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Can academic integrity exist in the Google Age?

Technology can make it easy to coast, cheat, and otherwise circumvent the educational process. The National Society of Collegiate Scholars would like students to embrace integrity instead.

Steve Loflin, the founder and executive director of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS), certainly hopes so. I had the chance to talk with Steve recently about his group's efforts and their goals of rewarding and mentoring students who find success while taking full personal responsibility for their actions.

While NSCS was founded in 1994 to recognize standout first and second year college students in the top 20 percent of their class and provide mentorship and career networking opportunities for these students, the organization has also taken on the much more amorphous concept of academic integrity. As NSCS worked to involve students with activiites that would ultimately be really positive experiences, the Society wanted to "infuse these activities with opportunities for integrity awareness."

In fact, the Society has created an entire integrity program in which participating schools and chapters can raise awareness of related issues. This is certainly timely in light of recent events at Harvard and Yale surrounding Adam Wheeler. Integrity, however, goes far beyond this sort of headline-grabbing story. According to the NSCS Integrity site,

Integrity refers to honesty in all personal, professional and academic endeavors.

Integrity matters because it’s at the foundation of any successful community. Without integrity, a leader cannot engender trust. Without integrity, academic accomplishments are almost meaningless. Without integrity, service to one’s community is hollow.

I ask the question, "Can academic integrity exist in the Google Age?" because the breadth and depth of resources available to students make it far easier to slide or even cheat by than ever before. Even services like Turnitin, though designed to catch outright plagiarism, can't force students to properly assimilate and synthesize information in a way that will take them from being students to scholars.

Interestingly, as Mr. Loflin pointed out, there is no Turnitin for admissions offices. In addition to the Society's educational and outreach efforts, there are opportunities for developers and entrepreneurs to create software that can help university admissions staff verify the truth of prospective student claims. My vote? Call it the Integrimeter. Too cheesy?

Joking aside, though, one has to applaud the Society's direct approach. Do your best, demonstrate the highest levels of integrity, and we'll help you network with the best and brightest graduates who were Society members as undergraduates themselves.

Mr. Loflin summed up their message nicely: "Taking personal responsiblity for everything we do benefits us all." A sweeping claim, no doubt, but quite true. The full implications of his message are often overlooked in a world where Google hands you information so nicely. Here's hoping the message comes through loud and clear.