Author: Dema Talib

Dema Talib is the Project Lead of The Academic Wellness Project. For info please visit the "About Us" section of TAWP.ca

Instructors’ Perspectives on Academic Wellness – Featuring Dr. Kathleen Fortune

It is important to view academic integrity from the light of members who deal with cases of violations on a regular basis. During this interview, special guest 👩🏼‍💻Dr. Kathleen Fortune is featured, who is the Co-Chair of the Faculty of Health Panel Hearings on Academic Integrity.

Keep reading to find out more about Dr. Fortune’s perspectives on matters related to academic integrity, mental health, students’ success and more!

What is Academic Integrity and Why is it Important?🤔

Academic integrity refers to a set of guiding principles or values that are essential to all scholarly activities.

These values include trust, respect, fairness, honesty, and responsibility. Students and faculty are part of a university community and a broader intellectual community. When all of us follow these principles, we can have more confidence and trust in the information we produce and share with one another. For students, this means completing tests and assignments honestly, without engaging in impersonation, cheating, or plagiarism.

It matters because university education is about more than simply memorizing information. It is also about learning how to conduct oneself in an ethical and professional manner.

It matters because when some students gain an unfair advantage through academic dishonesty, they diminish not only the integrity of their classmates’ degrees but also of the institution as a whole 🏫. 

What is Your role as an instructor in upholding Academic Integrity and Academic Wellness?🤔

My role as an instructor is first and foremost to educate my students about academic integrity.

Many of my students, particularly those in their first year, have a limited understanding of all that academic integrity involves. I can’t expect them to meet standards they aren’t aware of. For me, an important part of this educational component is explaining to them why academic integrity matters, not just that it does. I speak to them about fairness and ethics, how much I value these principles, and I emphasize that I’ve structured the course in such a way that they shouldn’t feel the need to violate academic integrity. I model academic integrity values in my teaching practice and with the assistance of my incredible teaching assistants, I try to support students through the term. That’s the easier part.

The harder part is trying to monitor for violations of academic integrity and then deciding on the appropriate course of action to take (e.g., remedial and/or punitive).

It’s an ongoing challenge to keep up with the expanding options students have for engaging in academic dishonesty and the growing market for such behaviour (e.g., paper mills and websites to share previously submitted assignments). I find myself torn between wanting to uphold academic honesty and not wanting to use up all my energy in the pursuit of academic dishonesty. I would much rather put that energy into engaging lectures.

I outline the steps that will be taken if my TA’s discover academic dishonesty, and I emphasize that these punishments are typically worse than a small late penalty they might receive, or a lower mark on a test.

That said, this is one of my least favourite parts of my job. I became an educator to support students, not to spend my time engaging in surveillance and punishment. I think it boils down to mutual respect. However naïve it might seem, I feel that if students are educated about academic integrity, and feel supported and respected, they are less likely to violate these policies.

My role in upholding academic wellness is more challenging. In order to help students gain a sense of self-efficacy, I design my courses to include some scaffolding, so that they feel seen and supported. I try to model openness to hearing about their lived experiences, a recognition that they are under tremendous pressure, and are experiencing a lot of anxiety. The challenge for me is that so much of that feels out of my control. I want to fix all of the issues they are struggling with, but I can’t, but I do try to balance upholding academic standards with providing support and empathy. I’m not sure I always get that balance right.

What are Some Misconceptions that you Believe Students May Have Regarding Academic Integrity?🤔

I think one of the key issues is not knowing that they can ask for help, or perhaps not being supported when they do.

Students are under tremendous pressure academically, and in many cases, economically and socially. The deadlines start to pile up, anxiety increases, and procrastination often follows.  I suspect that results in poor decision-making and the belief that cheating or plagiarism is their only viable option. In that place of pressure, anxiety, and panic, they are bombarded with ads from the emerging market of opportunistic companies offering them shortcuts and easy solutions. It’s not surprising that many students are tempted.

I think that issue comes back to the lack of education and awareness many students have about what constitutes academic dishonesty and why it matters.

Some students might think that these policies are just annoying, arbitrary rules that serve a no broader purpose. Of course, as educators, we can say, “It was in the syllabus” but we know that isn’t enough. Students do need to be accountable for their actions, but they need to be fully informed before we can hold them to these policies.  

What are the Best Practices Students can Use to Avoid Academic Misconduct?🤔

If it is not your original thought or writing, cite the source you got that information from.

It sounds simple, but just following that one rule would resolve many academic integrity issues. There is a huge distinction between failure to properly cite (in APA format, for example) a journal article or book and failing to cite a source at all. It is so easy to lose track of citations, especially when you’re writing a lengthy paper, so cite as you go along. Ask your TA or instructor questions about citations.

Speak to your instructor if your personal circumstances are such that you are feeling unable to meet a deadline.

We can’t always extend the deadline, but we may be able to compromise on late penalties, and the very worst possible outcome is that we say no and at least we know you cared enough to reach out.

Avoid relying on fellow classmates or WhatsApp chat groups as your only source of information about a course.

While they can be great sources of study support, they can also be sources of misinformation, and not everyone in the group may have the same motivations or intentions. I’ve seen far too many cases of honest, hardworking students sharing their work with classmates in these groups, only to find themselves caught up in cases of academic dishonesty. Helping others does not require you to send them your work. 

Do you Notice Any Trends Between Students’ Mental Health as it Reflects on Their Academic Success in the Course?🤔

That’s a tough one for me to answer because I generally tend to interact with more students who are struggling with their mental health. I teach large classes and I might only hear from 10% of my students over the year. Many of the students who do reach out are struggling with anxiety and depression, so that skews my perception. I’ve been teaching for about 10 years and every year I hear from more students who are struggling. Undoubtedly some part of that mirrors the existing data that suggests anxiety and depression are increasing steadily among teens/young adults.  

There is so much pressure on young people these days and so much uncertainty.

That’s an incredibly difficult combination of challenges that are further magnified for students facing economic challenges and those who lack social support. The pressure keeps increasing and yet despite our best intentions, we are not adequately arming our students with the coping skills and resources they need to manage this increasing pressure. 

Dr. Kathleen Fortune

Dr. Kathleen Fortune is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at York University. She teaches Introduction to Psychology, Psychology of Women, and the Psychology of Death & Dying. Her previous research focused on gender-role double standards, social stigma, prejudice, and concealment.

As a teaching-stream faculty member, her current focus is on teaching pedagogy, specifically focusing on the challenges faced by students making the transition from high-school to university. She currently serves as co-chair of the CEAS Subcommittee on Panel Hearings on Academic Honesty. 

What is The Academic Wellness Project?

What is the definition of Academic Wellness?🤔

Academic Wellness is a new term defined by The Academic Wellness Project (TAWP). It is a multifaceted concept encompassing two important topics; academic integrity and mental health.


Academic Wellness

/akəˈdɛmɪk/ – /ˈwɛlnəs/

Noun

The ability to successfully face academic challenges around academic integrity and mental wellbeing.

What is the motivation behind Academic Wellness?🤔

Mental health influences many parts of an individual’s life. For students, that also includes parts of their lives relating to  academia. Similarly, students’ progress in academia also influences one’s mental health. This is the relationship The Academic Wellness Project addresses. 🔗

There are many challenges ✋⛔️ that students may face in their academic journey.

Some examples include challenges around time management, transitioning and adapting to university and its demands, mental health, physical health, relationships, budgeting and financing, and effective studying. 

The COVID-19 pandemic exaggerated these challenges and also introduced new challenges to both students and instructors. Students had to adapt to ongoing instructional and assessment changes triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the ongoing shifts between remote learning and in-person learning, and everything in between. 

Academic integrity specifically is a crucial point whose misconduct may prevent students from continuing their education or negatively impact their education and career choices as a consequence. Academic misconduct may also negatively students’ mental health in terms of stress, anxiety, depression, self-esteem and perceptions, and much more.

For these reasons, TAWP highlights that it is important for student affairs professionals and administrators to not only acknowledge the importance of academic integrity and mental wellbeing, but also the stem of current issues around academic wellness.

Visit the Resource Hub for resources that you can and stay tuned for TAWP’s next upcoming projects!

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