Academic Honesty Online

Academic honesty can be an issue in both face-to-face (f2f) and online teaching environments. Though students in online classrooms are not necessarily any more likely to cheat than those in f2f classrooms, here are some strategies you may find helpful if you teach hybrid classes, online classes, or even face-to-face classes with some online work.

Classroom Culture

One way to deter cheating is to make sure that expectations for and definitions of academic honesty/dishonesty are clear.

Provide an academic honesty policy in the syllabus. The policy should define the nature of academically dishonest or honest behavior. Specifying every behavior is not possible. General guides for what constitutes dishonesty (e.g., not citing sources, turning in work other than one’s own) are sufficient.

Provide a statement in the syllabus or at the beginning of any assignment stating the parameters for academically honest work. Some students are unsure of what constitutes acceptable collaboration (e.g., getting another student’s opinion on wording vs. using another student’s wording). They welcome the clarification.

At the beginning of the course, require students to “sign” a code of conduct. For our students, the code is presented as a survey in Desire2Learn. They read the code and click “accept.” They cannot participate in the course until they accept the code.

At the end of an exam or upon submitting a writing assignment, require students to “sign” an academic honesty statement certifying that they did the work on their own and did not engage in academically dishonest behavior. Again, this could be as simple as a survey or an actual question in the exam. Yes, students may lie, but the presence of the statement reinforces the instructor’s expectations and perhaps tugs a bit at their conscience if they were less than honest.

Quizzes and Exams

Use multiple assessments in multiple formats. Students may find someone to take a single quiz or write a single document, but finding a friend or multiple friends to do several assignments throughout a semester is difficult.

Randomize. Use a large test bank to randomize test questions. In my Desire2Learn test bank, I have a folder for each exam question. Within the folder are three variations on that question. When a student starts the exam, D2L randomly pulls one question from each folder. It is incredibly unlikely that students will receive the same exam. Yes, it’s a lot of work to set up and create this test bank, but an advantage is that I don’t have to write new exams every semester. I can just keep adding to the test bank and letting D2L generate my exams.

In addition to randomizing which test questions appear, the order in which the test questions appear can also be randomized, as can the answers within each question. This way, even if students are taking the same test, they will not likely have the same question at the same time. And if answers are randomized and a student tries to cheat by sharing answers (e.g., “The answer to the positive language question is B”), odds are this answer will be incorrect for the other student.

Use application questions. Use questions such as “Which of the following uses the best you view?” rather than “Which of the following is a characteristic of the you view?” so that students are not able to look up direct answers in the text.

Set time limits for taking a test and for the availability of a test. Depending on the difficulty, students need only about 30-45 seconds per multiple choice question. Also, if the test is available for only a one-hour or two-day period, students have fewer options for enlisting the help of others and less time for looking up answers during the exam.

Writing Assignments

As with f2f classes, we can probably never be sure that the work submitted in an online class was not written by someone else. Getting to know students and engaging them in the material is a great way to promote academically honest behavior regarding writing assignments.

Change writing assignments each semester. Students definitely reuse and recycle. Even having a fall version and spring version of the assignment can decrease the opportunity for reusing previous students’ work.

Know the students. The last three students I had issues with were caught because the voice in their writing assignments was so different from the voice in their discussion postings. Changes in voice, style, and tone (in addition to abrupt changes in font or leading) are dead give aways.

Incorporate steps in the writing assignment such as audience analysis quizzes and peer review to keep students on track and connected to the work.

The goal in promoting academic honesty is not to create a culture of suspicion and mistrust, and certainly, a heavy-handed approach will create such a culture. However, if students know the instructor values honesty and if instructors promote honesty and ethics as central to a student’s professional image, students will generally rise to the occasion. I’m optimistic (or incredible naive) and believe most students do their own work. But for those rare times when one or two may be tempted to do otherwise, I hope that I’ve structured the course in such a way that they’ll resist the temptation. 

Do you have tips for promoting academic honesty? A story you’d like to share? Please post them here.

~Paula

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