How To Discuss In Class

23 Ways to Jumpstart Academic Integrity Discussions in Your Class

Classroom discussion is an effective deterrent to academic dishonesty.  It is very powerful when instructors engage students in dialogues about the importance of integrity in their academic, personal and professional lives.  Such discussions encourage students to reflect upon their own values and actions, and to be active partners in promoting a culture of integrity both in and outside the classroom.
Below are ideas on how to engage students in discussions on academic integrity.  You can use these discussions to establish what is acceptable at McMaster University and what your expectations are for assignments in your course.  Please modify or adapt these ideas to suit your needs.

  1. Engage students in a dialogue on why academic integrity matters.  Some ideas include:
    • Break students into small groups. Have each group address why academic integrity matters to a particular stakeholder group (e.g., self, peers, professors, the university, alumni, employers, society). Discuss with larger group.
    • Discuss the value of a university degree and what it represents. Encourage students to think beyond the degree as only a credential, but as an indicator of a well-educated person.
    • Assign students to write a "top 5" list of reasons for why academic integrity matters. Then, in small groups, have the students compare their responses and put together the top 5 reasons the group believes are most important.
    • Discuss what it means to be a member of a scholarly community. This could include what it means to create knowledge and why issues of trust, responsibility, and integrity are essential to that process.
  2. Stage a debate on an issue such as “academic integrity only matters if you get caught”.  Divide students into three teams: pro, con, and evaluators.  The evaluator team’s role is to assess the soundness of the arguments.
  3. Give students multiple scenarios of academic dishonesty. Have students put themselves in the place of the offending student(s) and ask them to come up with other ways to resolve the situation that would NOT result in integrity violations.
  4. Present this scenario: your roommate turned in a paper downloaded from a free essay site. Ask your students: How would you describe this person's character? How would you describe this person's capabilities? What kind of employee do you think this person will be when s/he enters the professional workplace?

  5. Discuss the importance of codes of conduct. Have students develop a code of conduct for your course.
  6. Distribute a list of quotations about academic integrity, such as (from the Centre for Academic Integrity website):

    “Every time I’ve done something that doesn’t feel right, it’s ended up not being right.”  - Mario Cuomo
    “To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.” - Confucius
    “My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and those who take the credit.  He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there.”  - Indira Ganhdi
    “What is right is often forgotten by what is convenient.”  - Bodie Thoene
    Ask students which quotes most resonate with them and why.  For the next class, ask each student to bring three additional quotations that closely represent their own views on integrity.  Discuss.

  7. Instruct students to read the Academic Integrity Policy before coming to class. Possible assignments:
    • Give them a brief quiz. Have students self-correct. Discuss.
    • Ask students to write down three things they learned (or some other reflective assignment in relation to reading the policy).
    • Provide a scenario of a policy violation. Ask students to write down what penalty should be rendered and why. In the next class, share some of the outcomes.
  8. Draw upon examples of integrity and breaches of integrity from current events, television programs, movies, etc., particularly examples related to the subject matter of your course. Use these scenarios in class to jumpstart discussion. This is an easy way to discuss both academic and professional integrity in the context of your class.
  9. Assign a case about an ethical issue facing an entry-level employee.
  10. Discuss a high-profile case of plagiarism.
  11. Discuss the growing importance of teams in the workplace. Engage students in discussion about team members pulling their own weight (and not) and making valuable contributions (and not). Then have your students develop a list of guidelines that will be used to govern/grade each team member's participation in group projects in your class. Tell students that they will be responsible for holding each other accountable to those guidelines.
  12. Ask students why they believe students cheat. Write down the students' list of reasons on the blackboard or overhead and have students prioritize the reasons. Ask them if any reasons are acceptable to excuse cheating. Next class, distribute the list of common reasons/excuses for academic dishonesty that your students developed. Break students into teams of two and assign each team two or more of the excuses. Have each team a) evaluate the excuses and b) develop alternatives to acting dishonestly.
  13. Give students this scenario: It is two days before your paper is due and you haven't started. What are some honest ways to resolve your predicament?
  14. Devote a class period to academic integrity, offering samples of students' problems and errors that you personally have encountered in your classes.
  15. Assign students an online plagiarism test such as or  Instruct them to take the test as many times as it takes to achieve a perfect score.  In the next class, have students write down two learning points they found most valuable.  Pick up those written comments.  Discuss a few with the entire class.
  16. Include questions about plagiarism on a quiz or exam.
  17. Have students peer-edit each other's work, focusing on plagiarism.
  18. Have students debate the idea that "students should not be held responsible for plagiarism if they don't understand it." Use that debate to discuss unintentional plagiarism and why writers (including students) must be held accountable for plagiarism even when it may be unintentional. Engage students in a discussion about their responsibilities.
  19. Show examples of adequate and inadequate paraphrasing. Discuss.
  20. Give students a passage to paraphrase. Have students trade papers, do peer reviews, and revise papers based on the feedback. Give feedback to the class, then have students re-write again. Discuss key challenges students experience trying to paraphrase.
  21. In front of the class, illustrate how students sometimes "compile" papers by cutting and pasting selections from other sources and making superficial changes. Discuss.
  22. Present scenarios of collaboration issues your students might face, such as:
    • lab report in a science class
    • a take-home test
    • a homework assignment that it is OK to discuss, but must be WRITTEN individually
    • a group member is not pulling his/her share, but taking credit
    Ask students to develop possible ways to approach the situation and recommend a course of action. Discuss what is and is not OK for your courses. Discuss how students must know (and ask!) what is OK for EACH course.

  23. Present a scenario such as this one: "Your roommate reviewed your paper and: Circled errors. Corrected errors. Re-wrote a few sentences. Re-wrote several large passages. Gave you ideas for how to better construct your argument." Ask students which of these actions are OK or not. Have your students grapple with collaboration that is acceptable and collaboration that crosses the line. Be specific about what is and is not OK for your course.

This handout was copied and modified with permission from a Pre-Conference Session presented at the 2006 Center for Academic Integrity Conference by Renee Gravois Lee and Lisa M. Burns of Quinnipiac University, Hamden, Connecticut.