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An exploration of student integrity in the digital age

Professionalism is a value that is important to me, and one that I work diligently to impart onto my students in both my actions and in my instruction. As the Nutrition and Dietetics Internship Director at Seattle Pacific University, I oversee supervised learning experiences for a cohort of 10 post-baccalaureate interns placed in a variety of clinical nutrition, community nutrition, and food service management sites across Western Washington. An essential component of pre-requisite knowledge prior to beginning supervised practice is an understanding the Code of Ethics (COE) for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession. There are several principles and standards in our profession’s COE that address my overarching question, which is as follows:

How is integrity demonstrated in students’ digital profiles and communications on social media?

This question aligns with ISTE Standards for Coaches #7d: “Empower educators, leaders and students to make informed decisions to protect their personal data and curate the digital profile they intend to reflect” (International Society for Technology in Education).  

The following principles and standards from the Code of Ethics for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession are relevant to the discussion of integrity in students’ online presence (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics):

  • Principle #2 in the COE addresses “integrity in personal and organizational behaviors and practices,” and includes:
    • Standard D: “Respect intellectual property rights, including citation and recognition of the ideas and work of others, regardless of the medium (e.g. written, oral, electronic)  
    •  Standard H: “Respect patients/clients autonomy. Safeguard patient/client confidentiality according to current regulations and laws.”
    • Standard E: “Provide accurate and truthful information in all communications.”
  •  Principle #3 in the COE addresses “professionalism,” and includes:
    •  Standard C: “Demonstrate respect, constructive dialogue, civility and professionalism in all communications, including social media.”

In my quest to understand how dietetics students demonstrate integrity online, it is important to view potential ethical issues within the framework of our profession’s COE.  As outlined above, there are a variety of ethical considerations concerning integrity and professionalism. Following are some examples of how these ethical principles and standards translate into demonstrating integrity online in a student’s online presence:

  • Referencing information correctly in blogs, electronic newsletters, infographics, Tweets, and public service announcements when students are providing nutrition education to the public;
  • Verifying that all information communicated online to the public is accurate and truthful, including in blogs, electronic newsletters, infographics, Tweets, and public service announcements;
  •   Ensuring that students do not discuss confidential information (Peregrin, 2018) or include photos of their patients or clients in their social media posts or blogs;
  • Maintaining confidentiality of supervised practice environments by refraining from posting pictures from clinics and hospitals that may be considered private or containing sensitive information;
  • Refraining from posting or discussing proprietary, internal organizational information in social media posts (Peregrin, 2018);  
  • Keeping online conversations respectful and civil even when there is disagreement or differing perspectives, including both posts and responses to posts.  

Peregrin (2018) asserts that there is no guarantee that private social media posts are actually private, and anything a student posts or says online has the potential to be discovered by an unintended audience, such as a prospective educational program or potential employer. He points out that the content of students’ posts have the potential to affect them adversely in the future, so it is critical that students understand potential consequences for what they choose to communicate on social media.

In the K-12 curriculum “Commonsense Education,” a lesson plan developed on the topic of digital citizenship explains that each of us has a digital footprint, which is our unique public presence in online activities. The curriculum reinforces that one’s digital footprint is an aspect to our identity that can either work for or against us in future opportunities depending on what we post and how we handle ourselves online. This concept of the digital footprint seconds what Peregrin reveals about the impact of an online presence affecting educational and employment decision-making (Commonsense Education).   

In summary, there are many ways in which dietetic students can demonstrate integrity in their digital profiles and communications on social media. A periodic review of the Code of Ethics for Nutrition and Dietetics Profession is essential to ensure that students avoid any potential ethical issues which may stem from what they may post and publish in their online forums.    

References

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Code of Ethics for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession. https://www.eatrightpro.org/practice/code-of-ethics/what-is-the-code-of-ethics

Commonsense Education. Who’s looking at your digital footprint? https://www.commonsense.org/education/digital-citizenship/lesson/whos-looking-at-your-digital-footprint

International Society for Technology in Education. ISTE Standards for Coaches. https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

Peregrin, T. Promoting student integrity. Ethical issues in the digital age. (2018). Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 118(8), 1498-1500.