What is cheating? I’m sure we’d all agree that copying answers from someone else’s exam is cheating. But what about discussing the options and then answering? Is that cheating? What about writing notes on a small piece of paper and bringing those to your 8 a.m. marketing exam and sneaking peeks at what you wrote down? I think most people would agree that this action is cheating as well. What if a student consults his or her notes or the textbook when taking an online exam when there is no statement in the course specifying whether open book is accepted or forbidden? Is that cheating? Some would argue yes while others would argue no. There can definitely be gray area as to what is and is not cheating in any environment, but especially the online classroom. That’s why it’s extremely important to lay out your expectations very clearly when it comes to assessments so students know what is and is not acceptable behavior.
Students in this video from MacEwan University explain what they think academic integrity is (and isn’t). Think about what the common themes are that the students mention. Is there anything the students did not comment on that they should have?
The following are some of the strategies we employ to prevent academic dishonesty. Some are strategies we engage in during the design stage, but you can enact others even during your first course:
- Require students to agree to an academic code of conduct.
Students in our programs have to agree to a code of conduct to access their courses.
- Strengthen your social presence.
Believe it or not, even academic integrity is affected by your social presence. Studies have shown that when students see their instructor as an actual person, they’re much less likely to cheat. Forming relationships with your students is your single best deterrent for cheating.
- Allow open book and open notes on exams.
If you tell online students that they can’t use their notes on exams, some are going to honor your request while others…won’t. So in fairness to everyone, just allow open book and open notes on the exams. To make it difficult for students to simply look up every answer, use tight time limits and ask application-based questions on the exam that are difficult to look up in the book. Besides, application-based questions really are richer measures of learning than recall-type questions. Try this: Google some of your exam questions just to see what comes up in the search.
- Use multiple assessment methods with even weight distributions.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Instead of having 75 percent of the final grade come from multiple choice exams, which are the easiest assessment for students to cheat on, use multiple assessment methods (e.g., exams, discussions, essays, projects) and distribute the weights of the assessments as evenly as possible. Not only are you going to ensure that a student’s final grade is not dependent upon only one assessment method that they could have easily cheated on, but you are also getting a more holistic look at each student’s performance.
- Don’t bother with browser lock-downs.
There are tools available that can disable students from browsing or chatting on their computers while taking exams. Don’t even bother with these tools in online courses (they can be helpful when students are taking exams in monitored computer labs, however). Since students generally have many technology tools, such as laptops, smart phones, and iPads, they can be taking an exam on their laptop and chatting, browsing the web, and taking pictures of their computer screen, all at the same time. These so called “security measures” really just provide a false sense of security for online instructors. Again, using tight time limits that will minimize the amount of time a student has to look up answers or collaborate with another student is a more effective strategy. You can use this strategy with other security measures, like randomizing the order of questions and answer choices, randomly selecting questions from a pool of questions, and placing one question per screen to make it even more difficult for students to work together when taking online exams. Some instructors change up details in the exams every term to make them even hard to Google. The LMS also has an option that randomizes the numbers used in computational questions.
- Post a Cheating/Plagiarism Quiz in the course.
Ask students to read some information on cheating and plagiarism, and then take a short quiz to assess their understanding of what is and is not acceptable behavior when it comes to cheating and plagiarism. In your feedback, you can address areas of confusion so students know what is expected of them when taking exams or writing papers. The University of Arizona has an Academic Integrity page with many ideas for identifying, preventing, and dealing with academic dishonesty. Some examples include Academic Integrity Vignettes and Academic Integrity Quizzes. Just be sure to cite any sources you use! Setting a good example is also helpful in communicating your expectations.
- Gather a writing sample from your students.
Ask your students to complete a simple writing assignment early in the semester and then use that to compare to writing later in the semester. While you may not be able to detect all instances of plagiarism, you’d be surprised at what might jump off the page at you when doing a comparison. When anything looks a little suspicious, copy a phrase and paste it into Google to see if the exact phrasing is found on the web. There are proprietary tools like TurnItIn, which is integrated with the LMS, that can also be used for plagiarism checks.
Additional tips and strategies can be found in this document on Tips to Ensure Academic Honesty.
Despite our best efforts in the design stage, you may still suspect academic dishonesty from a student. For example, your records may show that a student did not submit a quiz attempt, but the student says otherwise. What should you do? As always when you’re in doubt, contact your instructional designer. We put on our Sherlock Holmes hats and gather clues for you so you can make the call.
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