The article “The New Cheating Economy,” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education (2016), tells the story of two Western Carolina University professors who set up a fake online class to see what forms of cheating they could detect. Their story shows that cheating is now a service industry. Students can hire “academic writers” to complete assignments or to take classes. They can access quiz/exam question banks, publisher instructor manuals, and course materials such as lecture notes through online “study sites,” such as CourseHero and Quizlet.
The good news, according to James Lang, author of Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty (2013), is that we can design and deliver courses that discourage cheating—or even make it impossible. These same strategies also increase student learning. Here are some strategies to consider:
Offer students frequent, low stakes opportunities to earn their grades. Studies show that under the right circumstances (particularly when the pressure is high) most people are willing to cheat to some degree. To reduce cheating, take advantage of the Testing Effect, in which students have repeated opportunities (not just tests) to engage with the course content and receive feedback.
For example, instead of having two high stakes objective exams, offer a series of short quizzes that contain a variety of question types, in which students get multiple attempts to master the material. In our Economics Foundation courses, instead of weekly reading quizzes, students have notetaking assignments that include open-ended questions covering key concepts from the reading. Or, instead of having one project due at the end of a course, have the project due in periodic deliverables throughout the course. This reduces the likelihood of purchasing papers and also allows you to develop a “writing fingerprint” unique to each student (McGee, 2013).
Use authentic assessments that relate to students’ experiences or to their original research. Authentic assessments make plagiarism and purchased papers very difficult because students are doing unique work. In addition, authentic assessments foster intrinsic motivation, and students who are motivated to learn are less likely to cheat (Lang, 2013). Some examples of authentic assessments include case studies, interviews, simulations, and peer review.
For example, students in our Statistical Analysis Foundation course have a weekly case in which they apply their knowledge of statistical analysis to solve a business problem for a fictional company. They have to determine what analyses to run, interpret the results, and make a recommendation to the company. The cases can be changed each semester by adjusting a few key details. In our Project Management course, students develop a project management plan in two deliverables, which includes the opportunity to receive and integrate peer feedback.
Set clear expectations and state your academic integrity policy. Your policy should have significant consequences across all assessments. As a result, the benefit of cheating is very small while the risk is very high. Consider including in your Syllabus information such as whether you will use an originality checker like Turnitin, what will happen if you suspect academic misconduct, which of your materials can be shared outside of your course (e.g., to commercial “study sites”), your required format for citing borrowed material, and acceptable types of group collaboration. In addition, provide rubrics or grading criteria for every assignment so students understand how they will be evaluated (WCET 2009).
Talk to students about academic integrity early and often. Develop a culture of academic integrity right when your course begins. Peer influence is one of the most significant factors in determining whether a student cheats. Students who know or even perceive that their peers are cheating are much more likely to cheat (Lang, 2013). Many online programs have honor codes, but honor codes alone don’t deter cheating. However, an honor code combined with a statement of consequences from the instructor does significantly deter cheating (Corrigan-Gibbs, 2015). Use announcements and feedback options in your LMS to remind students of your academic integrity policy and to stress the importance of your program’s honor code. You might also direct students to an academic integrity module or develop your own (here’s one from Acadia University and one from Colorado Community Colleges Online).
Get to know your students. Forming student-instructor relationships is still the best deterrent for cheating. A great way to start is through an ice breaker activity like an Introductions discussion. Reply to each student to welcome them to the course. As part of the Introductions discussion, have students complete their LMS profiles and answer questions about themselves. This builds community in the course and provides you with a writing sample that you can use for comparison if you’re questioning whether a student turned in their own original work. Engage with students through announcements, by giving feedback, by being active in the discussions. Let them see “the real you” by sharing some personal and professional interests.
Use an originality checker (e.g., Turnitin) as a learning tool. Originality checkers don’t detect plagiarism; they detect matching text. A high percentage on an originality report doesn’t necessarily indicate that plagiarism has occurred, since these tools will detect citations, quotes, and even assignment text (if you provided a template for students to use) as matching text on the originality report. In addition, originality checkers do not detect plagiarism of ideas or purchased papers. Consider using an originality checker as a learning tool, rather than as a policing device. For example, students might submit an initial assignment draft to a Turnitin-enabled dropbox, evaluate their own originality report (after some initial instruction from you), and make changes. Lang (2013) gives the example of displaying an unpublished draft of your own academic writing along with the corresponding Turnitin originality report to talk about how to balance your own interpretations with borrowed material.
Take advantage of the features in your LMS that deter cheating. Use the tools available within the LMS for drawing quiz questions randomly from a pool, randomizing answer choices, providing appropriate time limits, and using groups and release conditions to make different versions of assessments available. Your LMS might also have an algorithmic feature that you can use to generate unique numerical problems for each student. Periodically search online for your quiz or exam questions to see if the correct answers can be found easily.
Use some checkpoints for identity verification. If you’re worried about verifying a student’s identity, you might try using a synchronous meeting tool to give oral exams. You can also cross-reference a student’s submissions against writing samples from earlier activities, such as the Introductions assignment. In addition, if you have a student’s electronic file, such as a Word document, you can check the document properties to see what name is associated with the file.
What about proctoring? There are many proctoring services available, both live and virtual. Live proctoring may be a burden for online students who may not have a proctoring center available in their region, and who might struggle with full-time work and childcare issues. Virtual proctoring comes with technology requirements and privacy issues. With both types of proctoring, there is a cost passed on to the students. Proctoring may be the right solution in some situations, but given the information we have, it seems that the best way to address academic dishonesty is to first create the most effective learning environment possible.
The iDocs team presented information on academic integrity by design at the Consortium meeting in Wisconsin Dells in January 2017. Click here to view this presentation.
- Corrigan-Gibbs et al. Deterring Cheating in Online Environments. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction. September 2015.
- Lang, James. Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty. Harvard University Press. 2013.
- Lang, James. Cheating Lessons Part 1. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Lang, James. Cheating Lessons Part 2. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Lang, James. Cheating Lessons Part 3. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- McGee, Patricia. Supporting Academic Honesty in the Classroom. 2013.
- Best Practice Strategies to Promote Academic Integrity in Online Education. Version 2.0 June 2009.
- Wolverton, Brad. The New Cheating Economy. The Chronicle of Higher Education. August 28, 2016.
This article was originally published In the April 2017 edition of Online Cl@ssroom, volume 17, number 4.