Messaging at the End of the Semester: One University’s Approach

Like many institutions around the U.S. and Canada, my university has seen an unprecedented rise in the number of academic dishonesty incidents involving social messaging apps (GroupMe and WhatsApp) this year. Fortunately, our institutional leadership took this seriously and formed a task force comprised of colleagues from different vantage points at the university. Our goal was straightforward: produce recommendations for addressing (1) how to deter mass academic dishonesty incidents facilitated by social messaging apps,  (2) how to reduce the impact to a course when they occur, and (3) to use this opportunity to further promote academic integrity on our campus.

The group was comprised of representatives from:

  • Student Government Leadership
  • Faculty Council Committee on Teaching and Learning.
  • The Registrar
  • The University Testing Center
  • The Student Disability Center
  • Student Conduct Services
  • Faculty Committee on Scholastic Standards
  • The Academic Integrity Program

Over the course of four weeks, we met for intensive conversations on the subject, tried to understand the problem, listened to the viewpoints shared by the members, and crafted steps the campus could take to reduce the number of potential incidents as we plunged towards finals (which, on our campus, would be conducted after transitioning to a period of remote learning post- spring break).

In the end, we settled on two mass emails: one to students and one to faculty. The recommendations we delivered are not groundbreaking, but they do serve as a clear plan for how to best weather the next few weeks. These emails accomplish multiple things:

  1. Increase awareness of the apps and the challenge they posed to a course’s final assessment in a remote environment.
  2. Give faculty clear steps to help prevent or limit academic dishonesty.
  3. Communicate to students and faculty the value our institution places on academic integrity.

You can find a copy of our letter to the faculty here.

You can find a copy of our letter to students here.

I’m sharing here so that anyone in a position similar to the one we were in can use these emails as the starting point for their own approach. If you find something helpful in this, please feel free to use and adapt as you see fit.

A note on disseminating these letters:

  • We planned for the faculty letter to be shared via Faculty Council representatives and the leadership structures of the different colleges.
  • The student letter is intended to come from our Dean of Students, cosigned by our campus student government leadership.

Next steps:

We are following this coordinated communication with a series of ads designed and promoted by our university social media group. These will run during the last weeks of our semester and through finals.

Once the semester is over, the task force is moving to a permanent status. Our hope is to continue leveraging the different viewpoints and ideas to keep our campus ahead of the next big disruptive issue in academic integrity. The future is uncertain, but approaching it with a sense of resolve (and a little bit of hope) seems right.

About the Author
Joseph F. Brown, Ph.D. is the Director of the Academic Integrity Program at Colorado State University and teaches in the CSU Honors Program. Originally an English professor, his published work has appeared in Extrapolation and the Journal of Popular Culture. When he writes publicly, his ideas are his own and should not be construed to be official communication from his employer. All views presented are those of the author.
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