By Melissa Zaccagnini, Phillip Dawson, Jane Skalicky, and Ann Rogerson 

 As the debate around contract cheating legislation continues to dominate media conversations in higher education, discussion around appropriate feedback-seeking and academic integrity policy is intensifying.

Students are being sent mixed messages. On the one hand, universities want students to collaborate and seek feedback from a variety of sources. However, students are also being told to avoid “unauthorised collaboration”. Added into this milieu are a variety of support programs, ranging from official mentoring and support through to cheating providers dressed up as faux “tutoring” services. How are students meant to navigate this terrain?

Long-running peer mentoring programs like Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS)  and AIME have successfully operated in this space, providing feedback and collaboration opportunities to students, facilitated by mentors who have training in academic integrity. But we are hearing more and more stories from students that the increasing anti-cheating rhetoric is making them wary of even officially supported programs.

Whilst academic honesty and ethical behaviour are key pillars of our learning institutions, there is a distinct danger that in safeguarding HE from academic misconduct and the increasing commercialisation of learning support, we may restrict the very practices that are a cornerstone of 21st century learning.

We need a national conversation about where, exactly, the line is between cheating and feedback, collaboration and collusion. Legislation should not discourage peer learning and student feedback-seeking behaviours. We must intentionally design opportunities to model appropriate and beneficial collaborative learning so students learn to perform these activities independently.

We must educate key student reference points, such as peer leaders and mentors, around this conversation to be catalysts for understanding and avenues for identifying when things may not seem quite right. The challenge will be defining and understanding how misconduct rhetoric and peer support work together rather than in tension. Clarity and confluence are needed now more than ever.

Melissa Zaccagnini , Learning, Teaching and Curriculum, University of Wollongong

Phillip Dawson , Centre for Research in Assessment & Digital Learning, Deakin University

Jane Skalicky , Student Retention and Success, University of Tasmania

Ann Rogerson, Faculty of Business, University of Wollongong


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