Encouraging academic integrity in your courses

What can you do as a instructor to encourage your students to do honest work? There are many reasons cited by students when they are asked why they cheated, plagiarized or collaborated dishonestly. Some of the most common reasons can be instructive regarding what faculty members and teaching assistants can do to discourage dishonest behaviour and encourage academic integrity in their courses.

  1. Educate your students: students must be educated on what is and is not acceptable, and that there can be substantial penalties for not following the University of Waterloo policy. Do not assume that your students know how to correctly acknowledge sources, or that they will come to you with questions. You may also want to direct your students to the Academic Integrity (AI) undergraduate or graduate tutorial in your course syllabus to further their knowledge on AI. If your students are having issues with writing direct them to the Writing and Communication Centre Workshops.
    1. Explain why the principles of academic integrity are important in your field/profession.
    2. Consider inviting your liaison librarian to your class to discuss proper citation and paraphrasing practices. The Waterloo library's librarian page has a list of the liaison librarian for each academic unit.)
    3. Let your students know that all ideas and information that they incorporate into their work should be referenced, even something that someone told them about (referenced as a “personal communication” from that person).
  2. Provide clear instructions on the course syllabus and in introductory lectures on what is expected and required of your students. For assignments, clearly indicate if group collaboration is acceptable (and the level of collaboration permitted) or if students must do all work independently.
  3. On the course syllabus, refer to Policy 71 (Student discipline). Indicate both verbally and in writing that there can be significant penalties for failing to meet the Univeristy of Waterloo AI standards. You may also choose to have your students complete an Academic Integrity Acknowledgement Form with each assignment, on which students "sign off" on having done the work themselves, and/or listing classmates with whom they may have consulted.
  4. Provide information on how to credit academic sources, and/or refer to a source for that information. The library has excellent information on Modern Language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association (APA) formatting, etc. You may also find it helpful to require an annotated bibliography, where students are required to provide a brief abstract for every source document. This ensures that students have documented their research and used source material appropriately.
  5. Ensure all of your teaching materials properly acknowledge all sources (including course notes, charts, data, tables, figures, maps, PowerPoint presentations, etc.) so that you lead by example. Remember, your behaviour will set the standard for your students.
    1. Be reasonable in your expectations of students. They are (usually) taking other courses and have responsibilities beyond their school work. Students should spend 8-10 hours per week on each course, and this includes in-class time.
  6. Report all cases of suspected misconduct promptly to the Associate Dean of your Faculty. It is critical that all cases of misconduct (even minor ones) are reported promptly to improve our efforts in educating students and to identify those who re-offend.
    1. Provide sufficient space between people taking a test. Reserve another room, if necessary, to allow for this, and ask the departmental secretary to arrange for graduate-student proctoring help.
    2. Have more than one ordering of questions on tests, and do not colour-code different test versions, as this allows students to know which tests are the same as theirs.
    3. Proctor tests conscientiously. Avoid merely sitting or reading passively at a desk at the front of the class or allowing your teaching assistants (TAs) to do this – circulate in the room and monitor students’ behaviour carefully.
  7. Take the time to talk to your students about the importance of AI and the need for them to learn and reflect on the information in your course. Developing relationships with your students helps to build an atmosphere of trust and respect. Help them understand the importance of AI and integrity in general.
    1. Establish an environment that is conducive to their coming to see you (rather than resorting to cheating or plagiarizing) if they have a problem with getting a paper or an assignment done on time.
    2. Tell them a little about yourself, and how you came to be a professor or graduate student.
    3. Make a serious effort to learn the names of at least some of your students.
    4. Be available to students and/or have teaching assistants be available for help, particularly at crucial ‘crunch’ times before assignment due dates and test dates.
    5. Let them know that you are all on the same side as far as the ultimate goal – learning – is concerned, rather than establishing a “me against them” mentality.

Small ways to help

Highlight the relevance and importance of your assignments to improve student engagement and deter "shortcuts".

  • Clearly explain your expectations with regard to group work.

  • Don't assume your students already know how to correctly cite source documents.

  • Encourage discussion on Academic Integrity issues and the challenges facing your students.

  • Make the weighting of assignments and tests reflective of the effort involved.

  • Change assignments and exams regularly. Provide students with copies of old exams and assignments for practice or post them on the web.
  • Make assignments relevant and interesting, and design them so that it is difficult for students to plagiarize or cheat on them. For example, you can ask for outlines and drafts, annotated bibliographies, and photocopies of the first page of each of the references. You can also assign very specific topics that would not be available from a commercial paper mill.


  • Christensen Hughes, J. (2003). Academic integrity: A renewed Canadian focus. Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 35, 7-9.
  • McCabe, D. and Pavela, G. (2004). Ten updated principles of academic integrity. Change, May/June, 10-15.
  • Petrie, O. (2003.) Core, January 2003, Volume 12, No. 2 (York’s Newsletter on University Teaching, edited by Olivia Petrie).
  • Stevenson, S. (2003). Academic integrity: What do students want from faculty? In Touch, November, 3.
  • Van Gyn, G. (2004). General strategies to encourage academic integrity. Currents (Newsletter of the Learning & Teaching Centre, University of Victoria), Vol. II, No. 1.