Hello everyone, I am Britney Viechweg, Research Team lead for this year’s AIO Ambassadorship program. I am currently enrolled in the Public Administration and Governance Program. I am originally from the island of Grenada. Fun Fact: Grenada is known as the ‘Spice Isle’ of the Caribbean! I love my island and I am a ‘Spice Isle girl’ heart mind and soul. When I am not watching Korean dramas, I like to spend time going over my island’s history. I am grateful to the AIO for giving me the opportunity to take the lead on this amazing project, Our first ever student run blog! I know that this is the start of something big. Please join us on this journey to amplify the voices of students In the Academic Integrity Conversation.
Mental Health and Academic Integrity
By Britney Viechweg
May 5, 2021
‘We’re living in unprecedented times.’ This is a phrase that we have heard over and over within the last year, ever since the world as we know it took a turn for the worse, when we were hit with a global pandemic known as COVID19. Since then politicians, leaders, doctors, lawyers, professors, students, you name it, have been trying to adapt to a new virtual reality. This comes with numerous challenges. For the purpose of this blog I will delve specifically into Mental Health while Studying Online and being Academically Honest. My goal here is to talk to you student to student and to share my experience with my mental health challenges since moving fully online.
Personally, I've always preferred online learning, or at least I thought I did until now. A few years ago, the choice was completely mine as to whether I wanted to learn online or not or to choose a hybrid option. After COVID, that choice was gone. I now had to figure it out on my own, create my own routine, complete all the readings, learn the material myself and submit assignments weekly as well as sporadically during the semester. I always prided myself as being someone that was organized and well put together, but having to teach myself, plus complete assignments and participate in open online discussions quickly showed me that I was not as good as I thought.
I felt lost, the freedom I once felt like I had when I chose to study online was gone. I no longer felt in control, my organizational skills were at an all time low and I started to fall behind. This eventually trickled into my daily work and home life and I literally began to shut down from the inside. The only logical thought that came to mind was to fake it until I made it. In the space of 30 minutes I had devised a plan in my head to Google all my discussion questions, look for summaries of each chapter and quote those in the answers for my posts, I picked out which posts I would participate in for each course (enrolled in 4 at the time) and I decided to hand in all my assignments at least 1 day late and risk the 5 or 10 percent loss. I also decided that I was going to email each professor to “pick their brains” to see what information I could get from them on exactly what was needed for the assignments so I would only have to do the minimum when researching. Because mentally, with my full time 9-5, and my other Student Union commitment, plus my home commitments there was no way I could balance it all, and my first thought was - this online schooling is the issue. I created a justification list in my mind as to why I thought this plan was okay and I was set to implement it.
Academic Dishonesty doesn't always have to be plagiarism, or contract cheating etc, simple decisions like Googling an assigned question, or even piggybacking off someone else's words can all be forms of dishonesty, because at the end of the day, that idea, that paragraph, that answer, it was not fully your idea or thought, you did not put any work into formulating that answer, except maybe paraphrasing it.
Being in this online environment and feeling like you have to be a professor plus a student is very frustrating, but setting realistic goals, and actually accomplishing them is more rewarding. In the end I dropped 2 courses because 4 was not working for me - that might mean being in school one semester longer but it also means more time to study, to read, to research and to complete assigned tasks on time and with my own mind. Our minds can take us into some dark places when we’re placed in difficult situations. But one thing that I had to learn and want you to know is that you are not alone, and there’s always an alternative, help is available. Toronto Metropolitan University has lots of resources available that are free of charge that you can access by simply typing what you’re looking for into a search button. There are professionals waiting to help you, and students like yourself waiting to talk and walk you through what you can do to be successful and to escape from the traps of your mind. You can adjust to this “online thing,” you can bear it, but remember to seek help. Make yourself a priority and your academics and your integrity will automatically fall in line.
Matthew Lal is a fourth-year student at Toronto Metropolitan University, enrolled in the Politics and Governance B.A. Hons. program. Matthew’s good friends call him Antonio.
Keith Leung is a second year student in Public Health and Safety (FCS) and is a League of Legends fan #alwaysfnatic
Contract Cheating: A Student Perspective
By Matthew Lal and Keith Leung
May 5, 2021
The transition to a virtual learning environment due to the COVID-19 Pandemic has presented extraordinary challenges to students and academic institutions in adapting to this new environment. Parallel to the adoption of online learning is the proliferation of a particular form of academic dishonesty: contract cheating. The most common form of contract cheating is when a student pays a third-party to complete academic work and then submits it as their own. This has been identified as a growing challenge for higher education despite school policies that openly condemn such behaviours as academic dishonesty. Furthermore, the accessibility of contract cheating services through simple internet searches has exacerbated the use of such services.
Currently, approximately 3.5% of students have reportedly engaged in contract cheating (Rundle et al. 2019). It is clear that this form of misconduct does not constitute the norm, so Australian researchers conducted a study in 2019 which sought to understand why students do not engage in contract cheating. Among the most common reasons (n=1200) given were:
- the immorality of contract cheating
- the desire to achieve
- to avoid feeling of guilt
- potential consequences of getting caught (Rundle et al. 2019).
This suggests that if academic integrity can become the norm, and if it is coupled with a personal drive for success, contract cheating is unlikely to occur.
Given that “only 3.5%” of students have reportedly engaged in contract cheating, should it be considered to be a significant problem within higher education? Researchers at the University of Wollongong in Dubai offer a worrisome answer to this question:
Many students are unaware of what contract cheating is, or what behaviours constitute academically dishonesty. Indeed, contract cheating is not a new phenomenon, with “essay mills” having existed within western academia as early as the mid-nineteenth century. Moreover, many contract-cheating services are sold as “help services” with assignments or studying (Khan et al. 2020).
The researchers posited that a proactive approach to combating contract cheating is necessary, rather than merely reacting to instances of contract cheating within post-secondary institutions. For example, the use of government regulations, or employing plagiarism-detection services is insufficient. Following a three-year study, the researchers found that engaging with students through awareness campaigns develops awareness of academic dishonesty issues, including contract cheating. Moreover, consistent student engagement is essential within such campaigns, as their influence upon their peers can ultimately build a self-perpetuating culture of academic integrity within the student body (Khan et al. 2020).
These studies provide unique insights towards combating contract cheating and provide valuable strategies that can be applied to uphold academic integrity at Toronto Metropolitan University. The transition to online learning amid the pandemic has increased the need to engage students in new ways to develop that culture of integrity - and raise awareness for contract cheating. Toronto Metropolitan University’s Academic Integrity Office hosts regular events and workshops for academic integrity in which all Toronto Metropolitan University students, faculty, and instructors are welcome and encouraged to attend.
Students can visit https://www.torontomu.ca/academicintegrity/students/tutorial-episodes/ to watch some brief videos that include common situations where students can fall into academic misconduct. (Discontinued resource. Instead, play Academic Integrity in Space!) For more information on Toronto Metropolitan University’s policies on academic misconduct, students can visit https://www.torontomu.ca/academicintegrity/ to review and learn more about the essentials of academic integrity. Additionally, students can follow Toronto Metropolitan University’s Academic Integrity Office (AIO) on Instagram and Twitter to remain up to date with all matters concerning academic integrity.
Khan, Zeenath, Hemnani Reza, Raheja Priyanka, Joshy Sanjana Jefin. 2020. “Raising Awareness on Contract Cheating – Lessons Learned from Running Campus-Wide Campaigns.” Journal of Academic Ethics 18 (2020): 17-33. https://link-springer-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/10.1007/s10805-019-09353-1.
Rundle, Kiata, Guy Curtis, and Joseph Clare. 2019. “Why Students Do Not Engage in Contract
Cheating.” Frontiers in Psychology 10, no. 2229: 1-15. https://journals-scholarsportal-info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/details/16641078/v10inone/nfp_wsdneicc.xml.