Steps Towards Assuring Academic Integrity

Article by Nathan Kraftcheck.

A common initial concern I often hear when meeting with new distance education instructors is how to prevent cheating and plagiarism. How can they ensure the rigor of their assessments? Although there is not a 100% successful strategy that one can adopt, neither is there a 100% successful strategy for eliminating cheating during in-person assessments (Watson & Sottile, 2010). However, we still strive to limit academic dishonesty to the best of our abilities. I’ve provided some practices below that you may find useful in both reducing the opportunity for students to commit academic misconduct, and their motivation to do so in your class.

Quiz and exam building strategies to save time and reduce cheating

One way in which online instructors reduce time spent grading is through online quizzes and exams. Systems like Canvas have allowed for automatic grading of certain question types for many years (open-ended manually graded questions are also available). Depending on an instructor’s goals, course objectives, and discipline, automatically scored online quizzes and exams can be a useful tool.

  • As a formative learning activity in itself—a way for students to check their own learning in low-stakes assessment.
  • As a replacement for other low-stakes work. This can be useful in offloading discussion board fatigue that many students cited over the Fall of 2020.
  • As a method to assess foundational knowledge that is necessary for future work in the major or program.
  • As a manageable way to assess a large number of students.

Decorative icon of a stopwatchWhen including online quizzes and exams in a course, the ability for students to look up the answer is always a concern. Instructors may be tempted to direct students to not use external materials when taking their assessment. Unfortunately, just asking students not to use such material is unlikely to find much success. A more common, practical approach is to design the quiz or exam around the fact that many students will use external resources when possible.

  • Allow multiple attempts.
  • Consider drawing questions from a pool of possible questions. This can allow the students to engage with the same concept, framed differently, helping them work on the underlying concept instead of mastering a specific question’s language.
  • Let students see the correct answer after the quiz or exam is no longer available. This can help if you'd like to allow your students to use their quiz or exam as a study guide.
  • Draw questions from a pool of possible questions—each student will have a randomized experience this way and depending on how large the pool is, some students may not see the exact same version of the questions (assuming different wording across questions that measure the same concept).
  • Shuffle the order of possible answers.
  • Limit how long the quiz or exam is open if you want to mimic a closed-book assessment—don't allow students time to look up all the answers.
  • Let students see the correct answer after the quiz or exam is no longer available. This can help if you'd like to allow your students to use their quiz or exam as a study guide.
  • Only show one question at a time—this can limit a student's ability to look up multiple questions at once and also limit their ability to share the questions with a friend.
  • Set availability and due dates for your quizzes or exams.
  • Modify your questions slightly from semester to semester. Do this for 100% of your publisher-provided questions—assume copies of publisher questions and their answers are available online for students to look up.

For more detailed information on these items, please look at this page for guidance.

Less high-stakes assessment and more low-stakes assessment

It’s fairly common for teaching and learning centers to promote an increase in the use of lower-stakes assessments and a decrease in the higher-stakes assessments. This might seem counterintuitive because more assessments could mean a greater opportunity to cheat, right? It may also seem like additional work since students would be required to take assessments more frequently. However, there is good reason to advocate for more frequent, smaller assessments.

  • Students have a better understanding of how well they grasp discrete topics.
  • Students will know earlier if they’re not doing well, instead of at the first midterm.
  • Students learn from recalling information—a quiz can be more effective than just studying.
  • Students learn more through repeated assessment in comparison to one assessment (Brame & Biel, 2015; Roediger & Butler, 2011).

“Done” / “not done” grading

For low-stakes formative student assignments, consider adopting a done/not done approach. This could take the form of any assignment you could quickly assess for completion, for instance, a brief reflective or open-ended written assignment submission or discussion post. By keeping the activity brief and focused, you’ll be able to quickly assess whether it was done correctly while allowing students to re-engage with class topics by making meaning from what they’ve learned.

From the University of Waterloo:

  • What new insights did I develop as a result of doing this work?
  • How has my perspective changed after doing this assignment?
  • What challenges to my current thinking did this work present?
  • How does work in this course connect with work in another course?
  • What concepts do I still need to study more? Where are the disconnects in my learning?

Working up to larger projects and papers

Decorative icon of an increasing chart.For larger, summative projects that by their nature dictate a large influence on final course grades, consider breaking up the project into smaller steps (Ahmad & Sheikh, 2016).

For a written paper assignment, an instructor could:

  • Start by asking students to select a topic based on a parameter you provide and find source material to support their topic.
  • Students submit their topic description and source material as an assignment. Grade as complete/incomplete and provide guidance if necessary on topic and/or sources.
  • Ask students to create an annotated bibliography.
  • Students submit an annotated bibliography to an assignment. Grade as complete/incomplete.
  • Create a discussion in Canvas where students can talk about their topics (assuming they're all somewhat related). Grade as complete/incomplete.
  • Ask students to create a rough draft. Utilize peer grading in Canvas to off-load grading and include student-to-student communication and collaboration.
  • Students submit a second draft or final draft. Grade with a rubric.

By asking students to select their topic and work through the writing process on a step-by-step basis, the instructor can see the process the student takes through the paper’s development, and students are not able to procrastinate and thus won’t feel pressured to plagiarize someone else’s work (Elias, 2020) as they’re already doing most of the work anyway. This process also discourages plagiarism as there is not as much of an emphasis on the finished product, as the possible score is distributed across multiple activities (Carnegie Mellon University).

Built-in flexibility

Dropping lowest scores

Another way to reduce the appeal of cheating in courses is to offer some flexibility in grading (Ostafichuk, Frank & Jaeger). This can take many forms, of course, but one common to classes using a learning management system like Canvas is to drop the lowest score in a grouping of similar activities. As an example, an online instructor might have a Canvas Assignment Group containing all of their graded quizzes. The instructor can then create a rule for that Assignment Group which will tell Canvas how to calculate scores of the activities inside. For example, the instructor might set the Assignment Group to exclude each student’s lowest score in that group when calculating the final grade. The quiz score that is dropped varies from student to student, but each would have their lowest score dropped.

Student options

Building off the concept of dropping the lowest score students achieve from a group of assignments, you can also use this functionality to build in student choice. For example, if you have more than two discussion activities in your class that meet the same learning objective, consider letting students select the one that they want to participate in and then “drop” the other.

Late work leeway

Another option for flexibility is to set the “due” dates for your graded activities but leave the “available to” date empty or make it the absolute last date and time you would accept submissions. This will allow your students to submit their work beyond the due date and have it flagged as “late”, but also reduce the likelihood of a student cheating on an assignment if they’ve procrastinated or otherwise fallen behind in their coursework. You can also create late work grading policies within Canvas that automatically deduct a percentage of possible points on a daily or weekly basis.

Make use of rubrics

Decorative icon of a rubric.  Research has shown that rubrics are effective tools in shining light on the most important elements of an assignment, setting student expectations for quality and depth of submitted work, and simplifying the grading process for instructors (Kearns). By making a rubric available ahead of time, students have another opportunity to see how their work will be graded and what crucial elements they should include. They can also address equity issues between students, leveling the field between students whose education has prepared them to succeed in college versus those who have not (Stevens & Levi, 2006). Some instructors have found that using rubrics reduces their time spent grading, possibly because of the focused nature of what is being assessed (Cornell University; Duquesne University).

Canvas has built-in rubrics that can be attached to any graded activity. Rubrics are used mostly in Canvas Assignments and Discussions. They can be added to quizzes but aren’t used in the actual grading process for quizzes and would be used as guidance for students only. To learn more about rubrics, take a look at this rubrics guide by Boston College. There’s also a more task-oriented guide from Canvas, available here.

What do you think?

What techniques have you found useful in limiting academic misconduct in your classes? Let us know by dropping a comment below!

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