Academic Honesty: What is It?

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Students will be able to articulate and apply academic honesty guidelines in their written work.

Big Idea

Use open ended questions about potential cheating scenarios to open up a discussion and awareness of academic honesty policies and guidelines!

Notes for the Teacher

This academic honesty lesson is something that I have been using in my classes over the past few years to assist me in ensuring that students turn in original work.  This can be challenging for students to navigate in a science class where they are asked to collaborate on data collection but then expected to turn in individual, different write-ups analyzing that same data set.  This lesson utilizes large group discussion and pair collaborations to facilitate meaningful discussions about a sensitive topic before issues arise for individual students.  

This lesson also allows me to respond to incidents involving academic honesty with the confidence that students are aware of our school and classroom policies and the rationale and repercussions of their actions in this arena.  In addition, as we work through the year and discuss individual science studies and research practices, the connections between our policies and the societal expectations we have for research practices and researchers resonate on a deeper level for students as evidenced by the comments they make and the questions they ask throughout the year.

I find that using this lesson is effective for a three important reasons:

  • not all of the options on the quiz are obviously wrong and this leads to a productive discussion and debate within student groups that allows us to reach a group consensus on our norms
  • our large group conversation allows students to check their internal gut feeling about cheating scenarios and critique how closely they align with the official district policy and with my own personal classroom expectations 
  • our group conversation gives me as the classroom leader an opportunity to hear student questions and thinking about academic honesty which can help me frame future conversations about the broader issue of integrity, transparency, and honesty in all aspects of the work we do together and the work we analyze in many other contexts and places in our lives

The Classroom Flow: Taking the Academic Honesty Quiz

30 minutes

1.  Pass out the district/school site academic honesty policy to each student and announce that students will be working with their seat partner to complete an 'open notes' academic honesty quiz.

2.  Pass out one copy of the academic honesty quiz for each student pair.

  • Note:  You will notice that there are very few questions on this quiz.  However, each question has multiple answers that will require students to carefully deliberate and refer to their written policy document before determining whether or not that specific answer choice meets the academic honesty policy.  I intentionally do not go through the academic honesty policy before this activity; you will see in the next section how you can bring it in more explicitly in a way that is student centered and useful to them in the framework of this activity.


3.  Allow student pairs to discuss, debate, and collaborate on each question.  Tell the class that you will not be answering any questions at this time and that each pair should make their best guess and record any specific questions they have for our group conversation coming up.

  • Note: As you can see from the student sample of this quiz, the area that students will have the most questions about focuses on collaborative lab group and work.  I always stress the difference between collaborative discussion and data collection vs. data analysis and written conclusions.  They will also want your input as to how much parent involvement is ok in their written work (Can they type it up for their child?  Can they do grammar edits and email it to you the teacher for their child when they are too busy to do it themselves?).  This is a great opportunity to discuss the purpose of written work as an feedback tool and evaluative mechanism and about taking ownership for individual work within the whole group discussion outlined in the next section.

The Classroom Flow: Academic Honesty in Action Class Discussion

20 minutes

1.  Ask each lab group (3-4 students) to compare their answers and come up with the one question that they need clarification on from the class/you.

  •  Note:  Whenever possible in our class, I like to have students confer and compare answers.  Asking each group to whittle down their questions to one major dilemma that requires my oversight.  What I am trying to do here is help students prioritize their needs and gain some confidence in their own evaluative abilities.  Otherwise, students will want to double check every single line and that is not necessary for most students.   When a student group has a turn to share a question but their primary question has already been answered, that allows them to think about their next priority.  Asking for additional questions at the end of this discussion provides more support for individual groups that may have more points for clarification.


2.  Use the spokesperson protocol to go through each lab group's questions.  For each option you discuss, ask students to look for and share supporting evidence for their answer on the academic policy handout.  

  • Note: his is a great way to ensure that the policy is read out loud together during the class and it also gives you a chance to informally begin to introduce the idea of 'evidence' which is featured prominently in the Common Core State Standards for writing.


3  Ask for any other questions and clarifications the group might have about the issue of academic honesty and how it relates to lab work, written reports and research papers, and homework.