As an instructor, you want to trust that students are doing their work honestly and learning in your class. Do you worry that this trust will be harder to maintain in a remote learning environment? Although cheating is a legitimate concern in any setting, there are teaching practices and tools that can protect academic integrity and promote engagement and learning in your online class.
Do students cheat more online?
First, note that the University of Missouri System makes a distinction between “cheating” and “plagiarism,” though both are acts of academic dishonesty. See UM System Standard of Conduct 200.010, C1 and C2, for the definitions.
Note: Studies show that the following factors increase cheating risk in a course, whether it is taught face-to-face or online:
- Students are extrinsically motivated—they are aiming for an A and not for the learning experience.
- The assessment is high stakes—a large percentage of the student’s grade hinges on the assignment.
- Low self-efficacy—Students might feel they haven’t mastered the material and must cheat their way to the desired grade. They might have become overwhelmed by other demands and, at the last minute, found themselves cheating as a shortcut to completing the assignment. They might have overestimated their ability, procrastinated, found themselves in a last-minute crunch, and (as in the last scenario) cheated their way to last-minute completion.
We might assume cheating is more common in online courses. After all, students are more anonymous, and technology makes it easier. However, the students tend to be older students who are more intrinsically motivated to learn. Also, the technology that makes it easier to cheat also makes it easier for faculty to detect cheating.
All that said, the current learning environment is rife with stressors that might tempt otherwise honest students to cheat:
- Most have been thrust into remote learning for the first time and might be struggling with the technology and staying on top of work without the daily routine of class attendance.
- Everyone is dealing with the external stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing. Students might worry about becoming ill or having a loved one become ill. Some might face financial insecurity or food insecurity because of lost work.
Therefore, our approach to encouraging and enforcing academic honesty in this environment should be tempered with compassion.
Teaching strategies for minimizing academic dishonesty
The good news is, many of the strategies that can minimize student temptation into academic dishonesty are also good overall teaching practices that promote inclusivity and student learning.
Note: Many of these ideas are adapted from Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty, by James Lang (2013, Harvard University Press), the University of Buffalo Office of Academic Integrity, and Ohio State Office of Distance Education and eLearning.
Be present for your students
When students know their instructor is present and cares about their learning, they will be less likely to cheat. The instructor presence that is inherent in the face-to-face classroom must be cultivated intentionally in an online class. Especially in the emergency “pivot” to remote learning, students might feel lost without the physical presence of faculty and classmates. Some ideas for creating presence in your online class:
- Send regular announcements—recaps of content covered, a preview of the next week's activities, relevant articles or current event, and words of encouragement.
- Enable commenting in your announcements so students can respond.
- Use the media recorder in Announcements to add a face or a voice to your message, or use it in SpeedGrader when providing feedback to students.
- Provide a general class Q&A message board for students.
- Make “office hours” available by Zoom.
- Use “Message Students Who…” in the Canvas gradebook to reach out to students who haven’t submitted work or who are struggling.
- If your class is small enough, schedule one-on-one Zoom meetings with students after tests. Ask students to talk through their rationale for some of their test responses. This can help you check whether they truly understand the material, guessed correctly or possibly obtained test answers from another source.
Be explicit about academic integrity
What does academic integrity mean for your course in the remote environment? What actions can students take or avoid to comply with your standards and the standards of the UM System? Students need to know the policies for which they will be held accountable. For example, specify whether it is acceptable for students to collaborate on an assignment or whether you expect them to work independently. Here's a template you can provide your students before each exam, that goes over Academic Integrity.
Foster intrinsic motivation
Explain to students how assignments and assessments are intended to support their mastery of the course and lesson learning objectives. Communicate the purpose, value and relevance of the course to future courses, or work to help students connect the value of their efforts to learning outcomes. Show them how they will continue to build on that work throughout the rest of the course, their degree program and their future career. In lectures or other supporting material, share how you have used the content in your own profession or practice.
Offer more low-stakes assessments with scaffolding
Try to spread the available points in a course across multiple low-stakes assessments rather than offering just a few high-stakes assessments.
Even better, use those low-stakes assessments as “scaffolding” toward a cumulative or capstone assessment. This allows students to practice and get feedback, which they can use to change course if they’re moving in the wrong direction. Scaffolding can increase students’ confidence in pulling together their final projects. It also allows you to monitor each student’s process and progress and become more familiar with their writing voices—you’ll be in a better position to flag discrepancies that might indicate dishonesty. Interactive assignments can reduce the incentive and means for academic dishonesty.
For courses that are assessed with multiple-choice tests rather than writing, make study questions available to the students. If you don’t already have chapter, lesson or module quizzes in place for the students, consider adding these—either for nominal points or an ungraded quiz for practice.
Consider how your course is designed and whether exams are the best option for assessing learning. There may be alternative and reliable options to assess student learning and comprehension. Consider assignments that require students to apply what they are learning by writing short essays or journals, completing small group assignments and projects, contributing to discussion boards, wikis or chats, or working on community-based projects.
Communicate expectations for writing and citation
Plagiarism does not usually look like a student submitting a paper copied entirely from another source. The Turnitin Plagiarism Spectrum shows the range of writing and citation errors that result in (often unintentional) plagiarism. Still, you can implement and model strategies for academically honest writing:
- Make sure your students are familiar with your discipline’s style guide and have had opportunities to practice using it for citation.
- Students are generally told that “common knowledge” does not have to be cited; discuss with them what is “common knowledge” for your class.
- Some incidents of plagiarism result from students resubmitting work from a previous class. Consider adding a policy about self-plagiarism to your syllabus if you expect them to submit completely original work.
- Create unique assignments that are difficult to plagiarize; for example, relating personal experience or recent events in their writing.
- Design non-generic essay prompts that reflect the specifics of your class.
- Provide options for students to select topics, methods of research, and presentation styles that are personally meaningful and highlight their strengths.
- Consider adding a statement for students to agree to when submitting a paper, such as, “I certify that the writing contained in this paper is my own and that any direct quotations have been identified and cited. Additionally, I have cited references in any place where I have significantly borrowed someone else’s ideas.”
- Share your own process. When you are writing for an academic journal, for example, how do you paraphrase and cite the sources you are referencing?
Increase test security
If you are concerned about students capturing test information and passing it on to others, the following steps can minimize this risk:
- Where possible, decrease the need for increased technological security measures by making exams open book, open note and open internet.
- Create randomized question groups in your Canvas quiz, and have the quiz pull some questions from each group. For example, create a group of three questions on a topic and have Canvas present two of those questions to the student. This way, no two students will take the same test. (Make sure questions in a group cover the same objective and are equivalent in difficulty level.)
- Show just one question at a time, and consider preventing students from going back to previous questions. Ensure students are informed of this policy before they begin the exam.
Upside: Prevents students from previewing all exam questions and can prevent students from returning to previously answered questions.
Forces students to alter the time-management and confidence-boosting test taking strategy of answering questions they know first and then revisiting questions they have trouble with. This can cause additional stress for some students; instructors may need to make accommodations or adjustments for situations involving heightened stress.
- If faculty require students to use LockDown Browser and set the quiz to show one question at a time, it can cause LockDown Browser to freeze, which adds to students’ stress when taking an exam.
- Shuffle the answer choices—but if you do this, eliminate choices such as “A and B” or “all of the above.”
- Design exams with a variety of item types—incorporate objective items, short answer, long answer, essays. Include questions that reference material included in online or class conversations or discussions. It is easier to cheat and cram (information students will quickly forget) with fact-based recall questions. Questions that require application of content can challenge students’ thinking during a test.
- Be willing to revise some of the questions each time you teach the course. Even small edits such as changing some of the incorrect choices or details in a question stem make a difference.
- Consider adding an initial question to exams asking students to verify they will complete the exam without unauthorized assistance. Data suggests a reminder like this prevents cheating. Sample language for exam question: “I affirm that I will not give or receive any unauthorized help on this exam and that all work will be my own. I will complete this exam in a fair, honest, respectful, responsible and trustworthy manner. This means that I will complete the exam as if the professor was watching my every action. I will act according to the professor’s instructions, and I will neither give nor receive any aid or assistance other than what is authorized. I know that the integrity of this exam and this class is up to me, and I pledge not to take any action that would break the trust of my classmates or professor or undermine the fairness of this class.”
- Consider asking students to agree to conditions for math and science assignments. Sample language: “I certify that the calculations and data in this assignment were generated independently, using only the tools and resources defined in the course, and that I did not receive any external help, coaching or contributions during the production of this work.”
Tools for minimizing academic dishonesty
The Office of eLearning provides the following tools to help faculty either prevent or identify academic dishonesty. These tools analyze student work or behavior to flag submissions that require closer attention. Note that no tool can prove definitively that cheating has occurred. You must interpret the available evidence and use your own judgment.
Note: Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you want further guidance on using these tools or assistance setting them up in your course.
Turnitin Feedback Studio
Turnitin is a tool that will compare submitted student writing against internet resources (including websites and electronic journals) and a comprehensive database of other papers. It will then generate an Originality Report identifying which parts of the paper match any of the sources in the Turnitin database.
When used in draft mode for assignments, Turnitin allows students to review their reports and make the necessary revisions in paraphrasing and citation before submitting a final document.
- Availability: MU, UMKC, and UMSL
- Learn More: Teaching Tools > Turnitin Feedback Studio
Respondus LockDown Browser and Respondus Monitor
Respondus LockDownBrowser is a custom web browser that literally locks students into the exam. When the LockDown Browser is enabled, students cannot open other tabs or applications; go to other websites (unless specified in the settings); print or Print Screen, copy or paste, or use the mouse’s right-click functions.
The LockDown Browser can be used with Respondus Monitor, which requires the use of a web camera to capture video of the student while taking the test. Respondus Monitor can flag suspicious behavior during a test, but it cannot prevent a student from interacting with others, looking at a smartphone or notes, and so forth.
The LockDown Browser is not suited for use with tests in publisher courseware (such as McGraw-Hill Connect).
The LockDown Browser is free. Students should install the software before taking their first test. You are strongly encouraged to provide a practice test first.
- Availability: MU, UMKC, and UMSL
- Learn More:Teaching Tools > Respondus LockDown Browser & Monitor
Addressing academic dishonesty
So you’ve followed all available advice to promote academic integrity in your course … and you still caught a student cheating. Now what?
First, don’t take it personally. Students don’t cheat because they dislike you. However, the student might not value the assignment, or the class … or it might be for any of the other factors discussed above.
However, UM System policy does state that the infraction must be formally addressed. See each campus’s page for reporting guidelines:
- Columbia: Reporting Academic Dishonesty (Office of Academic Integrity)
- St. Louis: Academic Integrity Guidelines (Office of Academic Integrity
- Missouri S&T: Academic Integrity Index (Academic Support)
- Kansas City: Academic Honesty and Student Code of Conduct
- Lang, James. (2013). Cheating lessons: Learning from academic dishonesty. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. This is available as an e-book in all UM System campus libraries.
- Academic Integrity and COVID-19 for Faculty and Staff (University at Buffalo)
- Academic Integrity in Online Courses (Ohio State University)
- Academic Integrity Support for Remote Instruction (University of California, San Diego)
- Student Agency in Uncertain Times: Reducing Anxiety in Your Suddenly Online Class” Thomas J. Tobin, Inside Higher Ed
In addition to sharing the following links with your students, please remind them that their Canvas Student Orientation course has information about time management and study skills for online learning, and this site will remain available to them.