Academic Dishonesty in Online Courses: Tips & Strategies

A photo of a desk with a keyboard, earbuds, and sticky notes.

Academic dishonesty in online courses is particularly vexing due to internet anonymity. Cheating in online courses often poses a different set of issues for instructors. However, the ubiquity of technology means that many of the techniques for online classes also applies to face-to-face and blended classes if instructors utilize educational technologies for assessment purposes.

In this article, we provide tips and strategies for preventing and detecting academic dishonesty in online classes and/or classes where instructors use educational technologies to assess student learning.

Building Community in the Online Class

One of the most important strategies in preventing academic dishonesty is developing an atmosphere of trust and respect where students feel safe yet challenged to learn. Get to know your students. Learn not just their names, but their values. By knowing their values, you will begin to know their writing style, their concerns, and their background knowledge. In turn, they perceive that you are interested and care. You can do this by having your students submit stories about themselves, their families, and their experiences that relate to the topic of your course. Respond with questions that demonstrate your interest and stimulate thinking.

Use platforms other than the course site to communicate with individual students. A phone conversation during the course, an open-door policy using tools such as instant messenger, and email all invite a sense of trust and provide a source of assistance when the students are feeling anxious or stuck in a course.

Be very clear about your expectations with your students. Since you are largely depending upon the written word for communication, there is ample opportunity for misunderstanding. Create a discussion board for students to ask course questions. Many instructors use tools such as a scavenger hunt during the first week of class to ensure that students know course expectations. Use examples of course assignments so that the students can see your expectations not just read about them. Students who have taken your course before can give their permission to use their papers and projects as examples.

Use the learning management system’s tracking tools to determine if your students are coming to “class.” Letting students know you are monitoring them can be a deterrent to problems later. Consider reaching out to students when you see that their interaction or involvement is changing. Don’t be accusatory – find out what is going on. You may be surprised by what you learn.

This article “Discussing Academic Integrity with Students” utilizes a series of cases studies to generate classroom discussions. This can easily be translated into an online environment using discussion boards or other forms of online communication.

Assessment & Academic Dishonesty in the Online Class

Assessment in the online environment is often considered a problem by instructors. Who can keep a student from cheating when they can’t be seen?

Barbara Christe (2003) suggests that instructors use several low stakes assessments where learners can express what they are learning. She also advocates for high levels of student interaction, even on assessments, such as bringing in an industry expert and having the students interact with that person as a form of assessment of their learning. 

For high stakes assignments (such as final papers, performances, or exams) other strategies are available such as:

  • Rewrite exams or rearrange questions each semester. For online exams, this can be done in a learning management system by creating a question pool. Contact your instructional consultant for more information and assistance.
  • Locate proctored testing sites in local communities or on the university campus. Sage Hall Testing Center provides a site for computerized testing for distance, face-to-face, and blended courses.
  • Timed tests limit students’ ability to consult external resources during online testing.
  • Asking questions that require critical thinking and application of content (and therefore longer to answer) are also a way to deter student use of external resources during tests and demonstrate deeper understanding.
  • Use plagiarism monitoring tools such as Turnitin.

References

Center for Learning Enhancement, Assessment and Redesign. (2016). Teaching Resources for Engaged Educators [online training modules]. Denton, TX: University of North Texas.

Christe, B. (2003). Designing online courses to discourage dishonesty. Educause Quarterly, 4. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eqm0348.pdf