Honesty Reflective Essay Writing

Academic integrity violations such as plagiarism, copying, unauthorized collaboration, cheating on examinations, and unauthorized access to examinations have become widespread and pervasive in the modern university setting, aided undoubtedly by the easy availability and proliferation of various technologies (see e.g., McCabe, 2005; Park, 2003; Campbell, 2006 among many other studies). While there may be methodological issues in accurately measuring the rates of prevalence of plagiarism and other violations of academic integrity, discerning leaders of academia too have echoed such observations. For example, according to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey in association with the Chronicle of Higher Education of 1,055 presidents of colleges and universities (public and private) in the U.S., the majority of college presidents (55%) say plagiarism has increased in the past decade (of which 89% believe that computers and the internet have played a major role in this trend) and a large proportion (40%) believe that it has stayed the same over the past 10 years while a small minority of college presidents (2%) think that plagiarism has decreased over the past decade (Parker et.al 2011).

Although the standard institutional response by universities to cheating has been to articulate academic integrity policies that aim at behavior modification through information, procedures, and sanctions, there is growing recognition that holistic approaches that integrate policies, practices, information providing and learning strategies are needed to address the gamut and complexity of academic integrity issues including plagiarism (MacDonald and Carroll, 2006; Bretag et al. 2011.) It is in this larger context that approaches focusing on empathy, reflection, dialogue, and understanding of the prevalent digital culture of young adults are likely to find a place.

There is increasing evidence from researchers that reflective learning and reflective practices play an important role in higher education (Brockbank & McGill, 2007). However, there has been little research or reporting on the use of reflection in responding to academic integrity violations in general and plagiarism in particular. A detailed search (carried out by the author) of handbooks of academic integrity at leading universities in the U.S. revealed little or no mention of keywords “reflection” and “dialogue”. Although some schools do offer an option of writing a reflection paper, it seems to be treated as a sanction along with probation and other disciplinary actions.

Drawing upon reflective learning theories, this paper reports and reflects on the exploratory use of reflective means by the author (who was the instructor) to deal with students who appeared to have plagiarized on their class assignments in two information systems courses taught during four semesters. Specifically, the study explores the feasibility and promise of combining two reflective practices: a dialogue between instructor and student and a subsequent reflective essay written by a plagiarizing student. Given that there has been little prior work in terms of methodology or research or practice addressing reflective approaches dealing with plagiarism, this study is probably among the first of its kind to explore the use of reflective dialogue in conjunction with reflective essay for this purpose.

This paper is organized as follows. The first section introduces reflection theories and reflective practices, which are then viewed in the context of academic integrity facilitation. The second section describes procedural details of the reflective approach used. The next section reports and reflects on the study’s findings, which is followed by a discussion of the implications of this approach for institutional practices and future research. The paper concludes with some final thoughts.

Reflection theories and practices

Often likened to “looking at oneself into a mirror,” reflection has generally been considered an essential aspect of self-understanding, contemplation, and meditation in philosophies of life. However, reflection is also a common mental learning activity that we carry out when we try to make sense and meaning from daily life experiences. It involves implicitly testing assumptions, beliefs, and knowledge in the light of experiences, which may result in new learning as well as changed perspectives on life. Boud, Keogh and Walker’s 1985 model of reflection in learning (Boud et al. 2013) has two components: a) experience and b) reflection of the experience. They use the term experience as consisting of “the total response of a person to a situation or event: what he or she thinks, does, feels, and concludes at the time and immediately thereafter (p.18).” The subsequent reflective activity based upon the experience is when people attempt to recapture the experience, think about it, mull over it, and learn from it. Although we tend to reflect almost automatically, Boud et al. (2013) believe that conscious reflection enables us to bring unconscious thinking and feelings into the light of awareness, which enhances learning. In the context of education, reflection may be defined per Hatcher and Bringle (1997) as “the intentional consideration of an experience in light of particular learning objectives (p.153).”

The Transformative Learning Theory by Jack Mezirow of Columbia University focuses on perspective transformation that arises from reflection on the “Why” of an experience in contrast to instrumental learning, which focuses on the “What” and the “How” (Mezirow, 1991). Transformative learning attempts to purposively and rationally question and deconstruct the learner’s prior assumptions, values, beliefs, feelings, and biases in the interest of personal and intellectual growth of the learner (Cranton 1994). According to Mezirow (1991), transformative learning can be a life-changing experience that starts with a “disorienting dilemma” – a choice of two alternatives – which must be understood and resolved. The dilemma may be triggered by some life crisis or situation and one may have to decide on whether to continue in the existing worldview or paradigm or underlying belief system, or to reflect, deconstruct, learn, and transform to a different level of understanding. Mezirow (1991) theorized that the disorienting dilemma can lead to self-examination with accompanying feelings of shame or guilt, after which one may go through a series of stages involving self-knowledge acquisition, reflection, and exploration, and can end with a new perspective reintegrated into one’s life. Mezirow’s theory has transformed the field of adult learning and is finding applications in many other domains.

Reflection in practice is referred to as reflective practice, which is about “paying critical attention to the practical values and theories which inform everyday actions, by examining practice reflectively and reflexively. This leads to developmental insight (Bolton 2010).” Starting with the notion of Reflective Practice (Schön, 1983) by Donald Schön in his book “The Reflective Practitioner” in 1983 and followed up by numerous other theorists, reflective practice has now been widely accepted and used by individuals and organizations, particularly in the teaching and health professions. There are numerous forms of reflective practices all embodying the notion of reflection. Reflective essays and reflective dialogues are two key reflective practices introduced next.

A reflective essay is a form of writing in which the writer reflects and contemplates on his or her experiences. A reflective essay may be a personal record of thoughts, feelings and experiences, an evaluation of strengths and weaknesses, or a summary of meaningful learning from those experiences. While a reflective essay is often used as part of a writing or learning portfolio (e.g., Wade and Yarbrough, 1996), there appears to have been little research on its use as an academic integrity tool.

Another reflective practice is to engage in reflective dialogue. Simply defined as “thinking together” (Isaacs, 1999), a reflective dialogue is an objective inquiry in which self-awareness, intuition, reflection, and listening in a spirit of fellowship are key elements (Bohm, 1996). This notion of dialogue is clearly more than a discussion or a meaningful conversation or interchange of opinions between two or more persons; participants are also engaged in observing their own thought, preconceptions, assumptions, and beliefs during the dialogue. (The term dialogue will be used interchangeably with reflective dialogue henceforth with the understanding that what is meant is reflective dialogue.) This type of dialogue draws upon the inquiry traditions of philosophers such as Socrates (Kahn, 1998), Bohm (1996), and Krishnamurti (1996) and later theoretical underpinnings laid out by organizational management theorists such as Senge (1990) and Isaacs (1999), founder of the MIT Dialogue project, among others. A participant in such a dialogue learns to listen to the other without resistance; suspends or becomes aware of their assumptions, images and biases; is ready to explore underlying causes to get to deeper questions and issues; creatively envisions new possibilities; and creates a collective flow (Isaacs, 1999). There is no established formula or protocol for conducting a reflective dialogue and there appears to be a lot of scope for creativity and spontaneity. Why? “Because the nature of Dialogue is exploratory, its meaning and its methods continue to unfold. No firm rules can be laid down for conducting a Dialogue because its essence is learning - not as the result of consuming a body of information or doctrine imparted by an authority, nor as a means of examining or criticizing a particular theory or programme, but rather as part of an unfolding process of creative participation … (Bohm et al. 1991)”

According to numerous case studies documented by Isaacs (1999), the dialogue process may generate new transformative insights and perspectives in the minds of participants. In the context of learning, Brockbank and McGill (2007) have observed how dialogues can generate perception shifts by challenging existing assumptions. In their words (p. 45), “For us dialogue that is reflective, and enables critically reflective learning, engages the person at the edge of their knowledge, their sense of self and the world as experienced by them. Thus their assumptions about knowledge, themselves and their world is challenged.”

In the context of plagiarism and other academic integrity violations, it would appear then that being caught in a plagiarism situation is a “disorienting dilemma” for a student. A dialogue between an instructor or counselor and the student may enable better listening of one another, perhaps in a less judgmental manner, throw more light on the situation, and along with writing a reflective essay, the whole process may help a student “learn” from their mistakes and transform to a different level of understanding of originality and authenticity. Can these reflective practices really help? The focus of this study was to explore three questions: Is it sensible and feasible to implement a reflective approach for dealing with plagiarism in a course? What does it entail? Can it show promise? The next section describes the use of a reflective approach.

Reflective approach

The author has used a reflective approach with minor variations for four consecutive long semesters starting Spring 2013 to deal with cases of plagiarism in two information systems courses. Both courses included five to seven homework assignments and a project. Plagiarism cases were detected with the help of plagiarism detection software from Turnitin (http://turnitin.com), which is integrated with the Desire2learn learning platform of the university.

This overall approach had the following components:

1. Building student awareness

The students are informed in the syllabus about integrity violations and sanctions, which is discussed during the first week of classes. The fact that plagiarism detection software is being used is reinforced as follows:

You are expected to be aware of all kinds of academic dishonesty. Please check with the instructor if you have any doubts or questions. In particular, any work found to be similar to that on existing websites or similar to work done by current or former students in the past will be considered for plagiarism. This will be checked by means of suitable software. Participating in a behavior that violates academic integrity (e.g., unauthorized collaboration, plagiarism, multiple submissions, cheating on examinations, fabricating information, helping another person cheat, unauthorized advance access to examinations, altering or destroying the work of others, fraudulently altering academic records, and similar behaviors) will result in a sanction. Sanctions include: lowering of a letter grade, receiving a failing grade on an assignment, examination or course, receiving a notation of a violation of academic integrity (F!) on your transcript, and being suspended from the University. You have the right to appeal the charge. (Contact details provided here).

Building such awareness in the student early in the semester is helpful and fair. It not only deters students from cheating behaviors but may also mitigate the sense of ignorance, indignation, or unfairness often displayed by students who are caught later in the semester in situations where they have not received prior explicit information on what constitutes academic integrity. The next step in this approach also has similar goals.

2. Providing learning and self-assessment materials

As part of the course content in the first week of the semester, students are pointed to various sources of materials on academic honesty and are expected to understand the meaning and different shades of plagiarism. This is particularly important as students may commit unintentional plagiarism. For example, it was found that some students considered it acceptable to modify a submission of a student from a previous semester to some degree and present it as their own work. Such misinterpretations were brought to light with the help of an open-book miniquiz, administered online at the end of the first week, which contained questions used to assess their understanding of plagiarism.

Students are further required to sign an integrity pledge (which was incorporated in Fall 2014) stating the following:

INTEGRITY PLEDGE: “All my work for this course will be original and independently done. Sentences copied and pasted from the Internet will be placed in quotes and appropriately cited. I understand that special software very sensitive in plagiarism detection (with respect to Internet sources and other student submissions from now and in the past) is used for this course, and if any instance of plagiarism or some other violation is detected, I will get an F* or an appropriately lowered grade on this course.”

3. Responding to plagiarism – the dialogue

Each case of suspected plagiarism detected by Turnitin is investigated by the instructor. (Sometimes, a high unoriginality score may appear due to causes other than plagiarism).

For every prima facie case of plagiarism suggested by the software, the student is given a blank score on their screen and a comment to meet the instructor the following week during office hours. During the meeting in the office, the instructor treats each student on a case-by-case basis as individuals. Most students deny they have “cheated” but every opportunity is provided to them during a difficult dialogue with the instructor to unfold and own up to their mistake. Instead of being branded as plagiarists, they get a chance to discover their own foibles in a relatively non-threatening space.

In the author’s experience, in many cases, the initial meeting would start with student denials, followed by acknowledgement and justification, but over time, for some students, it would take a critically reflective turn followed by what seemed to be tears of remorse and a sense of understanding. Each dialogue unfolded differently and spontaneously because each student and each interaction was different. Even the instructor’s frame of mind was not the same for every interaction. Some of the critical questions explored by the instructor with the student were: Why did you do what you did? What are the implications of taking someone’s work and presenting it as one’s own? How would you do it differently and why? Why are sanctions necessary and why they should be viewed as learning experiences? What is the importance of authenticity and originality in learning? How do such actions spill over into daily life?

Students are then informed about the sanction they will receive, which may be a zero on the assignment (or in some cases, a lowering of their grade) but are also given a choice on how to deal with their integrity violation: attend an integrity violation session facilitated by an integrity counselor or to write a reflective essay. The next step applies to students who opt for the reflective essay.

4. Responding to plagiarism – the reflective essay

The reflective essay is meant to encourage honesty and awareness of thinking. It read as follows:

Reflective essay

You have chosen to take up this reflective assignment, which has the potential to be life-changing if done with care, mindfulness, and attention.

Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. But can we truly learn from our mistakes? Write a short personalized essay (generally about a page but there is no max. length restriction) on being an authentic and original learner and what authenticity, originality, and integrity mean to you in academics and life going forward. You may also include your observations about your thinking processes while writing the essay. Be honest in your reflections and attempt to think and feel with a fresh mind. Do not worry about what this instructor will think or how he might respond because you will not be judged or evaluated even though your submission will be read attentively. I do not judge “you”; I look only at individual actions. We are all capable of right actions when we act from right understanding.

(Upload your submission to the special submissions box calling it “Reflective Essay” anytime from now on but before the last day of classes and send me an email when you have done so. After submitting the essay, you can modify it as many times as you wish until semester-end, and upload multiple versions. I will read your final version at semester-end.)

5. Reading the reflective essays and reflecting on the process

The instructor at this stage reads the reflective essays, gets a sense of the spirit of learning they embody, reflects on the entire process, and assesses the effectiveness of this reflective approach, making changes as needed for the future.


Given that it is difficult to find reflective models suggested by prior research or practice in dealing with cases of plagiarism in a university environment, the goal of this study was to explore the feasibility and promise of a reflective approach. The main finding is that the reflective approach described in the previous section makes sense, is feasible to implement, and has the potential for numerous learning benefits. A limitation of this study is that with the small sample sizes involved, and the changes made in the dialogue process and reflective essay specifications each semester resulting from new learning during each trial, the study should be considered exploratory; it would have been premature to conduct studies looking for hard effectiveness data without first experientially exploring and understanding reflective processes for this new use. Nevertheless, several observations can be made from this study that can point to future research and practice directions.

The number of students detected to have deliberately plagiarized relative to the total number of students enrolled were 16 in 149, 4 in 133, 3 in 140, and 3 in 92 in Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, and Fall 2014 respectively for a total of 26 in 514. So the detected plagiarism rate was slightly over 10% in Spring 2013 and dropped off to the 2 to 3% range in subsequent semesters. Though the detection mechanism (Turnitin) and the assignments largely remained the same, it is not clear what factors caused a drop-off in plagiarism rates. (Three cases of inadvertent plagiarism were let off with a cautionary note and were not included in this report).

During the dialogue, all 26 students admitted to plagiarism (some later than others). Given the nature of the assignments, it was clear (and supported by software results) that the copying was from prior student submissions, where inadvertent plagiarism (e.g., from poor academic writing skills) is unlikely or impossible. All 26 students received zeroes on the assignment in question and four students also received a lower overall grade in the course for the severity and egregiousness of their plagiarism. All of them opted to write a reflective essay instead of attending an integrity violation resolution meeting that would have gone on their academic record in the university. Other than one student who copied textbook definitions of plagiarism and integrity from an Internet source without attribution (!), the other students had low Turnitin scores (<10%) of similarity with other sources on their reflective essays, suggestive of original writing.

The initial dialogue with the student was seen as very important in setting the tone for the student’s subsequent reflection. Being confronted by a disorienting dilemma, consistent with the research of Park (2003), many students would start by denying they had plagiarized at all and later, when they knew they were discovered, would rationalize or make light of their actions until experiencing feelings of grief or shame. Getting them to focus on their “wrong” actions that brought them to this situation without being perceived as accusatory and judgmental of the entire person required mindfulness on the part of the instructor. It was important for the instructor to be able to engage in reflective dialogue listening to each student as a unique person facing a unique situation and to respond spontaneously without following a patterned procedure. The importance of the dialogue interaction is suggested in comments such as the following, made by students in their essays.

I felt very ashamed and at the same time scared while standing outside your room, waiting for my turn to speak with you. But you made that horrible experience very pleasant by speaking in a very positive way and patiently listening to my explanation. That interaction with you has completely changed a part of me in a positive way and made me look at things in a new perspective. (Student 4, SAD, Spring 2013).

There were instances when I … chose a shortcut to success. After my interaction with you I realized the gravity of the mistake I did and had regretted (sic) for it. (Student 8, SAD, Spring 2013).

Many students pointed out the importance of authenticity and original work. This type of acknowledgement is reflected in comments such as the following.

Honesty, being authentic and original is one of the must-have virtues. (Student 21, ERP, Spring 2014).

The primary objective is learning and more importantly being original. … Primarily, what many of them and even I failed to understand is that you are not cheating the instructor you are cheating yourself. The instructor has nothing to lose, you will be the loser. (Student 10, SAD, Spring 2013).

Many students expressed a sense of regret about their action and a sense of learning from the experience. This was coupled in several cases with a sense of gratefulness at being provided this opportunity. Some suggestive comments follow.

I am not proud of this, but ashamed and humbled by this and something that I might never forget in my entire life. (Student 12, SAD, Spring 2013).

I felt guilty and had (sic) decided never to get into any such situation where my integrity comes into question. (Student 8, SAD, Spring 2013).

I have positively taught myself to treat this situation as ‘The First and The Last’. (Student 25, Fall 2014).

First I would like to thank the course instructor for being considerate about my mistake, giving me this opportunity to rectify myself and learn from the mistake. (Student 22, ERP, Spring 2014).

Many students attempted to justify their behavior in some sense before acknowledging their mistakes. Students from other countries brought cultural differences (Sutherland-Smith, 2008) and other factors in their understanding of academic integrity, suggested in the following comments.

I am not sure if it is the pressures of being in the campus away from family, coping with the coursework, age, cultural or language barriers that caused it but I always felt I wasn’t welcome. And it’s definitely not that I did not try. (Student 21, ERP, Spring 2014).

I was short of time in submitting the assignment, and I referred [to] my friend’s assignment. (Student 26, ERP, Fall 2014).

Now considering that, I am from (another country) and since my childhood I have being seeing lots of people, who are corrupt and now everyone thinks like it is a part and parcel of life. And this very thing has a deep effect on me because I have seen lots of corrupt people (Politicians, Police, Government employees, even people in my Father’s Office) making huge profits and having no regrets whatsoever. (Student 17, ERP, Fall 2013).

That day I thought it was just an assignment, and who would care about an assignment (because back in my home country, assignments were not a big thing, only exams were the prominent grading factors). (Student 12, SAD, Spring 2013).

For some students, the learning extended to observing other facets of themselves and also going beyond academic integrity to fairness and doing the right thing in life. Observations reflecting this sense include the following.

All of this has made me a better person now and has made me put in thought in the smallest of activities I perform. (Student 15, SAD, Spring 2013).

During my undergraduate studies I had been never serious about learning new things or doing something innovative or out of the box. …I started realizing the importance of gaining knowledge instead of just gaining a degree. (Student 6, SAD, Spring 2013).

One of the best takeaways of this semester would be that I would always take the path that is right no matter how difficult or hard it might be. (Student 8, SAD, Spring 2013).

I have always tried to abide and inculcate these virtues in my life and I expect to keep them with me for the rest of my life as well. (Student 21, ERP, Spring 2014).

How To Select An Interesting Illustration Essay Topic On Honesty

Are you in the process of writing an illustration essay on honesty, but are not sure how to select a topic? Then take the time to learn a few tips before proceeding, and it might help you figure out a topic you will be comfortable writing about.

What Is An Illustration Essay

Such a piece of content aims to discuss the topic by making points using examples. The thesis will contain the hypothesis of the piece, but throughout the body there will be many examples that are designed to prove the hypothesis is correct.

However, it is not the quantity of examples that will prove the hypothesis, instead it is the quality. Therefore, make sure that all the examples included make a very solid point.

Something You Can Relate To

Select a topic on honesty that you can relate to, because that will allow you to write the essay from personal experience. Writing from personal experience has the added benefit of allowing to write with insight into the topic.

If you are struggling to come up with a suitable topic, then here is a list of ideas to choose from:

  • Why honesty is the best policy no matter the scenario
  • What are the advantages of honesty in the workplace
  • Why you should always be honest regardless of being in a difficult predicament
  • When not being honest can be an advantage
  • How being honest could get you into trouble
  • Why being dishonest is looked upon as a bad thing in society
  • Why people tend to be dishonest when they do not have to be?
  • What are the key signs that can be used to identify when someone is being dishonest?
  • How can you reduce the chances of being taken advantage of by dishonest people
  • What steps can be taken for parents to teach their kids about the importance of being honest?

Finding Examples

The best examples to be used in an illustration essay about honesty are ones that have some emotion behind them. This could be a story about how someone had to deal with dishonesty, and then overcame it. It doesn’t matter where you find the examples from. All that matters is how accurately it supports the thesis statement, and with what clarity you are able to incorporate it into your piece.


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