Online teaching has become the primary method of education for many institutions in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even after the resolution of the current global situation, online courses are here to stay. That means it’s more important than ever to find solutions for complications that can arise with remote learning. 

One such issue is academic integrity. Methods of monitoring academic integrity in the classroom have been in place for decades. However, the new environment of online teaching means many instructors are unfamiliar with strategies for preventing academic integrity violations. 

Online courses offer unique opportunities for students to be dishonest, but the medium also offers ways to monitor for this. Maintaining your institution’s reputation for academics is vital. Knowing and using the right monitoring strategies can discourage students from taking advantage of dishonest practices and less in-person supervision. 

What Is Academic Integrity?

Academic integrity is the practice of honestly and individually completing assignments. According to the Harvard College Handbook for Students, works of academic integrity adhere “to the scholarly and intellectual standards of accurate attribution of sources, appropriate collection and use of data, and transparent acknowledgement of the contribution of others to our ideas, discoveries, interpretations, and conclusions.” Essentially, academic integrity involves not cheating or using disallowed resources for assignments and tests. 

Students often find it tempting to violate the principles of academic integrity. Whether courses are difficult or cheating is simply too easy, many students will choose the path of least resistance. In unmonitored courses, that’s often the academically dishonest path. 

While cheating may be simpler for students in the moment, especially in this time of increased online courses, it’s bad for both themselves and the institution in the long run. Academic integrity is vital for two reasons:

Students’ education. Students who cheat are less prepared to continue learning in the future. Academic assignments are intended to evaluate a student’s current knowledge of given material. When students are academically dishonest on assignments, they give their instructors an inaccurate idea of their ability. Students also fail to learn the material itself, are at a disadvantage in future classes, and may feel pressure to continue cheating. 

School’s reputation. On a broader scale, frequent academic dishonesty will quickly affect both the students’ and their institution’s reputation. When students go out into the world to put their knowledge into practice, it will quickly become clear that they don’t actually know what they should. This reflects poorly on their institution. 

Common Types of Academic Integrity Violations

While every student who cheats on an assignment may do so in their own way, there are some general trends that can be anticipated by their instructors. Depending on the student’s motivation to cheat and the assignment they face, there are seven main categories into which their academic integrity violation may fall. Knowing what your students may attempt during your online course is the first step to preventing their dishonesty.

Plagiarism 

The most common type of dishonesty in student assignments is plagiarism. Using other people’s words or work without crediting them is a common strategy of students who may not be good at phrasing ideas in their own words or who simply want to boost their word count. Plagiarism looks much the same for online courses as it does for in-person classes. 

Some students commit plagiarism accidentally because they don’t understand how or why it’s important to credit other authors. Other students commit plagiarism because it’s simpler than doing the work themselves. Either way, these students miss the opportunity to fully grasp the concept they’re supposed to be learning. Simple plagiarism can often be caught with automated software that connects to most online learning platforms. 

Purchasing Papers

Students who understand that plagiarism is generally easy to identify might go a step further when violating academic integrity. There are multiple online services where students can pay others to complete assignments for them. These services allow unscrupulous students to buy finished papers without having to do anything except provide the assignment requirements. 

Purchased papers may be prewritten or written to the student’s specifications. Prewritten papers are often caught in the same automated software as simple plagiarism. Original purchased papers, on the other hand, may not be flagged by these systems. Instead, it’s up to the instructor and their assistants to read the paper and notice that it does not match the student’s writing style elsewhere. 

Cheating on Tests 

Cheating on tests is generally a matter of smuggling in sources that students are not permitted to use, like notes or cheat sheets. Some students may try to look at other students’ answers. Online courses may see more cheating on tests unless preventive measures are put in place because there is no external supervision ensuring that students are honest. 

Using Substitute Test-Takers

Some students will go a step beyond simply using disallowed resources or their classmates and will pay someone else to take tests or finish assignments for them. This is most common in situations where teachers or proctors aren’t able to identify students by sight. Online courses are a breeding ground for substitute test-takers, as it’s all too easy for someone who is not a student to log onto the platform and complete tests or quizzes for students. 

Sharing Tests or Answers

Another type of academic integrity violation committed by many students is working together on tests that should be taken separately. This can be as simple as one strong student sharing their answers with their friends or as complex as multiple students splitting up the test into sections so each person only answers a fraction of the material. Either way, this leads to multiple students having identical answers on the test.

Unauthorized Assistance

Even if students take a test or complete an assignment on their own, they may still get help from others. Online courses allow students to take the tests themselves but with someone coaching them the entire time. This may be another student, a parent, or even a YouTube video that explains the process of a problem. Without a proctor to monitor students for compliance, it’s extraordinarily easy for students to commit acts of dishonesty.

Unintentional Violations 

Finally, students may commit technically dishonest acts without realizing that this is what they’re doing. If students have not had academic dishonesty explained to them, they may see a dishonest act as simply using their resources

For example, a student may not realize that a test is intended to be closed-book unless a professor makes it clear upfront, and they may use their textbook on a final to receive a better grade. It’s crucial for online instructors to be clear in their expectations of students to avoid misunderstandings and accidental cheating like this. 

Ways Instructors Can Help Prevent Academic Integrity Violations

Instructors need to be proactive to combat academic integrity violations. While it’s impossible to completely prevent all dishonesty, by putting up the right barriers it’s possible to discourage students from most types of cheating. 

Learning how to prevent academic dishonesty is a skill that is only going to become more important as academic institutions implement more procedures to help maintain their reputations. The following strategies are effective methods of keeping students honest and their academic integrity intact. 

Educate Students 

The first and most important way to avoid problems with students is to give them a clear understanding of what academic dishonesty is. Younger students may have never been taught what is considered to be dishonest or how to avoid these behaviors. For example, be clear about how to cite sources and when students need to solve problems on their own to help them avoid unintentional plagiarism. 

It’s also critical to be clear about the potential penalties for academic dishonesty. Most institutions have strict policies regarding cheating and other violations. If you can make it clear that you would prefer your students to ask for clarification rather than face these consequences, you can help them learn and avoid many cases of cheating. 

Finally, work with your new course structure to minimize the potential for cheating. Anticipate problems like student collaboration and design a course that integrates that behavior instead of penalizing it. Assigning group projects and open-book tests instead of solo work can cut many types of cheating off before they begin. 

Enforce Academic Integrity Policies

Once your students are made aware of the policies regarding cheating, it’s essential that you actually enforce these policies. If one student gets away with dishonesty, many more will feel comfortable trying to cheat. While it may be difficult to report a student to the academic integrity office, it’s a valuable learning opportunity for them and their classmates. 

Provide Detailed Course Outlines

Another part of educating your students is giving them the resources they need to succeed. With online courses, it can be more difficult for students to get their questions about assignments and tests answered in a timely manner. Be as clear as possible in every assignment and test outline, as well as in your syllabus for the entire course. 

The fewer questions you leave unanswered, the less likely students will be to commit accidental violations. Meanwhile, they won’t have any excuse for purposeful violations, so discipline will be justified. 

Get to Know Students

Every student has their own “voice” that comes through when they write, whether in short-answer questions, emails, or essays. The more you can get to know each student and become familiar with their style and personality, the easier it will be to spot if they’ve had someone else complete an assignment for them. 

Having an individual relationship with your students can also make it easier for them to reach out to you when they’re struggling. Instead of feeling the need to cheat, they will feel more comfortable working with you to perform at their best academically. 

Utilize a Proctor

Many of the academic integrity violations that are easier online are easier because students are not faced with in-person supervision. Working with an online proctoring service, like that offered by Caduceus International Publishing, can solve a number of problems, including:

  • Preventing students from paying for substitute test-takers
  • Preventing unauthorized assistance during tests
  • Ensuring that students complete tests without extra resources like notes or books
  • Ensuring that students are taking tests alone

Online proctors can watch students during their tests and report any incidents of potential cheating to you. This saves you the time of trying to supervise dozens or hundreds of students while also keeping them honest and their integrity intact. 

Use Randomized Questions

Even for tests that aren’t proctored, you can avoid students cheating off of each other by using technology appropriately. High-quality testing solutions allow you to randomize questions so that students take the same basic test but see different questions with unique answers. If two students try to give each other the answers, it won’t matter because the randomized test makes those answers nonsense.

Monitor Study Sites

If you’ve produced your own curriculum and materials, it’s worthwhile to monitor “study help” sites like Chegg, Course Hero, Studylib, and StudySoup. Students in your previous courses may have uploaded your materials or prior tests to these sites where future students can pay to download them. If you find your materials there, you can do a couple of things:

  • Petition the site to remove your works
  • Generate new material each semester to prevent students from cheating with your old materials
  • Use a prebuilt curriculum created with online academic integrity in mind and with proctoring services built-in

Any of these strategies can be effective at reducing cheating, though the first two require significant effort on the part of the instructor. 

Conclusion

There’s nothing more important to an institution of higher learning than maintaining the quality of the education its students receive. This makes preserving the academic integrity of its students and courses vital. A reputation for academic honesty helps employers trust that graduating students know what they’re doing, while potential students trust that their investment of time and money is worthwhile, whether classes are in-person or online.

Taking steps like educating students about academic integrity, providing online proctoring services, and working to prevent cheating in online courses helps preserve academic integrity. While online courses do have unique considerations, they aren’t entirely divorced from traditional classrooms. Supervising students effectively and controlling your course materials are valuable methods of ensuring that your students are truly learning the material and remaining honest.

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