Academic Integrity and the Roles Students Play: The Student as Moral Agent

[social-bio] This is the final post in a series of four about metaphors revealed in students’ discussions of academic honesty and dishonesty.  The four metaphors presented in this series do not represent mutually exclusive understandings and can overlap in their meanings.  Not all students in my study expressed the same meanings or, if they did, did not express them in the same way.  As McMillan and Cheney (1996) acknowledged, it can seem drastic to ascribe such power to metaphors but we rely so heavily on them that we often overlook their “powerful and practical role in our discourse” and that there is a “tendency to become what we say we are” (p.2).

The Student as Moral Agent

“I’m here to develop academically so I need to be true to myself and if I’m just going to throw in a bunch of assignments that I didn’t really do, did I really get anything out of this class?  Did I do myself right by doing that?”


“Honesty is honesty.  You live by it through your values and morals and of course you would follow it throughout anything, even academic, everything you do.”

All the students in this study indicated, albeit to varying extents, that they could conceive of academic integrity as a moral responsibility that they individually held.  Students were aware that to be academically dishonest was to do wrong whether they thought of it as a grave moral problem or as a fleeting moment of deviant behavior.   While their understandings of academic integrity were not sophisticated in moral terms, students appeared to see quite clearly that one of the potential costs of academic dishonesty was the compromise of personal integrity.

What might this mean for teaching and learning?

The student as moral agent wants to be truthful and wants to be deserving—applying that motivation to the academic setting is not a giant leap. The student as moral agent wants to learn his or her role in scholarly endeavors more broadly, wants to be part of a system of academic integrity, wants to demonstrate his or her learning authentically, and wants to be graded fairly in relation to others.   Such a student will not see the rules as arbitrary commands, but will still need to be taught the protocols and conventions to use and the role these play in overall integrity of the learning environment.   Explanations from teachers that situate these new practices in a larger scholarly system will be expected and welcomed by these students and possibly foster moral will among the other students, too.  What a great opportunity to assist our students in becoming who they say they are!

McMillan, J. J. & Cheney, G. (1996).  The student as consumer:  The implications and limitations of a metaphor.  Communication Education, 45, 1-5.

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