Thinking About Academic Integrity as More Assessments are Being Conducted Online

Teaching students the standards of academic integrity is an important step in upholding that integrity.
by LSA Learning & Teaching Technology Consultants

The pandemic necessitated a sudden shift to online assessment, an environment in which traditional methods of exam oversight don’t always work. This has increased the urgency of existing debates over how to assure academic integrity, and how to include students themselves in the discussion. Both anecdote and research suggest that conversations about academic integrity should be commonplace and no longer only raised when integrity is in question. This means promoting a shared understanding of academic integrity, and that frequent conversations about academic expectations should occur between instructors and students.

Create a classroom culture around integrity 

Teaching students the standards of academic integrity is an important step in upholding that integrity. Michael and Williams note that a significant number of apparent cheating incidents can rise from a simple lack of information. (1) Students who have not been taught standards of academic evidence and citation can easily appear to be rampant plagiarists without ever intending to be.

There’s also evidence that honor codes do, in fact, deter cheating. Behavioral research by Shu, Gino, and Bazerman shows that people who were reminded of moral expectations by writing out or signing an honor code before they took a test behaved with greater integrity. (2) McCabe’s surveys have found that schools with an established honor code have about 25% lower rates of cheating than other institutions, provided that honor code was made a central part of campus culture. (3)

The critical element, in all these cases, is direct communication and conversation with students. LSA’s standards of academic integrity, and description of academic misconduct may be helpful places to start this conversation with your students. Other prompts that may help get the discussion rolling include:

  • What is academic integrity?
  • What are some of the results, when people cheat on tests?
  • What are tests and assessments for? What are their results supposed to show?
  • What do you think would be the most effective way to prevent cheating?

Students who engage with and understand the broader purpose of an assessment, who have a clear sense of what cheating is and how it can impact their own credibility as UofM graduates, will be far more invested in maintaining academic integrity. 

Use alternative modes of assessment 

To help discourage cheating on online exams, in particular, consider starting to replace fill in short answer or multiple choice tests with alternative forms of assessment:

  • Take-home, open-book exams with questions that require applying knowledge to a case or example
  • Problem sets requiring live/recorded demonstration or handwritten work
  • Recordings of research presentations
  • Term projects that require students to synthesize knowledge

In large courses, this might seem unworkable, but a detailed grading rubric will allow GSIs to more confidently take on the grading for such assessments. Such rubrics also enable peer-review to be an early assessment stage in long-term projects, which both lightens the grading load and provides a valuable additional opportunity for students to engage critically with the learning goals of the assignment.

In addition, giving students a greater number of smaller and lower-stakes assignments that let them demonstrate specific learning goals as they go will lower student anxiety, provide more frequent feedback, and reduce the impact of a single assignment. All of these issues (anxiety, uncertainty about goals and requirements, very limited opportunities to demonstrate mastery) appear among the common reasons students cheat and reducing them reduces the likelihood of students cheating.

If you’d like to plan a regular discussion activity around academic integrity, for your classes, or discuss how to re-work existing assessments, feel free to reach out to or request a one-on-one consultation with one of the Learning and Teaching consultants.




1. Michael, Timothy B. & Williams, Melissa A”. Student Equity: Discouraging Cheating in Online Courses.” Administrative Issues Journal: Education, Practice, and Research. 2013; vol 3.2.

2. Shu LL, Gino F, Bazerman MH. Dishonest Deed, “Clear Conscience: When Cheating Leads to Moral Disengagement and Motivated Forgetting.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2011;37(3):330-349. doi:10.1177/0146167211398138

3. Barthel, Margaret. “How to Stop Cheating in College.” The Atlantic. April 20, 2016.


Release Date: 10/14/2021
Category: Learning & Teaching Consulting; Teaching Tips
Tags: Technology Services