Laura Dent is Epigeum’s Director of Publishing and Learning Design, responsible for developing publishing strategy across our portfolio and implementing learning design principles into our programmes. She oversaw development of our Academic Integrity programme, which was published in March 2019.
Underpinning all that we do at Epigeum is learning design. Informed by the specific user groups and challenges associated with each area of training, it ensures the efficacy and consistency of our interactive, online programmes. In this article, I will break down the learning design that forms the basis of our Academic Integrity programme – exploring how the decisions we made during its development allow it to be used to support the university community in its entirety.
Why academic integrity?
We work closely with universities to research and understand their strategic priorities and training needs. Based on feedback we’d received from universities, and increasing media coverage of academic misconduct cases and ‘contract cheating’ services, it was clear that the higher education sector was facing a significant challenge in this area. Together with Lead Advisor Associate Professor Tracey Bretag, we set out to develop a programme that could help universities tackle this issue proactively. We worked in collaboration with a panel of expert authors and reviewers, and over twenty higher education institutions, who were instrumental in shaping and reviewing every stage of the finished programme.
Working with Tracey, we formulated a set of four core principles that would underpin the choices we’d make for the programme’s development:
- Promoting the principles of academic integrity should take precedence over simply detecting plagiarism or reacting to other cheating behaviours
- Academic integrity is the business of students, faculty, and administrative staff – in fact, it’s the business of everyone who works within the university
- Good academic integrity education can and should improve the teaching and learning experiences that take place within our institutions of higher learning
- Academic integrity education develops skills and competencies that can be readily transferred to our participants’ broader lives and future careers
With this holistic approach in mind, we decided to develop two courses – one for members of staff, and one for students – each tailored to the unique needs of their audience, but sharing core messages about the importance of academic integrity. The groundwork for an institution-wide programme was laid down.
The next stage of our learning design planning involved holding a workshop where we considered the different user groups and their various needs and priorities. What pre-conceptions might they have, or areas of resistance? Are there any tensions in the subject area that we could usefully explore and ‘exploit’ in our learning design? It was important to ensure that we understood the differences between the staff and student user groups generally, but that we also explored different personas within these groups. For example, how do the needs of an academic staff member differ from those of a student services staff member? Thinking about the varying needs, priorities, and levels of prior knowledge would help us to create the most effective approach.
From the workshop, we developed the pedagogical framework that underpins every module in the Academic Integrity programme. It is made up of four stages, and is designed to engage the learner, appropriately scaffold the learning, and give opportunities for recall and reflection throughout:
1. How do we ‘hook’ users at the start of their learning journey?
Challenge or reflection:
We always start the module with a challenge or reflection – this is to engage the learner, and to personalise the learning in order to help with recall. One approach can be an interactive poll: users are invited to express their own opinions or experiences, then see how their response compares in the wider context of their peers (answers are anonymous). This can be a good activity to highlight the fact that concerns are shared, and priorities are similar. It can be particularly effective to re-introduce the same poll question at a later stage of the module or course, to see if users’ responses have changed in light of the training they’ve undertaken in the interim.
2. How do we convey key information in an engaging way?
After presenting a challenge or reflection, we move to an ‘input’ stage, where we convey essential information in short, accessible ‘chunks’. For example, we have found animations to be particularly impactful when conveying processes or wider contexts (such as the retro gaming style animation in one of our student modules!), while infographics or labelled diagrams are useful when you need to signpost key information. We regularly integrate video interviews with peers, as this personal element helps to build associations in long-term memory. We knew that it would be important to present perspectives that felt relevant to all users, so we introduced options for members of staff to select the video content that is most pertinent to their type of role, and for students to select video content that matches their discipline or specific kinds of projects that they might be undertaking.
3. How do we deepen understanding?
Next, comes the ‘comprehension’ phase – essentially, formative testing to give the user opportunities to recall and apply key information. We use a wide range of activities, such as interactive ‘drag and drop’ tasks that allow users to consider and categorise examples, or scenario-based activities and realistic ‘mini challenges’ that provide opportunities to apply key concepts. Again, we decided to give members of staff the option to select scenarios that are most relevant to their role – presenting a challenge that they could realistically face as part of their job – as well as inviting them to reconsider a situation from an alternative perspective, such as from the point of view of a policy-maker. In the later student modules – when students are further through their university journey and embarking on more complex projects – activities give users opportunities to consider how confident they feel with integrity concepts, reflect on how best practices relate to their own context, and decide how they can take ownership of their next steps. When giving users the opportunity for recall, it is important to provide feedback, as well as the option to try again, or reconsider the activity from a different perspective. We have also included customisable ‘Useful Advice’ pods throughout each module, so that an institution subscribing to the programme can include their own guidance, documentation, and links.
4. How do we consolidate what has been learnt?
Lastly, each module ends with a more complex scenario-based activity or set of activities that draw on at least two of the module’s learning outcomes. With these activities, we aimed to highlight the nuances and tensions that are inherent in this area – something which our subject experts felt should be made very clear in the programme. These activities also allow users to “safely” explore situations in which their academic integrity could be compromised, and model or practise the skills and behaviours that particular situations demand. As with the ‘comprehension’ activities, we always give automated feedback on users’ responses to each scenario, with options to try again.
All modules are developed around a set of clear learning outcomes, and include summative multiple-choice quizzes, as well as references and recommended reading lists. They are also supported by an extensive ‘Instructor Manual’, which provides a range of suggestions for blended learning activities and additional videos to complement the online content. We often find that universities choose to embed our online training as part of wider initiatives, and we wanted to support them in this area as much as possible.
In this way, we believe that we have been able to create a programme that fully responds to the needs of all members of staff and students – allowing them to access training that specifically relates to the situations they are most likely to encounter “in real life”, and preparing them to demonstrate integrity within their academic community and beyond.
Discover Laura’s Top 10 Tips for developing effective learning design.
Academic Integrity provides interactive, multidisciplinary training for students at various stages of their studies, and members of teaching and professional administrative staff. With coverage of key topics such as contract cheating, assessment design, and group work, this mobile-responsive programme can be embedded into your Virtual Learning Environment or accessed on our dedicated online platform.