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Fostering Academic Integrity in the Digital Space

online-test2Cheating is a word that is on the lips and the keystrokes of many an academic in higher education. Online instructors are anxious to ensure that their students demonstrate academic integrity when participating in college courses.  

This article will offer some concrete steps that can help reduce students’ ability to cheat in an online course, but more importantly, it will offer ways to encourage students to show more integrity in their academic efforts.

We will start by looking at how instructors can promote academic integrity then move into those concrete steps to deter cheating.

Promoting Academic Integrity

Online instructors can do much to promote academic integrity before, during and after the lifecycle of an online course. They can do this by:

  • Setting expectations around academic integrity
  • Making real connections with students in the online space
  • Developing an understanding of academic integrity in the course
  • Focusing on small group engagement

Setting Expectations

This particular concept is true about so many different aspects of any online course. Just as you let your students know what is expected of them in terms of assignment instructions, discussion etiquette, and presence in the online course, being specific about what to expect in regards to academic integrity will benefit both the students and the instructor in the long run. 

Do not just assume that students will know what the expectations are about submitting academic work. "Phygitals" - first-generation college students -  have been living in a world of open access and may not automatically know what rules and policies apply in that situation.

Making Connections 

Students who feel more connected to the online instructor and the course are less likely to feel the need to cheat in any given situation.  When possible, make an effort to learn who the students are in the online course. Leverage synchronous and asynchronous activities to allow relationship building between the instructor and students.

online-test1Developing Understanding

Students who understand what cheating is and is not for the course are less likely to exhibit those behaviors. Use the first week or orientation unit in your course to begin the conversation about Academic Integrity with the students.  Create an activity like “behavior lists” that will help them identify cheating behaviors. Leverage an online discussion forum to discuss what academic integrity means.  Within reason work with the students to create an academic integrity policy for the course.  Giving the students a way to speak to the academic integrity promotes buy-in and encourages them to do better in the course as a whole. 

Focusing on Small Groups

Just as in large face-to-face classes, students can feel lost in a crowd in the online space. When students cannot connect to peers meaningfully, it costs less for them to cheat academically.  When appropriate, engaging, small-group activities cause students to connect to each other and help each other be accountable. When utilizing a class discussion, break it out into groups of five to ten students, and then have all come back to the larger discussion and summarize.

Other methods instructors can use can also help like using frequent and varied assignments, or allowing opportunities for fun and exploration in the course.  Making just a few of these changes can go a long way toward fostering academic integrity in your course and reducing the need to solely relay on punitive measures.


Best Practices to Reduce Cheating in the Digital Space

In Online Tests

In Online Assignments

Randomize questions & limit time

  • Randomize questions (and answers)
  • Give tests a time limit (make it difficult for students to “look up” answers)
  • Introduce questions one at a time


Have shorter, more frequent quizzes

  • Encourages students to stay on top of coursework
  • Eliminates incentive of cheating by reducing the value of each quiz


Require Lockdown Browser and Monitor

  • Prevents student from doing anything other than taking the test with their computer
  • Records students taking the test with webcam/microphone. Identified anomalies instructor can check for cheating


Have students sign honor pledge at first quiz question.

  • Reduces cheating by reminding students what is at stake



Remind students about technology during test

  • No phone or other device
  • Reminds students that instructor takes cheating seriously


Be subjective (when possible)

  • Use short answer, essay questions so that test takers must generate their own wording for answers



Use a plagiarism checker

  • Use the SafeAssign option within a Blackboard assignment or
  • Use a Turnitin assignment
  • Start your course with a “demo” assignment so students can see how originality reports work


Utilize an assignment journal

  • Have students report regular progress on assignments
  • Shows a view of students' work from beginning to end


Use ‘Application’ assignments

  • Require students to apply essential course concepts to a relevant or current problem.


Leverage assignments that require presentations

  • Make students content creators
  • Forces students to demonstrate what they know




Foster a culture of academic integrity

  • Have students sign a pledge at beginning of class
  • Facilitate an asynchronous discussion on what cheating is and isn’t
  • Involve students in creating a academic integrity policy for the class


Final Thoughts 

  • Be clear about your expectations and rules for completing every assignment and test. Feel free to use reminders during the process. 
  • Instructors can also model integrity by citing courses, being present and prepared in the digital space, and modifying exams and assignments from year to year.
  • Be wary of publisher exams as many of those already live online where students can get to them. If you needs to use publisher content, remember to randomize and limit time.
  • Remember to lean on your instructional designer, as he or she can be a tremendous help when sorting through all the ins and outs of academic integrity in the digital space.