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Proactive Model for Academic Integrity

Mon Feb 1, 2021 at 07:30 AM

Cheating in higher education is a widespread problem with many contributing causes. As with any widespread problem, it is most effective to identify systemic issues and systemic solutions. The “system” may be the discipline, certifying bodies, our institutions, departments, and others. Rather than wondering whether students “are what they used to be,” we might consider how environmental conditions contribute to one’s vulnerability to cheat, such as whether students have more to lose than ever and few, restrictive opportunities to demonstrate skills. 

A model for addressing academic integrity issues requires a unified, consistent, and comprehensive approach. This five-part model that I shorten to H.O.N.O.R. takes steps in an order that most promotes excellence in teaching and learning: promote, educate, design alternative assessments, monitor, and respond. For more on this model, see our Academic Integrity Model: H.O.N.O.R.

HONOR academic integrity campus-wide

This step involves the whole institution--faculty, advisers, deans, dean of students--providing a consistent message regarding what academic integrity is and the responsibilities of all involved in upholding these standards. Including an academic integrity statement in the syllabus and in assessments reinforces this consistent messaging. It shows students that the institution is directly attending to these issues, and it holds everyone to a commitment to doing their part.


Beyond defining the academic conduct rules in the syllabus, educating students involves talking with them about why cheating and plagiarism occur, and teaching skills that prevent academic misconduct, such as learning about effective study strategies, engaging in prewriting, and taking advantage of opportunities for feedback before high-stakes assessments. Teaching practices that value process and revision as opposed to merely getting high grades also affect norms around academic performance. This open conversion let’s students know that the issue is being monitored, but it can also provide them other beneficial options if they are in situations that can lead to cheating.

NEW assessments that foster learning

Changing assessment design can go a long way in preventing cheating, and there are many approaches to more cheat-resistant assessments. Offering a range of low stakes assessments give students low-risk ways to recall course concepts and gives students practices at testing. Writing more critical thinking exams can also make it more difficult for students to find quick-and-easy answers online. 

As the world is largely “open book” with so many online resources at our disposable, consider how questions and assignments can be reframed to not restrict what materials students can access. Have assessments relate to a specific context relevant to students’ lives, interests, and communities. Additionally, providing more choice on how students demonstrate their learning can help students focus on what really matters--their learning--rather than how to get by with the assessment given to them. 

As shared in the recent teaching tip Learning Motivated by Cheese and Wicked Problems, cheating is often a result of a threat to student well-being, or a feeling that the assessment isn’t meaningful or that the assessment sets them up to fail. Whatever assessment you are working with, surround it with compassion and a message of supporting student success: be flexible on due dates unless that due date is crucial to the course or consider the larger context of why students are struggling and provide them a way toward success (not simply handing them the success).

See Assessment Considerations During COVID

OVERSEE and monitor

While we want to practice understanding and compassion when possible, this does not mean not monitoring the state of academic integrity in a department, school, and institution. A lackadaisical, inconsistent approach to academic integrity is a major factor in higher rates of misconduct (Lang, 2013; McCabe et al., 2012). At the course level, students who perceive their instructors are not paying attention to their work are more inclined to use extra supporting materials in their assessments (Dyer, Pettyjohn, & Saladin, 2020).

The institution as a whole should also monitor the state of academic integrity: Which departments are implementing academic success programs, and how are they contributing to increased academic integrity? Under what circumstances are academic misconduct rates higher? There should also be a campus-wide system for how academic misconduct is addressed, some form of working with the Dean of Students office and Academic Conduct Committee.

If it is determined that proctoring is essential to an assessment, such as when students are preparing for a future certification test that will be proctored, consider multiple tools and methods for proctoring. In light of ethical, discriminatory, and financial issues with remote proctoring services, some OU faculty have explored live online proctoring as a class. 

REPORT and respond

Along with monitoring is the need to establish ways that people’s concerns or progressive efforts receive a response. A department, school, and institution should have a system that now only allows faculty to report potential academic misconduct, but receive a response about their options for a response, such as working with the student individually to remediate the work, enroll in a study or academic skill program to correct related issues (such as OU’s Cite Right program), or what is at stake in pursuing a hearing with a committee. Upfront transparency will help faculty and students know what to expect.

At OU, when a faculty member believes a student has cheated or engaged in academic misconduct, they should report this to the Dean of Students Office and the Academic Conduct Committee. A process is in place to review the situation and determine what consequences and response is needed. Further information on reporting Academic Misconduct is available here.

Response also includes positive feedback related with academic integrity. Create systems to incentivize addressing academic integrity issues with systemic solutions, such as establishing study skills programs, redesigning assessments, and creating more feedback structures for students. This could be grants, awards, or other forms of recognition and resources.

References and Resources 

CETL Resources on Academic Integrity

CETL. (2020). Making Your Courses Cheat-Resistant

Dawson, P. (2020)  Defending assessment security in a digital world.  London: Routledge.

Davis, S., Drinan, P., & Gallant, T. B. (2009). Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Dyer, J. M., Pettyjohn, H. C., & Slaldin, S. (2020). Academic dishonesty and testing: How student beliefs and test settings impact decisions to cheat. Journal of the National College Testing Association, 4(1), 1-30.

International Center for Academic Integrity

Johnston, W. (2003) The concept of plagiarism. Learning and Teaching in Action, 2(1).

Lang, J. (2013). Cheating lessons: Learning from academic dishonesty. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press.

Lederman, D (2020 Feb. 19). Course Hero Woos Professors. Inside Higher Ed.

McCabe, D., Butterfield, K., & Trevino, L. (2012)  Cheating in college: Why students do it and what educators can do about it. John Hopkins Press.

Teaching and Learning Transformation Center. Academic Integrity. University of Maryland.

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About the Author

Judy Ableser is the director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University. Photo by Oakland University. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC.View all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips. Follow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.