As more social technologies and processes enter the classroom, new questions arise about how these tools/processes serve teaching and learning. As many of you know, many of these tools have the potential to create dynamic learning environments where students interact with each other in new ways and with information and content in new ways. It’s my belief that we must have some very honest conversations about our perceptions regarding this interaction, especially in regards to our belief about academic integrity (a term I favor over academic dishonesty).

Take social bookmarking for instance. Suppose you are a biology teacher who has asked students to research a variety of topics in life science-for example, stem cell research. Let’s suppose three students have chosen this topic and are working on answering an essential question regarding the ethical considerations of this type of biological research and are doing so independently. Let’s also say that each has an account at a social bookmarking site like (yeah, I still like typing the periods) and has tagged a variety of resources about stem cell research. Each is aware of each other sites but no formal collaborative effort is required by the teacher (that’s another post). Student A knowingly goes to Student B and C’s site, examines the tag for stemcellresearch, finds some new resources, and tags them into their account at

Appropriate? Or a violation of academic integrity?

I think you would be absolutely amazed at the responses you would get from a group of teachers. Many would consider this cheating and would equate the process to a situation where one student had photocopied several research articles, left them on a table, and then another student came along and took them.

Today’s “cheating” is tomorrow’s collaboration.

Anyone with a account knows that calling the actions of the above student inappropriate is absolute nonsense and that the ability to reach into another account to see resources is part of the game.

It’s. Called. A. Network. And it’s called social bookmarking for a reason, isn’t it?

Of course, this arises because most teachers do not have such an account and do not understand how participation in a social network can be leveraged to improve what one can do. But this lack of understanding is very real, and represents challenges to daily instruction, as well as policy regarding technology and teaching and learning.

If you haven’t had that discussion, I urge you to try it.

Here is another scenario. Suppose a student subscribes to the tag stemcellresearch in This means that you will receive every resource tagged worldwide by all users. Let’s say Student A does this, goes into the subscription area of, and examines the resources, and tags several into their account. Would you consider this to be part of a research process? Again, I think you would be surprised. Many will say they want students to find the information themselves….

Many have not yet considered that information flow is in two directions. You can find it, and it can find you. In my classroom, this process would be taught, encouraged, expected, and evaluated as part of a student’s ability to ask a question of importance to them, and to be able to develop a response.

For some, such a process is completely out of the question. It’s not how we’ve done things.

The two scenarios above relate only to social bookmarking and as a result, consider only one component of a complex social system for information sharing and learning. We still have a long way to go before we understand, and negotiate systemically, what these collaborative sharing environments mean to student learning.

No wonder these tools, and the environments they create, are labeled disruptive.

11 Responses to “Integrity or Dishonesty?”
  1. Yes, this is ridiculous. I remember when the internet was first available. Teachers would get mad when students looked up answers on the internet because they weren’t “figuring it out” on their own. I found that hilarious then and I think its absurd now. If the point is getting the information then let the student do it as long as they interact with it in a meaningful way. I also notice that the people who have the problems with the tools are the ones who have the least awareness about how it works. Good post!

  2. mrsdurff says:

    Of course it is collaboration. As in ‘duh’ ! I would demo how to do this, not outlaw it. We need to be teaching kids to make tags, make appropriate use of tags, and how to collaborate through tagging. It’s just a given that the ‘kids’ are getting.

  3. Cathy Nelson says:

    I know you don’t read me (which is okay–we interact in different circles that occasionally overlap) I wrote something similar to this in March after having one of those ah-ha moments. if time or interest permits, come on over and read it! It sparked some very interesting comments and discussion.

    This is a huge problem everywhere. I don’t think many typical educators teach as if they are preparing students for a very different future–they teach like they were taught. A better assignment for these three would be to “collaboratively” evaluate the websites bookmarked on Delicious, and then perhaps change their essential question to something related to misinformation online about Stem Cell Research. End Product? why a delicious file and perhaps a tag for inaccuracies or misinformation about stem cell reseach…maybe “#stemcellfail?”

  4. This makes no sense whatsoever.

    Examine any item of academic research and you’ll see a long long list of references at the end, of all the articles used in the research.

    Surely the grade is based on what the students DO with the information. If the copy and paste it – that’s cheating. If they use the resources to formulate coherent arguments for and against stem cell research then you can grade their skills at research and reporting.

    If the teacher asked the class to compile a list of resources then I might think of this as cheating – but that’s not a particularly interesting or testing assignment.

  5. Steve Ransom says:

    Until these teachers in question experience the power of learning within virtual (heck, and even physical) social contexts for themselves, they will remain skeptical and even in opposition to such new learning environments and learning frameworks. And, do they really think that professionals don’t cherish like gold the bibliographies of other professional papers, scanning them for resources that they need for their own research or writing? Often, that’s the first thing that I do – check out the reference list to see what I haven’t and should be reading. That’s just plain smart. The term “reinventing the wheel” is appropriate here, I think. There is no doubt that an apprentice wheelmaker needs to practice making wheels, but it is just silly to not share with him the actual “trade secrets” of the craft.

  6. Kris Jacobson says:

    Wow. Do a lot of teachers actually consider this cheating? I mean, I guess it *would* be cheating if there was a specific requirement not to use the social bookmarks or something, or, as the previous poster noted, the student didn’t cite the site(s) where s/he got the information, but assuming that neither of these things were issues, why would anyone think that it was cheating? How is this fundamentally any different from going to a list of sites picked by librarians (e.g. the Librarians’ Internet Index) or pathfinders/links put up on a school library or a university’s website? Or a bibliography (as noted above)?

  7. tom says:

    I agree that this is not cheating, but students learning to use delicious should also learn that they can keep bookmarks private if they want to. While it may seem to be anti-social bookmarking, it was a tactic used by our debate team to make sure they could share research among themselves but without showing their hand to the opposing team. Was that wrong?

  8. Carrye DeCrane says:

    This actually made me laugh out loud. Would this not be a case where a student is being resourceful? I can’t imagine this scenario being considered dishonest. Don’t we want to teach students how and where answers may be found? Of course resource evaluation is still an essential part of the decision to include or not include the information in the final product. I agree with Mrs. Duff. These are the kind of strategies I would share with my students, just like checking the bibliography at the end of a journal article. I consider it along the lines of sharing a library book. “Hey, Johnny, when you’re done with that can I use it?” We would never think of limiting access to information in print, would we?

    And no, tom, nothing says we can’t make the other team drill for their own information. We don’t have to share all the time. The beauty is that we CAN. Was your debate team successful?

  9. Amanda Jones says:

    The purpose of the bookmarking being social would lend the students to believe that it could be discussed. I believe issues like these will continue to arise as teachers learn to navigate a new way of teaching and research. What the teacher has to remember is that this is a whole new way of learning and collaboration. This will require him or her to be open to looking at things in a different way and to remember that the most important thing is what the students take away from using the resource. I do not feel that the scenarios discussed above are cheating and I would encourage my students to share the resources they have gathered, knowing the purpose of the assignment was to formulate learning and an assignment from using those resources. If anything, I would want them to share so that they have a plethora of information to sift through.

  10. Ashley Coughlin says:

    In no way would I consider this cheating. We constantly share resources with one another through collegiate writing. Why should we discourage that type of learning in our classrooms? My take on it is, as long as they cite and show knowledge they have read the research, they are in no way violating their “academic integrity”. This is a new way of researching and teachers need to hop on board and see the benefits of it. Student A may have found information student B would have never located. Should they be punished for teaching each other something new? I don’t think so.

  11. Melanie says:

    “Today’s “cheating” is tomorrow’s collaboration.”

    How we negotiate this requires that we teach kids about the social contract. Namely the nature of collaboration itself — and free riding v. contributing. In fact, we ought to teach teachers while we’re at it … and everybody else. This is a political subject though as notions of sharing are often misunderstood as counter to “self interest” and lead to free-riding and, ultimately, tragedy of the commons (all incorrect if not accompanied by a strong social contract). There’s a great TED talk by Howard Rheingold that helps to illuminate a new way to look at sharing, the commons and cooperation.

    Again, the ability to take part in a modern cooperative economy and healthy commons is absolutely contingent on a clear and shared agreements about the social contracts required.

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