Encouraging Academic Integrity Online

Academic integrity magazineWhat can you do as an instructor to encourage your students to behave with integrity when they are engaged in activities and assessments online? The online environment poses special challenges to instructional designers and instructors, but some of these challenges can be overcome through thoughtful instructional design. The following suggestions are the result of a brainstorming session attended by instructional designers and web developers from the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) and Distance and Continuing Education at the University of Waterloo in the fall of 2008.

Design for student education about academic integrity

  • Explain why adhering to the principles of academic integrity are important in your field/discipline.
  • Introduce students to (or remind them of) the skills they need to cite appropriately from various sources.
  • Make expectations clear to students on all assessments, assignments and projects and provide guidelines on how tests should be taken and assignments completed.
  • Be explicit where an individual rather than a collaborative approach should be taken to activities.
  • Create academic integrity contracts (PDF) or an honour system.
  • Keep the lines of communication open and make it easy for students to approach you if they have problems with deadlines rather than resorting to cheating.

Pedagogical design

  • Design well structured assignments with questions and activities that are clearly articulated.
  • Make the expectations for your course reasonable and avoid creating busy work.
  • Design activities so that they are worth an appropriate proportion of the final grade. There can be pitfalls at either end of the scale from an integrity stand point. If an assessment is worth too much, then there is more pressure to do well (so cheating is tempting), if it is worth too little, the activity will seem of little value (so cheating won’t matter).
  • Design questions that can not be answered easily unless the individual has done previous work in the course; assign work that builds sequentially, or on prior submitted work.
  • Have students apply personal experience when answering questions, or require that answers relate to something personal in the student’s life.
  • Make assessments include some self-reflection, critical thinking.
  • Stay away from having students submit a collection of facts in an assignment, but make the assignment more about the analysis of content or facts and the synthesis of an idea(s); ask questions that are more about concepts and connections rather than facts.
  • Design open-book tests that are more than scavenger hunts.
  • Require students to decide on an essay topic early in the term so that they have adequate time to work on the topic and get feedback on their topic choice. If they do not meet this deadline, there should be a concrete consequence (e.g., the instructor picks their essay topic for them).
  • Show evidence of the evolution of the ideas in large projects (submission of draft copies, rough drafts, or incremental submissions to monitor progress) and the bibliography (scans or photocopies of the first page of each reference), or have students create annotated bibliographies to show evidence of research and familiarity with sources. When feedback is supplied at each stage of the project, it is a better learning experience for the student.
  • Require the incorporation of unique resources (e.g., current newspapers).
  • Use multiple choice questions primarily for ungraded assignments or self-assessments.
  • Make sure that students get feedback on all assessments so that they can learn from their mistakes.
  • Use multiple methods of assessment in a course.
  • Use voice tools or telephone to do some oral testing to have students “defend” their work to make sure that they formulated arguments on their own.
  • Alternate standard assessments, such as quizzes and midterms, with case studies, portfolios, presentations, or discussions.  

Practical design

Essays, assignments, large projects

  • Change assignment and exam questions regularly and give the answers to past assignments so students can use them as back-up materials.
  • Make the assignments substantially different from year to year; use different base topics or so that the resources that students may refer to will vary.
  • Assign very specific essay topics that are hard to get from an “essay mill”.
  • Give students adequate time to meet deadlines so that they are not driven to cheat.
  • Use proctored time differently; have students research for an essay independently, but write the essay while proctored.
  • Balance online assessments with proctored assessments. Always use proctored, secure assessments for summative assessments that are worth a large proportion of the final grade.
  • Create group discussions which are archived and use this as a basis to discern writing skills so that you can check out changes in a student’s style, word usage and grammar. Rough drafts and “scaffolded” assignments can help discern writing skills as well.
  • Use voice tools or the telephone to do some oral testing or to have students “defend” their work to make sure that they formulated arguments on their own.
  • Debrief students randomly about their assignment/test/quiz /essay answers to assess their knowledge of what they have submitted.

Online quizzes

  • Create large banks of questions for online quizzes and have each student get a random sample of these questions.
  • Scramble answers on multiple choice questions. This works well as long as there is no choice for the questions that is “all of the above”.
  • Consider limiting the number of questions that appear on each screen to 1 or 2. Doing so will make it more difficult for students sitting next to each other to scan each other's whole exam for similar questions. 
  • Assume that all online tests are open book.
  • Use an algorithmic question generator to create calculation-based questions that have different parameters and numbers in the questions and in the answers.
  • Keep the timeframe for having access to the test reasonable, but short.
  • Keep the amount of time for actually interacting with the test as short as is reasonable (e.g., one minute for each multiple choice question).
  • Use delayed feedback so that students can see the score they have achieved only after the test is over for everybody in the class.
  • Make smaller frequent, assessments, so it is harder for students to arrange for constant help.



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