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Academic Integrity vs Educational Integrity: What is the Difference?

By: Rahul Kumar (rkumar@brocku.ca) [Date: 18 Feb, 2024]

As an individual relatively new to the integrity field within academic settings, I often pondered the nuanced distinctions between academic integrity and educational integrity. Despite their frequent interchangeable use, I reckoned that there must be a discernible difference. Is this difference merely attributable to the realms of academia and education? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines academic as “of, relating to, or associated with an academic or school, especially of higher learning” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/academic). The same source defines education as “the action of process of educating or being educated” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/education).

Thus, education encompasses a broader spectrum than academia alone. That is, education is a superset of academia. Would it mean that academic integrity applies to integrity matters that relate to the formal education sphere? In contrast, does educational integrity extend to all aspects of learning?

In early 2023, I asked ChatGPT (version 3, at that time) and the response was less ambivalent. Almost a year later, when I prompted the current version of Chat4 from OpenAI, “What is the difference between educational integrity and academic integrity?” I got the following response:

Educational integrity and academic integrity are closely related concepts that are often used interchangeably, but they can be distinguished by their scope and application.

Academic integrity primarily refers to the ethical standards and honesty in the academic endeavors of individuals within an academic institution. It encompasses behaviors such as avoiding plagiarism, not cheating on exams, accurately reporting research findings, and acknowledging the contributions of others. Academic integrity is often focused on the conduct of students, researchers, and faculty within the context of academic coursework, research, and publication.

Educational Integrity, on the other hand, broadens the concept to include the entire educational system. It not only covers the principles of academic integrity by students and educators but also extends to the policies, practices, and culture of educational institutions. Educational integrity involves ensuring fairness, honesty, and ethical behavior in all aspects of education, including administration, leadership, and the ways institutions support and enforce the principles of academic integrity. It implies a commitment to creating an educational environment that fosters trust, respect, and ethical behavior among all stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, and administrators.

In summary, while academic integrity focuses on the individual behaviors within the academic context, educational integrity encompasses a wider spectrum, including the systemic and institutional policies and practices that support and uphold ethical standards in education.

Not only was the description detailed, the distinction was clearly articulated and persuasive (and hence gratifying). Upon thinking about it, two relationships stood out. They can be depicted as follows:

At the Individual level, we have:

Figure 1: Individual relationship

That is, if one is a person with integrity, it means that he/she is not corruptible, and then academic integrity is a subset of that expression. This also means that one can be upstanding and incorruptible in academic matters but still might be corrupt in other spheres of their lives (for instance, infidelity, kleptocrat, inter alia). Yes, in my way of thinking, one can be squeaky clean in academic matters but not in other spheres of life.

Another relationship between integrity matters at the formal level and those at the institution also exists:

Figure 2: Systemic Relationship

This relationship establishes that while academic integrity concerns and applies to an individual’s actions and responsibilities, educational integrity applies to integrity issues of the wider educational enterprise. Educational integrity being the superset of academic integrity means that all matters of academic integrity are subsumed under educational integrity. But the reverse does not hold true. Matters such as the culture of integrity in an institution are not an individual responsibility but system-wide.

That I understand as the key distinction. If we are trying to build a culture of integrity in all matters of teaching, learning, research, administration, policy, then it is educational integrity. The individual responsibility to act in a way that preserves, promotes, or exemplifies integrity in academic matters is academic integrity.

So the obvious question is, If the policy world constrains or enables individual degrees of freedom within an institution, do not the educational integrity concerns (even those outside academic integrity purview) affect academic integrity? For instance, one of the recommendations of Kier and Ives (2022) is to use policy and procedures to promote academic integrity. Is that an example of educational integrity tools used to inculcate academic integrity?

I also entered the same prompt into Google’s Gemini as a comparison. This is what it produced:

While the terms “educational integrity” and “academic integrity” are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between them.

Academic integrity specifically refers to the ethical principles and practices expected within formal academic settings like universities, colleges, and schools. It focuses on honesty, fairness, and responsibility in teaching, learning, and research. This includes avoiding plagiarism, cheating, fabrication of data, and other forms of academic misconduct.

Educational integrity has a broader scope. It encompasses the overall ethical values and principles that guide the entire educational process, from early childhood education to higher education. It goes beyond simply avoiding academic dishonesty and emphasizes aspects like:

  • Fairness and equity: Ensuring equal access to quality education for all students, regardless of background or circumstance.
  • Transparency and accountability: Open communication and clear expectations for both educators and learners.
  • Respect for diversity: Valuing different perspectives, cultures, and learning styles.
  • Responsible use of technology: Promoting ethical and safe practices in educational technology.

Therefore, academic integrity is a subset of educational integrity, focusing specifically on ethical conduct within formal academic settings. Educational integrity takes a broader perspective, encompassing the entire educational journey and promoting an ethical and equitable learning environment for all.

Here’s an analogy: Think of academic integrity as the rules of a specific game (e.g., avoiding plagiarism in an essay), while educational integrity represents the overarching principles of fair play and ethical conduct that apply to all aspects of the game.

The differences articulated are similar.

Conclusion

Two points are worth sharing:

One, chat from OpenAI and Gemini from Google did an admirable job regarding the output and explanation quality. Does this mean such tools can be relied upon to understand and explain concepts?

Two, what care should be exercised in the use of the term? Is that merely hair-splitting, or are the conceptual differences worth preserving?

Reference

Kier, C. A., & Ives, C. (2022). Recommendations for a balanced approach to supporting academic integrity: perspectives from a survey of students, faculty, and tutors. International Journal of Educational Integrity, 18, 22. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40979-022-00116-x


Epilogue

I shared this Blog post with my friend, colleague, and world authority on all matters of integrity, Dr. Sarah Eaton. She pointed me to the inaugural editorial of the International Journal of Educational Integrity, written by Marsden and Bretag (2005). And one additional article in that issue written by McGowan (2005).

Upon reading Marsden and Bretag (2005), I realized that the authors make a case that the APFEI’s mission was to promote research and collaboration in educational integrity. Then they proceeded to highlight the values of what is now known as academic integrity (honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage) – see ICAI (2021).

The interesting thing about Ursula McGowan’s (2005) article is that it covers issues that, in my blog post above, would be considered academic integrity matters but are called educational integrity. Is this just an evolution of the concepts over the last two decades (akin to the evolution of ChatGPT’s response from last year to this year)?

Additional References

International Center for Academic Integrity [ICAI]. (2021). The Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity. (3rd ed.). https://www.academicintegrity.org/the-fundamental-valuesof-academic-integrity

Marsden, H., & Bretag, T. (2005). Editorial. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 1(1), 1-2. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.21913/IJEI.v1i1.13

McGowan, U. (2005). Does educational integrity mean teaching students NOT to ‘use their own words’? International Journal for Educational Integrity, 1(1). https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.21913/IJEI.v1i1.16

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