Lisa Miller


Canadian International School (Singapore)


There is increasing concern about academic dishonesty in all areas of education from secondary classrooms to on-line courses to university classes to professional learning. The educational system is built on a foundation of trust in the information shared and produced. If academic dishonesty is perceived as a rampant problem, then the system’s integrity as a whole is undermined. Digital integrity is not often explicitly included in lists of 21st century skills but that shouldn’t be the case as students’ success in a digital world of connected and constructed knowledge depends on them developing both strong ethical behaviours and the skills to evaluate, manipulate and share that knowledge.

Keywords: academic dishonesty, digital integrity, ethics, plagiarism


“Everything changes and nothing stands still.” Heraclitus

Academic dishonesty and academic integrity are two halves of the same whole and both are evolving constantly. In Heraclitus’ time it might have involved falsely quoting a fellow philosopher to a small crowd. Today, it could involve copying and pasting information without citation and presenting it on a website or in a speech seen by millions for decades.

Academic dishonesty is more complex today, as are the skills, mind set and curriculum required to foster academic integrity, specifically digital integrity – this chapter’s focus. If 21st century learners are characterised by their ability to collaborate and co-create knowledge using technology, then establishing best practices around strengthening digital integrity and ameliorating academic dishonesty is crucial. The circumstances of learning continue to change rapidly, and to respond effectively we must integrate new digital integrity skills into our practice. To do that we need to understand, as best we can, some of the key factors which influence academic dishonesty and ways in which our practice as educators needs to change.

Academic dishonesty (AD) seems to be an increasing area of concern in education. There is a perception that the problem is becoming worse, with our students’ ethics and standards dropping, with access to technology increasing cheating and with an influx of culturally diverse students (Peled, 2019).

Before we go any further, we should define digital integrity and academic dishonesty. When reviewing the literature though, it becomes clear that defining academic integrity and academic dishonesty is not a straightforward task (Uludag, 2013).

Academic dishonesty is defined in many ways depending on the institution, school board and age of the students. We might start first with the International Centre for Academic Integrity’s list of fundamental values which underpins all concepts of academic integrity: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage (“Fundamental Values,” 2019). For our purposes, digital integrity will encompass using all forms of technology, in the sphere of education, according to the above values. Unfortunately, what exactly defines academic dishonesty, while it will obviously contravene these values, requires more detail in order for it to be applicable to a learning context.

As an example, here is the Ontario Tech University’s (n.d.) tutorial website provides the following list of actions it defines as being academic dishonest:

  • Violation of safety regulations in a laboratory or other setting.
  • Disruptions of classes and/or examinations;
  • Cheating on examinations, assignments, reports, or other work used to evaluate student performance;
  • Copying from another student’s work or allowing one’s own work to be copied;
  • Submitting another person’s work as one’s own;
  • Submission of sufficiently similar documents for different courses without the instructors’ consent;
  • Fabrication of data;
  • Consultation with an unauthorized person during an examination, or use of unauthorized aids;
  • Impersonating another student or allowing oneself to be impersonated for purposes of taking examinations, or carrying out laboratory or other assignments.
  • Plagiarism, which is the act of presenting the ideas, words, or other intellectual property of another as one’s own.
  • Obtaining by improper means examination papers, tests, or similar materials; use or distribution of such materials to others.
  • Falsifying academic records, including tests and examinations, or submitting false credentials for purpose of gaining admission to a program or course, or for any other purpose.
  • Misrepresentation of facts, whether written or oral, which may have an effect on academic evaluation. This includes making fraudulent health claims, obtaining medical or other certificates under false pretences, or altering certificates for the purposes of misrepresentation.
  • Submission of work when a major portion has been previously submitted or is being submitted for another course, without the express permission of all instructors
  • Copying or selling all or parts of a textbook (“Academic Integrity,” n.d.)

This list is comprehensive, but illustrates the contextual nature of AD as much of this list would not be applicable to a primary or secondary classroom. At its most essential, AD is the act of lying, cheating or stealing in reference to one’s learning life. As we will see later in the chapter, ensuring that all learners and educators understand what AD is in their context is crucial.

Factors That Affect Academic Dishonesty in a Digital World

Many factors may influence AD behaviours including the presence of technology, a student’s ethical code, and a student’s cultural background. Much of the recent research has focused on the evolving attitudes of digital natives to AD as well as technology’s impact on AD and finally on how cultural background impacts AD.

Student Perceptions of Academic Dishonesty:

What does AD mean to students in a 21st century, technology-fused world? Some researchers have echoed popular concern and propose that access to information in so many forms, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube and so on, combined with the mobility and 24hr nature of that access has blurred students’ understanding resulting in an increased vulnerability to committing and being victimised by plagiarism (Moormand & Horton, 2007 as quoted in Chang et al., 2015).

The concern is not unfounded. In Selwyn’s major study, 61% of UK university students self-reported having plagiarised and there was a correlation between increased time on-line participating in “informal procurement practices” and the likelihood a student would justify both practices. Overall, the he found that students’ ethical attitude in general set the tone for academic integrity with plagiarisers equally likely to use online and offline sources. Digital plagiarism was just one element in a general cheating culture encouraged by a high-stakes, high cost education system (2008).

Other researchers have found that AD is being ‘normalised’ (Blau, 2017) as students rationalise some levels of AD. As educators we need to understand why. In recent studies focusing on why students plagiarise for example, it is clear that for many there is deep confusion about what plagiarism exactly is in a digital environment, either because, as older students they have not read institutional policies or, as younger students, because they have not been clearly taught (Chang et al., 2015; Blau, 2017; Yeung et al., 2018).

The authorship of books is obvious to students but with millions of digital resources accessible without an author, the concept of ownership is distorted and many students equate this with ‘free to use’(Chang et al., 2015). Other important reasons students commit plagiarism include time pressures and lack of teacher knowledge or ‘look the other way’ attitudes (Yeung et al., 2018; Peled et al., 2019). In a competitive, performance based education system, students are repeatedly faced with weighing the cost of failing against the cost of possible being caught in an act of AD despite their ethics – and too often they choose AD (Blau, 2018).

Role of Technology and Digital Integrity

Many fingers have been pointed at technology as the cause of increasing student AD behaviours and many older studies seemed to support that idea. Certainly, it is true that there are more forms of plagiarism today and affordances such as copy and paste functions may make it easier.

However, as classroom practice has evolved and what we now term Net Geners or Generation Z (children born in the late 1990s and early 2000s) move through the system, more recent studies are finding evidence to refute the idea of technological determinism (loosely defined as the idea that technology determines social behaviour) (Blau.2018). Instead Peled et al., in a very recent study, found that on-line university students are actually less like to plagiarise than face-to-face students. This was attributed to current on-line students being more likely to be innovators and early adopters and new course designs being more academic integrity-focused (2019).

Another interesting study looked at whether copy and paste affordances increased plagiarism by directly monitoring student work in real time and found that while 79.5% of the writers plagiarised, whether they had access to the copy and paste function made little difference. These researchers made a strong case against banning technology as a way to reduce AD (Kauffman & Young, 2015) and instead suggested focusing on the structure of learning tasks and supporting students in their understanding of academic integrity.

It is not only the affordances of digital research that impact AD. Technology has other, subtler impacts as well. Many students reported that if they struggled with a technology-based process, such digital reading or research, they were more likely to rationalise AD behaviours. If students haven’t been taught how to read digital material, how to take digital notes, or how to organise all their materials, they will struggle in their learning.

Role of Culture and Digital Integrity

Another truth about 21st century education is that unlike previous generations, from primary grades through to post-secondary, we are now learning in an extremely heterogeneous environment.  Students and instructors from around the world meet in classrooms and online to share and create knowledge.

This meeting of minds and cultures through mobile technology opens up infinite possibilities for the creation of new knowledge but it is not without challenges. There has been a lot of conversation around the differences between Eastern and Western learners and the possible conflicts that arise when Eastern learners find themselves being assessed according to cultural norms that they have not had any previous experience with — If native learners are confused about what constitutes AD, then international student must many times more so (Kayouglu et al., 2016). As well, less practice with the digital integrity skills involved in research and scholarly writing, put non-Western students at a disadvantage and may make them more susceptible to engaging in AD under pressure (Thompson et al, 2017).

Applications – How should our practice change?

Much of the research into AD, regardless of whether it focused on ethics, technology or culture, recommended significant changes in the way we teach and support digital integrity. Obviously, collaboration, evaluating texts, paraphrasing, and making ethical decisions are skills required to thrive in a 21st century digital learning environment but ones we are still developing pedagogy and best practice for.

20th Century to 21­­­­st Century Skills

It is an interesting time to teach as we are forced to challenge and negotiate the relevance of the 20th century skills many of us grew up with, in the face of 21st century mobile learning and ICT. For example, collaboration is a skill that was important in the 20th century (and long before), and it remains of value today. Today though, our constructivist and connectivist contexts require a more complex and technical set of skills. On the other hand, perfect penmanship holds little or no value. New skills required to avoid AD, like digital reading, digital note-taking, digital collaboration need time to be learned and practiced.

The year 2000 brought no more no more time in a day or days in a school year and so educators need to find ways to first agree on what needs to be taught and then find creative ways to teach the skills that scaffold digital integrity such as critical evaluation of digital information, using citation tools like Easybib (Chegg, 2019) or NoodleTools (Abilock, 2019), curation tools like Zotero (Corporation for Digital Scholarship, 2019) and Evernote (Evernote Corporation, 2019), notetaking tools like Mindmup (Sauf Pompiers, 2019) or Lucidchart (Lucid Software, 2019), presentation tools like Canva (“Canva,” 2019) and Prezi (“Prezi,” 2019) and finally, collaboration tools like Google docs and Nearpod (“Nearpod,” 2019).

Curriculum Needs to Adapt Too

The research is very clear about the fact that punitive measures alone do not reduce instances of AD (Eaton, Crossman, & Edino, 2018, Bertram Gallant, 2017). If ethical behaviour is in development from a young age, then teaching academic integrity, from a much younger age than we may currently be doing, needs to be part of the explicit curriculum. Not only the ethics of academic integrity, but also the digital and literacy skills students need to succeed, must to be written into the curriculum. We need to move from ‘how to stop them’ to ‘how to teach them’.

Bertram Gallant makes an important argument for a new approach and a curriculum that involves much of what we already agree is best practice, including fostering a learner-centred, partnering classroom environment, improved teacher efficacy and instruction, updated institutional support, and most important and perhaps revolutionary, to leverage instances of AD into teachable moments (2017).

Curriculum should also dictate that learning and assessment design must take into consideration formats that are less susceptible to AD (Burgason et al., 2019). Key strategies that will enable this deeper instruction include using technology to create a flipped classroom, engaging problem-based learning, peer instruction and team-based learning. These are just a few examples of best practice that creates rich, AD-resistant, ethical-enabling learning experiences.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations – Walking the Walk

AD is happening, it has changed but it is not going away. Giving students the ability to participate in their education ethically is crucial set of 21st century skills. As educators we need to ensure our personal practice is a model for students. We shouldn’t copy/paste ourselves, we should know, for example, the copyright laws that pertain to image usage and also understand that technology is not the reason for AD but a means for both engaging in it and creating learning experiences that will limit it.

Educators need to walk the walk. We need to know our students, we need to understand our own institutions Academic Integrity policies and live by them ourselves. We must push our professional practice, using technology with deeper understanding of its affordances in order to focus on teaching our students to learn, now and well into their futures.

Heraclitus might be impressed with the changes in 21st century learning, but regardless of how the learning environment continues to change, in the end it is the digital literacy skills, specifically those that focus on digital integrity, that will determine whether our students succeed.

“Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.” Heraclitus


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2019 Copyright © 2019 by Lisa Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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