Curbing Cheating Online: Creating a Culture of Academic Integrity

This post is part of a mini-series on preventing cheating in online classes. You can find more posts in this mini-series by searching for “academic integrity” or “cheating” in the search box on the main page.

Understanding why students cheat in their schoolwork helps us design courses that makes cheating less of a temptation. For academic honesty to be a choice that students consistently make, we must make it the standard for behavior; we must make it more compelling, more rewarding, and sometimes even easier to do what is right than what is wrong.

We teach academic integrity as a standard when we connect it with the values of our institution, our discipline, and our students’ future professions. If your university has an honor code, talk about it; include an early-semester assignment over it, such as student agreement to it. Early college courses, such as First Year Experience (FYE) courses, should give considerable attention to it, but its principles should be reiterated in upper-level research, practicum, and professionalization courses. As students near graduation, they should be taught the ethics of the professions related to their hoped-for career.

We make academic integrity more compelling when we stress the consequences of failing at it and of succeeding at it. Every discipline, unfortunately, has examples of people of who failed to act with integrity. Showcase the consequences of their choices to cheat–and not just the impact on their career but on the people they hurt. Also show the consequences of succeeding at it. Adult learners are motivated to apply what they have learned to the real world; stress how academic integrity prepares them for the tasks they are learning to complete as part of the course.

We make academic integrity more rewarding when we praise students for conducting their work ethically. Give feedback not just on the results that students produce but on their processes. For example:

  • Pop into the online tutoring session to tell everyone “good job” for being there.
  • Offer alternative credit (like dropping the lowest quiz score) for students who answer each other’s questions in a Help Forum.
  • Create an assignment in which students develop a study aid and share it with their peers; teach them how to create study aids and encourage them to collaborate in preparation for exams; this is basically giving them credit for studying.
  • Assign written work in stages so students earn credit for managing their work in smaller chunks rather than attempting to do it all at the last minute (which makes cheating more tempting). Requiring students to submit a bibliography and notes over sources well in advance of the final paper due date helps assure that they are identifying, reading, and synthesizing sources, which, for many students, is intimidating.
  • Assign study groups at the start of the semester (You can create breakout groups in discussion board in most LMS.) based on real-time availability, so students can coordinate synchronous study sessions among themselves if they want to.
  • Offer written feedback praising the process that students have undergone in creating the product that you are evaluating.

When I say that we should make academic integrity easier to achieve I don’t mean we should make academics easy; we should encourage students to struggle with difficult concepts. I mean that we should make cheating harder than not cheating. This means setting up barriers to cheating, like using robust test banks, but it also means showing students easy ways to complete tasks that don’t present a worthwhile challenge. For example, teach them to use Google Scholar as well as your university’s library’s website. (After all, they only have access to the library while a student, but they can use Google Scholar forever.)

Caravaggio’s The Cardsharps (c. 1594) shows three men at a card table. The man who faces away from us has several cards tucked into his waste band, behind his back. While the man facing us looks at his card, another man over his shoulder views his cards and signals them to his partner across the table.

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