Integrity or Dishonesty?

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 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.