3 Steps to Maintain Academic Integrity in Online Classes

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Sandy Keeter is a Professor in the Information Technology Department at Seminole State College in Florida


C.S. Lewis defines integrity as “doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” Instilling this behavior in our online students is critical to maintain integrity in our classes. Back in the late ‘70s, I attended a military academy and we had an honor code which stated, “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” As cadets, we were expected to help enforce this code by turning in peers we suspected of wrongdoing. At Seminole State where I currently teach, we have our own academic integrity policy which states, “Plagiarism is the deliberate use and appropriation of another’s work without identifying the source and trying to pass off such work as the student’s own. Students who share their work for the purpose of cheating on class assignments or tests are subject to the same penalties as the student who commits the act of cheating.” We too expect our students to take an active role in helping to maintain academic integrity at the college.

However, with the majority of learning currently taking place online, with some students being forced into remote learning for the first time, the temptation to cheat or “borrow” someone else’s work may be greater than before. In fact the online proctoring service, ProctorU, reported that between April and June the cheating rate for online exams rose from approximately 1 to 8 percent. As online educators, we must thoroughly review our academic integrity policies with our students to curb this behavior. This is usually done in your syllabus, a getting started module or a quiz the first week of class. But continuously enforcing and chasing cheaters throughout the semester is time consuming. It’s much easier to prevent or deter cheating before it happens. How do you do this? Here are three ways I address academic integrity with my students upfront:

Course Design

In order to deter cheating, you must first look at the reasons cheating takes place and design your course accordingly. Reasons for cheating range from a desire to get a good grade, to a fear of failing, to poor time management or lack of interest in an assignment. If you let students know your expectations upfront, give plenty of time and information for them to complete assignments, offer support and don’t make the stakes too high for any one project, they can be successful without the temptation to cheat. And don’t forget to keep your course content fresh—rotate assignments, make them more personal and shuffle test questions every semester.


Next, keep the lines of communication open and be present so students aren’t afraid to ask questions and seek help. Remember some of them may be stressed by this new mode of learning and not know how to get started. Remind them of due dates and encourage them to start early so they don’t forget and submit assignments at the last minute. Build a community of learners and offer online help sessions or assign some group work so students can collaborate with their classmates for additional support.


Finally, don’t forget to use technology to help deter cheating and increase the security of your assessments. Some publishers have plagiarism detection built into their products to prevent students from submitting someone else’s work or giving them a warning if they do. Your LMS may even have functionality to allow students to check their work and offer possible revisions to plagiarized copy. There are also tools that can be used for exam proctoring or locking down a student’s browser so they can’t search for answers or have someone else do the work for them.

Unfortunately, there will always be those who try to cheat the system. Nevertheless, by making a few tweaks to your course you can reduce the temptation and focus more on those who want to learn and not chase those who cheat!

To take your online instruction to the next level, check out our free ebook Peer-proven Strategies for a Successful Online Course.