Slaying the dragons of fake news and plagiarism through academic honesty

The Ostrava International School (TOIS) empowers students to uphold the values of academic integrity and fairness. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 26.08.2021 15:00:00 (updated on 19.04.2023) Reading time: 5 minutes

As schools around the world continue to integrate online resources into daily teaching and learning practice, educators have become even more aware of how surprisingly easy it can be for students to fall into the traps of plagiarism, collusion, or unauthorized use of information found on the Internet.

The current environment of fake news, misinformation, hyperbole, and other distractions makes it increasingly difficult for even the most dedicated students to find usable information, make meaningful connections, and produce a truthful work of their own.

The Ostrava International School (TOIS) became one of the first schools in Europe to face this head-on and appoint an Academic Honesty Coordinator, to put in place a pro-active and supportive Academic Honesty program.

We reached out to Lasse Nielsen, who took on the role of TOIS Academic Honesty Coordinator in 2019, and has since become an acknowledged leader in the International Schools community for his approach to helping students understand the power of developing and taking credit for their own thoughts, and avoiding the professional and academic minefields of just “letting things slide.”

Stronger Focus on Guidance Rather than Punishment

“The truth is that many students are simply never exposed to the concept of Academic Honesty in any meaningful way,” says Nielsen. “In fact, very often, students come to our school from environments, both at school and at home, where they are actually encouraged to cheat or bend the rules a bit. We try to help the students understand that that kind of short-term gain works against them in the long run.”

In analyzing the core reasons behind academic dishonesty at school between 2017-2019, Nielsen was surprised to discover that violations were unintentional over 70% of the time.

“This was a startling revelation to us, and totally shifted the way we approached working with our students. Rather than focusing on punishing the violators, we decided to celebrate the research and learning process. We came to understand that we must equip our students with the right tools so that they can enjoy the path of discovering, making connections and achieving something truly their own,” said Nielsen.

Today, the staff at TOIS gets trained regularly in Academic Honesty, and then works quickly to empower new students to take pride in their work and express themselves. To start with, students of all ages look at the difference between intentional and unintentional dishonesty.

For younger students, this can take the form of ethical grounding through stories, animation, play-acting, and perhaps surprisingly, conferences with those parents who have a tendency to help their children a little too much with their homework and assignments.

“We look at it as a form of empowerment so that kids have the tools to make the right choices,” said Renáta Paličková, the TOIS Head of Primary School.

At the TOIS Secondary School, both students and staff use an application called TurnItIn – a powerful tool used by universities to check doctoral thesis research – that has a strong algorithm to check the similarity of a particular work or essay with other content on the web.

The application is a useful tool that students can use as they write, and not just as a controlling method for the teachers to use after a student’s work has been submitted. This gives the students agency to partner with their teachers in guaranteeing their own academic honesty.

“And frankly,” commented TOIS Head of English Tom Healy, “it just simply leads to better results and stronger achievement. Students really get motivated and invested in their work.”

The school helps the students develop proper research skills, including the use of programs like Evernote or Google Keep as tools for keeping track of citations. To help with on-line collaboration and communication, the school created its own etiquette for the Internet, called “Netiquette,” and produced an in-house video for the entire community. 

“A big reason why students commit academic dishonesty is bad research skills. That, combined with poor time management, is a related factor, much more so than an overt intent to be dishonest. In many cases, we bump up against cultural interpretations of what is academically appropriate,” explained Phil Corkill, the Head of Secondary at TOIS.

The school has found that by using apps like TurnItIn’s Feedback Studio, students take more active responsibility for their work, and avoid simply submitting something last minute and hoping for the best.

“Like a lot of my friends from Korea, it took me a while to realize why it is so important to cite my sources properly. It was something totally new to me, but I can see it is making me a better writer and a better student,” says Kevin, a TOIS Secondary School student. “I am now doing a public service project with new students at our school, to help them better understand.”

Sheila, who graduated from TOIS two years ago and now studies Economics at a university in the UK, explains “I feel lucky that I learned about Academic Honesty already at high school. It made the transition to university life so much smoother for me. Many of my freshman year class-mates struggled to write essays with proper citations and to get their heads around concepts that I had already mastered at TOIS.”

“As an international school, we are constantly challenged to help students and parents from various educational and cultural backgrounds understand what it really means to make a piece of work of your own,” says Brett Gray, the school’s founder and Director.

“Many of our staff and parents grew up in educational systems that punished the wrong answer, but undervalued supporting the right approach to getting the right answer. We believe strongly that the key to success for our students is to learn how to do things right. We want our students to learn that truth matters.”

Today, the school is sharing its experience with other international schools around the world.

This article was written in association with The Ostrava International School (TOIS) - the only International Baccalaureate Continuum School in the Czech Republic. To read more about our partner content policies see here.

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