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The importance of academic integrity: Q&A with IB Academic Integrity Manager, Celina Garza—Part one

Academic integrity is based upon honesty and all members of International Baccalaureate (IB) community are expected to be able to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. The whole IB community is expected to act honestly, responsibly and ethically. In this two-part Q&A session, we asked Celina Garza, IB Academic Integrity Manager, a few questions about the importance of academic integrity. Read the second blog here

What does it mean to act with integrity? 

Celina: It is not always clear what exactly “acting with integrity” means, and depending on different cultures and contexts, it can be said that each and every one of us has a different idea of what this concept means. Essentially, acting with integrity requires accepting the individual challenge of acting according to strict ethical values and feeling proud of such a decision, with the confidence that this builds relationships of trust with others.  

Integrity is a fundamental life skill and is included in the profile of the IB learning community. Among other things, this profile aims to develop people who are “principled”. All members of the IB community should “act with integrity and honesty, with a deep sense of fairness, justice and respect for the dignity and rights of people everywhere. We take responsibility for our own actions and their consequences.”  

How does the IB define ‘academic integrity’? 

Celina: The IB defines academic integrity as a guiding principle in education and a choice to act in a responsible way whereby others can have trust in us. It is the foundation for ethical decision-making and behaviour in the production of legitimate, authentic and honest scholarly work. 

Academic integrity does however extend beyond a definition and well-structured school’s policy; it should rather be part of an “ethical culture” of any educational institution – be that a primary school or a university. It is an obligation which must be embraced and fostered by the entire school community, so students continue their future life, whether in higher education or in the workplace, in strict adherence to this principle. 

How can IB World Schools promote academic integrity? 

Celina: Building and embracing a culture of academic integrity requires a strategy at school level that combines policies and good academic practice. The school administration must have a clear and defined vision of what it wants its school community members to achieve in the long term.  

A corner stone of the school’s strategy is the academic integrity policy, which should be created and supported by all members of the school community. The policy should clearly describe the responsibilities of the school administration, teachers and students; and what consequences will be faced when an incident against the policy occurs. 

 Teachers must be properly trained, and students must receive the necessary support to develop skills necessary in academic writing; not only in how to avoid plagiarism but also on how to create genuine and authentic work. 

Teachers are best placed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their students. Throughout the teaching cycle they can acquaint themselves with the writing style of their pupils and identify work that stands out in comparison with past performance. This is particularly significant given the many services found on the internet where “ghost writers” create documents in exchange for remuneration and when under pressure, students try to misrepresent the “commissioned” work as their own. 

Is the internet more of a help or a hindrance when it comes to academic integrity? 

Celina: In this digital age, where access to information is at our fingertips and where interaction with others across the world is so easy, we find that the internet is currently facilitating cheating. Of course, plagiarism has always been possible but prior to the internet, it took greater effort to transfer text from books/articles to student’s work. Nowadays, information can be easily transferred to an essay by utilising “copy & paste”. Social media has also made way for other forms of cheating such as sharing examination information live. Students should also be made aware of the risks of websites apparently offering “help”; many of those websites (business?) ask for a piece of work in exchange to gain access to the website’s repository. Some of those websites even inform users in the “small print” that those pieces of work will subsequently be submitted to a plagiarism detection software, which again, puts that work in the public domain. A further growing threat to academic integrity are those services offering to provide students with essays for money—known as essay mills. The companies use aggressive online marketing tactics, targeting students toward the end of the semester, when they feel the most pressure to meet deadlines. 

We need to help students understand the benefits of such opportunities but also the great risks associated with them. Through learning and teaching we can create a culture where academic integrity is understood and valued.