Thursday, March 4, 2021

ICAI Annual Conference 2021

There are advantages to the pandemic. Many conferences that I would have been otherwise unable to attend in person are now online, so I acutally can go. I do miss the smalltalk (and the inside information no one would dare tell me in writing), especially over breakfast at the conference hotel or with a glass of wine at dinner. But Zoom we must, so we have to make the best of it.

Luckily, the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) is making the best of Zoom by keeping the chat window open during all of the sessions. There have been a number of very lively discussions going on there! I want to report on the sessions I attended (or watched the video later). During one session I realized that my notes from a conference 11 years ago were actually quite useful for determining when a discussion had begun. That has encouraged me to do a detailed discussion of this conference! 

1 March 2021

  • Amanda Mckenzie and Camilla J. Roberts opened the pre-conference explaining what ICAI is. With over 1000 attendees, there were many first-time participants.
  • Amanda Mckenzie, Camilla J. Roberts, Valerie Denney, and James Orr (all board members of ICAI) then gave a short overview of what academic integrity entails. The six fundamental values of academic integrity that ICAI defines are a commitment to: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage. 
  • Jen Simonds, Maureen O'Brien, Kelly Lockwood, Carissa Pittsenberger, and Christian Moriarty opened the conference with a panel on project COIN, the Consortium for Online Integrity. Some of the points they made was how important it is that we clearly communicate to students what we expect from them.
  • Since Thomas Lancaster was on parallel with my talk, I watched the video later. Surprise, he was not talking about contract cheating! There were many other people discussing that topic. He talked about a series of modules in STEMM developed at Imperial College London including one on academic integrity. It surprised me that the students in his initial course did not realize that academic integrity was not just something for students, but involved all participants in teaching, learning, and research!
  • Tomáš Foltýnek and I presented the results of our test of support tools for plagiarism detection, which we published in 2020
  • I was fascinated by the talk by Olu Popoola on "Detecting Contract Cheating Using Investigative Linguistics." I have been doing some stylometry myself recent years, and it turns out there is actually a term for one of the strategies VroniPlag Wiki uses for finding potential plagiarism sources in doctoral dissertations: Bibliography forensics. Olu identified 164 linguistic features of text and then boiled these down to 32 that he applied to a corpus he has with 250 student papers and 75 papers known to have been written by ghostwriters. They were split into 500 word chunks and then the question asked: can it be predicted when a paper is written by a student and when it is written by a ghostwriter? Of course, he can't do this 100 % correctly, but he did boil it down to 8 significant components that I was not quick enough to write down but which he kindly has blogged about.
  • David Ison (with Greer Murphy and Alexis Ramsey-Tobienne) offered a workship about "Assessing Academic Integrity from a Faculty Perspective." They were asking for advice on aspects of the ICAI McCabe Survey 2.0 which is going live soon. This is an attempt to get more current data on academic integrity issues. Don McCabe did many surveys in the past on academic integrity, he passed away in 2016 so I am glad they are continuing this work at ICAI.
  • I thought there was a W(h)ine Bar this evening, but it is tomorrow, so I had my wine while addressing my overflowing email inbox.

2 March 2021

  • I started the day off attending the Canadian Consortium Meeting. Since my mother was Canadian, I am officially Canadian as well and wanted to hear their perspective on academic integrity. Wow! There are four regional networks of academic integrity officers and researchers that have formed. They tend to be rather informal, exchanging war stories and best practices, and usually meeting up during the ICAI meetings. What struck me was that when presenting, the speakers would first state the indigeneous peoples upon whose lands their university resides, a so-called land acknowledgement. What a respectful way to make it clear that we realize that the lands used to belong to others, and to keep their memories alive!
  • David Rettinger & co held a keynote panel on the validation of the McCabe Survey 2.0. They have really gone to lengths to focus on getting the wording of the questions to be unambiguous, and to make them translatable so that this instrument can be offered in many different languages. This will enable a good comparison between countries, I really look forward to the results. I will certainly try to convince my university to a) join ICAI and b) use the survey.
  • Cath Ellis, Kane Murdoch and Mark Ricksen organized a session on contract cheating detection. They get a prize for dedication to the cause for being online at 4 am local time in order to present their work. They first noted that people don't tend to report contract cheating suspicions, because they think it is difficult to prove anything. They listed some of the whack-a-mole things universities do, such as blocking essay mill sites, trying to outlaw such businesses, making 2D barcode stickers with a link to the academic integrity site to stick over the stickers of the companies in the bathrooms, etc. I learned about a company called Chegg that has apparently become very popular during the pandemic. For about 15 $ a month students have access to many questions and answers, often linked to a textbook. I tried it by idling typing in the textbook I use for my class: And there they were, answers to pretty much all of the questions the textbook asks!
    They noted some hints one can use to look for contract cheating: students using processes not taught in class, multiple similar wrong answers, sudden improvement in a student's work, alternative labeling or notation that differs from in-class notation, or identical idiosyncratic answers. What shocked me was that students also upload photos of exam questions, the answers are often back within 6-10 minutes!
  • So I went to the next session on Chegg with Kelly Ahuna and Loretta Frankovitch. They noted that Chegg does work with faculty to take down intellectual property and to let the universities know if students were using the site to cheat. The company will share with the university what it knows: Name, email, and IP-address of the person posing the question with a time-stamp; name, email, and IP-address of people who viewed the answers; link to the page, etc. etc. My European privacy antennae were bleeping like crazy! 
  • Rick Robinson and Jason Openo spoke aber how reporting academic integrity violations impacts faculty relationships and in particular how this affects faculty on an emotional level.
  • Tonight was the W(h)ine Bar, so I poured a glass and chatted with some very nice folks!

3 March 2021

  • Jen Simonds, Mariko L. Carson, Amy Mobley, Sharon Spencer, Wendy Williams-Sumpter, and Jillian Orfeo held a keynote panel on implementing a new academic integrity policy. I realize that American, Canadian, Australian, and UK institutions are miles ahead of many European institutions that I am familiar with in having already developed academic integrity policy and are now *improving* their policies! They have offices with many people who work in academic integrity, cultivating good academic practice in students and faculty alike. We have a lot to learn.
  • I wanted to know more about this Chegg thing, so I attended Tricia Bertram Gallant and Marilyn Derby's session on "Expanding the Conversation about Chegg". They point out that these sites offer something we don't at university: 24/7 help. Professors and tutors are not available at 3 am (well, most aren't) when the student pulling an all-nighter needs a quick answer to a question. And once you are in, you find more and more easy answers. They had some ideas for dealing with the rapid turn-around on Chegg like splitting an exam into two parts time-wise, or even not letting students go back to previous questions. I do find this pedagogically questionable, however. I don't want to stress students, I want to find out how much, if anything, they learned in my course. Tricia has started a discusson on 24/7 help on the ICAI Blog.
  • Jennifer Lawrence and Kylie Day from the University of New England in Australia organized a session about "Walking the Line Between Academic Integrity and Privacy with Online Exams." I was very interested in this topic, as I just don't see why we should have the power to make students show us their rooms in a 360° pan, let us listen in to what they are doing and record a video of them for the full time of the exam. Since they are primarily an online university, they say that the students know that this will be the way the exams are proctored when they join the school. And since their students are all over the world, they feel they need this. There is a proctor paid for at the company they use who is responsible for watching 8-10 students and jumping in when the monitorings system detects "suspicious behavior" or something. This is such a "1984" scenario that they are getting students used to, I find it highly unethical even if it is useful to the university. I find it troubling how easily the students seem to accept this proctoring online (according to the presenters). 
  • Bob Ives spoke on "Applying the Hofstede Model of National Culture to Academic Integrity". Hofstede defined six cultural dimensions: Power Distance, Individidualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long-Term Orientation, Indulgence. If you want to see how different countries are seen on this scale, there's a web site for it. He looked at which dimensions could predict whether students are open to using paper mills, asking other students for help, or asking friends/family for help. I came in late, so I didn't catch how large his data collection was or how he sampled the data. 
  • And then there was another networking session, mostly discussing: Chegg!


4 March 2021

  • I started off the day attending the COIN discussion about technology in online instruction. I was completely shocked to understand how deeply US institutions distrust their students! They call it "being fair", but they want to use text-matching software on *everything* a student does, including what they contribute to a discussion board! And many permit the students to test a draft of their papers before they submit. That goes strongly against my understanding of what an education is about! We should be trusting our students, seeing them as beginners that we need to train - and to respect! Making people worry about "accidently" plagiarizing instead of teaching them how to write scientifically seems problematic to me. 
  • The keynote was on Stories of Resilience and Academic Integrity during the Pandemic, with a number of participants on the panel. Students Hiranniya Yogaratnarajah and Dennis Tzavaras gave a great perspective from the studnets' point of view! Hiranniya said that students realized that professors where humans too with kids and cats and what-not. They also organized a discussion with professors about academic integrity when they attended college! That must have been fun. Dennis noted that he and his fellow students are so grateful to the professors for making emergency remote instruction possible despite the pandemic. The important thing for everyone is to learn to ask for help if you need it.
    I asked about what we need to do more of, what to do less of? They answered that many students want to know how to say no to  friends when they ask for help in cheating. They noted that so many students are scared to talk to their professors for some reason. We need to open up that channel of communication and include students in the academic integrity conversation. 
  • Fiona O'Riordan and Gillian Lake from Dublin City University spoke about an academic integrity awareness compaign organized across their university. Their slides are publicly available at
  • Zachary Dixon spoke about "Triangulating Academic Misconduct Online," digital mutations of classic misconduct. Advantages of digital misconduct: digital analysis methods can be applied. They have a system, CourseVillain, that crawls online coursework sites to find university contect and to auto-populate a "copyright infringement" forms! It's still half web application, half desktop application so it is not ready for prime time. But it is doable! They analysed how many artefacts could be found for a number of classes and found a significant amout of artefacts available onine. 
  • Even though I know the journal and all of the people on the editorial board, I attended the session on "Publishing Your Academic Integrity Research: Advice From the Editorial Board of the International Journal for Educational Integrity": Tomáš Foltýnek, Zeenath Khan, Thomas Lancaster, Ann Rogerson, and Sarah Elaine Eaton. I posed the nasty question of why they are with SpringerNature and charging 800 € APC. The authors are paid for by their institutions, the peer reviewers, the editorial board. SpringerNature has its corporate offices in Berlin, but sits in Luxemburg for tax purposes and thus only pays a minimum tax on its earnings. None of that tax feeds back into the institutions that pay us. Scholarly publishing is broken and needs fixed, fast. I realize that one single journal can't fix the problem, but I find it important to point out this problem.
  • I had to attend Muberra Sahin, Abigail Pfeiffer, Carissa Pittsenberger, and Jessi Bullock's session on "Identifying Authenticity Issues in Student Papers Using a Plagiarism Checker" of course! They broke out into 4 sub sessions, I joined Muberra Sahin who showed us how they deal with paraphrased papers that are not directly findable with the system they use at their university. They hand-color (!) similar text, so I showed them the similarity checker that a student of mine made that might make their life easier.  
And then the conference was over - I met some new people, learned a lot of new stuff, had some great discussions: Thanks to the organizers for getting such a great virtual conference off the ground!

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