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  • Writer's pictureKane Murdoch

Misconduct: a primordial soup

Evening all,

This afternoon one of my team provided the keys to today's post, but if I get picked up for driving erratically it's all on me. It followed a range of conversations I have with people about student misconduct. To give context, the team were discussing our cases, and keeping track of all of the activities that have to happen in them. As you do, you might use colour codes to represents stages etc and he actually said the following:

"What if the colour palette started brown, much like Mother Earth, and then green life sprouts forth from the primordial soup of misconduct?"

Which is about the best description I've ever read about the seas in which many of us find ourselves swimming.

More to the point, I still regularly read and hear points of view which state that we just need "charges" to capture all of those little generative AI tells that people believe can prove generative AI use. You know, things like false references, etc. and I keep saying that if we would all like to drown in virtually unprovable generative AI/Academic Integrity cases, that's a good way to do it.

In other words, sitting in your office patting a volume of minor rules that students break won't actually make any difference at all to the integrity of your subject, to your degree, or-in the final reckoning- students. Academics on their own will never, ever, "catch" enough students to smack to even pretend that the issue is under control. Honestly, it's beyond time that we all acknowledged, that we all said out loud (say it with me people), "I ain't got this, and the emperor is butt naked." We no longer have plausible deniability, and we should act accordingly.

Now, in its infinite wisdom, my uni has invited me to sit on its Senate committee on programmatic assessment. Firstly, I'm honoured. Seeing folks like me as more than "catch and smack" merchants is a really good step. We have access to data and to...truths that, while unis are reluctant to yell them externally, should be at least heeded internally. We can be honest with ourselves, right? Being honest with ourselves means we're likely to make better decisions from here.

So, diving back into the primordial soup, while unis are right to take actions to assure academic integrity, I'm increasingly of the view that the things we all used to see as egregious, are nothing of the sort. In fact, harking back to the pyramid I've mentioned previously, copy and paste plagiarism, and nearly all of the GenAI "tells" sit at the lower levels of the pyramid. The amount of time we spend on them currently is essentially a bad investment in a time where we need to invest wisely. And that's because the things we are assessing are mostly products and not process. Put more bluntly, there is an excellent chance that nearly any "take home" submission has avoided learning, in one way or another. Tying up a smelly brown thing in a bow (a "successful" academic integrity case) means you're probably still carrying dogshit. As an owner of dogs, it's not an experience to savour.

Caption: two little shitters.

The reemergence of the "catch and smack" mentality is, at least in my mind, a result of academics rightly worrying about what's happening and feeling like it's on them. Those energies would be better invested in looking at assessments right now. For a start, remove one take home assessment and replace it with a ten minute viva. I know it's not inclusive (although there are things that could be done in that regard), but it will bolster your assessment security. And it can also be a celebration of your student's learning. I doubt that sitting in front of the tele with your laptop and a glass of wine on a Sunday night at 11pm after 150 essays feels like that, does it? What's the worst that could happen? More integrity and the same workload? I encourage you to be brave and clever and ingenious, as I know many of you are.

Until next time,


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May 08

I would like to protest on behalf of the wee ones known as “little shitters”. As one reminds me of the wonderful Lhasa Apso/ Jack Russell I had, I believe these canines are of impeccable character and doubt highly the named term applies.

Kane Murdoch
Kane Murdoch
3 days ago
Replying to

Haha, the term is used with the utmost love.

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