Strategies For Promoting Academic Integrity In Online Courses

Academic Integrity: Strategies For Online Education

Ensuring Academic Integrity In Online Education

There have always been breaches of academic integrity and cheating on exams has always been prevalent. Here we look at what academic integrity is and why students cheat on exams, and suggest some ways that online cheating can be limited, particularly with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

What Is Academic Integrity?

Academic integrity can be defined as the moral code of an educational institution that applies to students, staff, and the institution itself. This includes all academic institutions, from brick-and-mortar universities to online institutions. This code encompasses the core values of fairness, honesty, trust, respect, and responsibility. Breaching integrity is also known as academic misconduct. Examples of this can include:

  • Recycling
    Recycling involves resubmitting previous assignments which have already been favorably graded, possibly even from a previous year.
  • Fabrication
    This is inventing bogus research, exaggerating survey data, or citing references that don’t exist to support claims made in assignments.
  • Collusion
    This is the illegitimate cooperation with others over assignments that are meant to be completed by an individual.
  • Cribbing
    This involves using cheat notes in exams, accessing mobile devices such as smartphones or calculators during tests, or covertly copying off others.
  • Contract cheating
    This involves paying someone else to sit your exams or complete your assignments. This is illegal in many countries as it can lead to other crimes such as blackmail.

One of the most common breaches of academic integrity today is plagiarism. Because of technology and easy access to information, it’s one of the easiest forms of cheating. This includes cheating on online exams by submitting work that is not your own. The reasons why students cheat on exams can include:

  • Lack of time management skills
  • Stress about workload, and exams in particular
  • Fear of failure due to family expectations and peer group pressure
  • Competition for limited graduate opportunities
  • Belief that cheating is ok and that “everyone is doing it”
  • Ease of access to information with available technology

Strategies For Combating Online Cheating

While online cheating can’t be completely stamped out, there are certain strategies that educators can use to limit the amount of cheating in exams. These can include:

1. Create Awareness

Rather than emphasizing the “wrongness” of cheating, educators can focus on the importance of ethical behavior and integrity. They can do this by:

  • Requiring students to agree to a code of ethics during orientation.
  • Including ethics in the course material.
  • Making information available on the institution’s website.
  • Reducing the need to cheat by teaching effective research and study skills.
  • Appointing an academic integrity officer.

2. Punish Cheating

By making an example of those who do cheat, you can deter others who might be tempted to cheat. Plagiarism can be detected using means such as:

  • Checking Google when plagiarism is suspected.
  • Using plagiarism detection software.
  • Conducting surprise quizzes to test students’ knowledge.
  • Requiring references on written articles.
  • Asking students to expand on their ideas.
  • Comparing students writing with previous examples.

If a cheater is identified, report the incident, ask the student to redo the assignment and grade it accordingly. Penalties for such breaches of integrity can also include receiving a failing mark, being suspended or expelled from the institution, or even possibly facing criminal charges.

3. Prevent Cheating

Prevention is always better than cure, so where possible, you should limit the opportunities available to potential cheaters. This can be done by:

  • Providing clear guidelines on permissible collaboration limits.
  • Regularly updating the syllabus and changing exam questions.
  • Putting time limits on exams.
  • Limiting feedback until all students have completed the exams.
  • Administering face-to-face exams with a proctor present.
  • Making the exam just one part of the overall grade.

The New AI Challenge

Many educational institutions are behind the eight ball when it comes to the rise of Artificial Intelligence tools such as ChatGPT making plagiarism easier for students. Chat GPT is a tool that can write content in a wide range of different styles and degrees of sophistication. But it does have its limitations, at least for now, and if educators are aware of these, this can help them determine whether content is original or AI-produced. For example, ChatGPT is currently unable to:

  • Produce content on anything after 2021.
  • Produce graphs or non-text information.
  • Make future predictions.
  • Always provide accurate information.

It’s probably only a matter of time before these limitations are overcome, but knowing what to look out for in an exam paper can help combat plagiarism. More effective ways for educators to combat the use of technology in exams can include establishing good relationships with their students so they know the boundaries, creating assessments that require personal input and reflection, and being aware that tools such as ChatGPT will only get more sophisticated in the future.

Academic integrity is a principle that all students are expected to uphold. The only way to learn is through study and absorption of the material. But when students cut corners and don’t learn the material, they are not only damaging the integrity of the institution, but potentially jeopardizing their future careers.