Academic integrity is critical in any teaching and learning environment, but with the move to more frequent online learning, this conversation becomes more important because of increased concern with student dishonesty on assessments, particularly exams. In this lesson, we will discuss how to promote a climate of academic integrity within your classroom. We will first examine factors that motivate students to cheat in courses. After that, we will examine strategies for minimizing academic dishonesty.
Why Students Cheat
Research shows that both students and faculty believe that cheating is more prevalent in online learning compared to face-to-face. However, many studies indicate this is not true and that cheating is no more common online than in person. Let’s examine some of the common reasons students turn to academic dishonest behaviors.
Many students enter courses with extrinsic motivation to succeed, meaning they are focused only on the end grade result and not the actual process of learning. When students tie their classroom goals to only a grade, they often view exams as not being valuable outside of a way to achieve a 4.0. Combine this view of assessments with the fact that grade competition is common, and the scenario for cheating becomes more attractive. For example, over half of medical school applicants will be denied admission, and admission prioritizes GPA, so grades are frequently a driving motivator for pre-med students.
Exam structure can also affect the likelihood of academic misconduct. When exams are high stakes, meaning they account for a significant percentage of the final grade, or cover a considerable amount of material, students are more likely to use dishonest behavior.
Student characteristics also play a role. Students may have test anxiety, preventing them from succeeding, so they rely on cheating. Students may also hold beliefs that the exams or the instructor are unfair, and so they see the effort they would put into studying as worthless. Finally, students may simply be unprepared for the exams.
There are also reasons related to academic integrity itself. An important issue discovered in integrity research is that there is a disconnect between faculty and student perceptions of what actions constitute cheating. Students will admit to dishonest behaviors, for example, asking a friend for their opinion on a question, but also claim they did not cheat, and that is because they do not view these actions as cheating. Research has also shown that students are more likely to cheat if they believe the consequences of being caught are minor.
As we discuss these common reasons why students cheat, it is important to recognize that Spring 2020 was not a good example of online learning, student anxiety, or integrity. There was a significant increase in the number of faculty and student complaints regarding academic misconduct in the classroom, but the switch to emergency remote learning was challenging for everyone, and student actions in spring are not indicative of typical online learning experiences.
Managing discussions surrounding academic integrity can occur right at the beginning of the semester. When you inform students of the grading scale and exam dates, also mention the importance of academic integrity. Practicing integrity as a student is important for ethical practices in other courses and after graduation. Remind students about integrity expectations, particularly at the time of each exam or assessment.
Be transparent with your expectations. Define the behaviors you consider to be examples of academic dishonesty. If collaboration is allowed on some but not all assignments, make sure students understand those instructions. Likewise, explain to students the consequences of academic misconduct in your class, such as penalty grades and submission of an Academic Dishonesty Report.
Finally, have student sign an honor code or the Spartan Academic Pledge at the beginning of every assessment. Honor codes have been shown to decrease cheating particularly when they are used in a classroom or institution that promotes and values academic integrity.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an instructional framework that attempts to minimize barriers to allow for a diverse group of learners to all be successful in the classroom. One of the three main components of UDL is increasing student engagement in the course, which can result in an increase in intrinsic motivation and a decrease in extrinsic motivation.
Students are more likely to be engaged with content when they feel that the learning is valuable to their goals. By writing clear learning objectives for the course and having those objectives be relevant to student interests, it increases student participation and buy-in. This does not mean course content must only be limited to content students choose; it means by presenting the content chosen by the instructor as being valuable, students will become more motivated to participate. Explicitly explaining how the content of your course increases future success in another course or in a career path can motivate students that might not have seen those connections on their own. When students understand the broader purpose of a course or assessment, they are also less likely to complain about the work being unfair.
Integrating reflective or metacognitive assignments during the semester can also mitigate the effects of external motivators. These assignments allow students to think about their individual process of learning and can move focus away from getting a specific grade. Reflective work can help students self-assess their effort, determination, and persistence, and help them gain a growth mindset, which views errors and failures as learning opportunities.
Exam Structure & Student Considerations
There are multiple approaches that an instructor can take when managing exam structure, and some of these amendments can alleviate concerns related to the student characteristics as well.
Decreasing the amount of content that is covered on an exam and increasing the frequency of assessments can turn high stakes, high anxiety testing into something viewed as more manageable by the student. Additionally, deciding to make exams open book or collaborative will level the playing field for students since this removes some of the more traditional forms of academic dishonesty.
Allowing materials or collaboration, though, is more successful when exam questions are written to assess critical thinking or other higher-level skills. It is possible to write multiple choice questions that test problem solving. When this is accomplished, explaining how the assessment aligns with course learning goals and is relevant to student learning can help obtain student buy-in, which decreases the prevalence of cheating.
There are also ways to use D2L exam tools to reduce academic dishonesty during exams. Options such as selecting questions from a larger pool, randomizing questions and showing only one per page, and determining the appropriate amount of time for a student to complete the exam but not have extended time remain can take away opportunities for cheating.
Finally, scaffolding learning in the classroom with appropriate formative assessments provides students with opportunities for practicing skills and learning content. These activities will help students feel prepared when it is time for the assessment.
It should be noted that none of these strategies are guaranteed to stop cheating in the classroom. However, integrating these practices into your curriculum can decrease the likelihood of academic dishonesty. All decisions regarding assessment and integrity must weigh the risk of cheating with the overall effect on the course. The actions suggested here have been shown to decrease academic misconduct while also being equitable and creating a valuable educational environment.