Fostering Academic Integrity through Peer Mentoring Programs: An Examination of On-Campus ‘Influencers’ and ‘Intervenors’ at Griffith College
Cultivating a commitment to academic integrity requires a multifaceted approach that transcends traditional teaching methods. Guidance and directives provided by academic staff are not a bulletproof approach. At times, students’ fear of approaching teachers and advisors to seek clarification or guidance further compounds this issue, as students worry about potential consequences if they are found in violation of academic standards. Inez Chai (Student Success and Retention Officer, Griffith College) and Karen McRae (Manager, Academic Education, L&T Services UPA) recently presented at Australian Academic Integrity Forum (AAIN) held online on September 22, 2023, unveiling the implementation of Peer Mentoring programs at Griffith College. The innovative features of these programs were communicated through a poster presentation, and crucial roles played by Mates as ‘Influencers’ and Peer Assisted Learning leads (PALs) as ‘Intervenors’ in promoting academic integrity across the college were highlighted.
Peer Mentoring programs are a well-established practice in numerous tertiary institutions, designed with a multifaceted purpose in mind. Through various initiatives, these programs go beyond the mere transfer of knowledge, and include:
- A cultivation of a supportive and inclusive atmosphere
- Instilling a sense of responsibility in students
- Developing essential work-ready skills
Empirical evidence indicates that learning environments fostering a strong sense of belonging are associated with a reduction in academic misconduct (Fudge et. al., 2022). This underscores the pivotal role of student partnership and peer mentoring programs in fostering academic integrity among students. Feeling part of a community creates bonding and an ability to better face challenges (Dopmeijer et. al., 2022). A central message of the poster was that we can leverage the transformative potential of peer influence and mentorship, and its positive influence on student behaviour and attitudes towards academic integrity.
Griffith College’s AAIN Forum poster presentation centred around Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) and the innovative ‘Mates’ program. The ‘Mates’ initiative takes centre stage as mentors actively engage students and serve as a dynamic feedback mechanism through the Student Liaison Committee (SLC), which meets twice each semester. More than just a conduit for feedback, ‘Mates’ also act as a vital connection point with students, acting as influential figures through social gatherings and events, playing an ‘influencer’ role. PALs function as proactive ‘intervenors’ through more structured academic workshops on matters of academic honesty throughout the campus.
“As a PAL, I helped students asking questions for them to think on their own. This ensured that the answers come from their own critical thinking, which helps prevent contract cheating and plagiarism. It is very important that continue this approach, and not give them the answer to their question but rather encourage and guide them towards the right idea.” – Sean (PAL)
“I noticed that when I remind students of the importance of original thought, they seem to be more creative and apply critical thinking and other skills that play a significant role, not only in further professional career, but also generally in life.” – Alima (PAL)
At Griffith College, PALs and Mates’ promotion of workshops has had huge success and often gains more traction than promotion conducted by academic staff. Students who act as role models within the ‘Mates’ program exhibit a heightened sense of responsibility towards academic integrity. Indeed, this heightened sense of responsibility often proves to be contagious, spreading organically throughout their peer group. Through qualitative feedback, the positive influence of these programs on student behaviour and attitudes towards academic integrity is evident, demonstrating the enduring power of collaboration and shared responsibility with the student cohort in upholding academic standards. Insights from interviews with these dedicated mentors highlighted the profound impact of leadership positions within the student body. Insights included:
- Students in leadership positions acting as role models exhibit a heightened sense of responsibility towards academic integrity, which permeates through their peers, with Mates acting as influencers and PALs as intervenor.
- Adapt and leverage “social influencing” to have “academic influencers”.
- The deeper the connection with students, the higher the level of influence.
- It is important for Mates to help students see the impact of academic integrity beyond the classroom. Jamulun (Mate) highlighted that “Students seem to appreciate the fact that understanding the effort they put in to learn academic integrity now, will also benefit their future.”
During the forum, AAIN attendees actively immersed themselves in a dynamic live discussion with the presenters. This interaction provided a valuable platform for in-depth exploration of the subject matter. Attendees also had the opportunity of posing questions and make comments through a collaborative Padlet wall, contributing to a digital canvas of shared insights, enriching the collective understanding of the concepts presented. One notable takeaway from the forum was the importance of initiating academic integrity discussions right from student enrolment. An attendee also mentioned her intention of introducing academic integrity discussions through a stall set up at orientation. These insights reinforce the idea that the foundation of academic integrity should be laid early in a student’s educational journey, thereby embedding a culture of honesty and responsibility from the very start.
Recommendations on next steps include:
- Encourage Mates/PALs to create social media content on Academic Integrity awareness and preventative measures.
- Integrate Learning Analytics to track students who have interacted with Mates/PALs. to assess the level of impact and develop an evidence-based approach towards peer influence.
- Conduct further research to see impact and various perspectives from a diverse range (gender/age/nationality etc.) of students.
Striking the right balance between imparting knowledge and ensuring adherence to academic integrity can be quite a challenge. Research findings of this initiative thus far underscore the indispensable role that student partnership and peer mentoring programs play in nurturing academic integrity among students. In a testament to the AAIN Forum’s ripple effect and sharing of best practice, it has been a great experience to explore such critical themes and approaches, for inspiring positive change, and the disseminate effective practices within the academic community.