus. Open discussions about integrity expectations can lead to conversations about the importance of learning, how to connect schoolwork with goals and interests, and how doing things the right way reinforces the fundamental values of academic integrity.

About Dr. Trytten

Dr. Deborah A. Trytten is a President’s Associates Presidential Professor and Professor in the School of Computer Science at the University of Oklahoma and an Adjunct Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies. She received a B.A. in physics and mathematics from Albion College. She has M.S. degrees in both applied mathematics and computer science, and a Ph.D. in computer science from Michigan State University.