Designing Courses for Academic Integrity

A photo of a clipboard with a list of names and the word “passed” written in red across the bottom of the paper.

There are many ways that academic integrity can have consequences in our everyday lives. Fabricated, falsified, or misrepresentative data can create devastating effects on public policy, business practices, and scholarship in our academic communities. Unfortunately, careful consideration of such matters is often rare in most pre-college education:

"I can’t forget the comment of a student who compared cheating to speeding. You know you’re not supposed to exceed the speed limit, but almost everybody does and most don’t get caught. If lots of people do it and nobody considers it a serious offense, then our efforts to prevent cheating have failed to convey how much academic integrity matters…. What’s been lost in the process is the recognition that it’s personal integrity, and the viability of the academic enterprise that’s at stake here." (Weimer, 2015: par.3)

In this article, we offer practical solutions and resources for preventing academic dishonesty as you design your course.

Implementing Proactive Strategies in Your Course Design

Crucial to establishing a culture of academic integrity is implementing proactive strategies in your course design. Remember: whereas punitive approaches offer strategies and protocols to handle suspected cheating or academic misconduct, proactive approaches encourage “best practices” to insure academic integrity and student success. A couple of core ideas run through each of these following prevention techniques from the University of Colorado at Denver:

  • “Lower rewards for cheating:” If you assign one or two big papers to determine the entire grade for a class, students have a greater incentive to cheat on these papers. Small assignments worth fewer points are often not worth cheating on.
  • “Raise obstacles to cheating:” If you make it easy to cheat, don’t be surprised if more people cheat. If you offer the same multiple-choice midterm each semester, expect that the answers are floating around your class.
  • “Encourage honesty:” Show the benefits of not cheating. Students cheat because they think it is an easier or more rewarding alternative than doing their own work. Flip the equation so that students feel cheating is not in their best long-term interests, not just that they will get in trouble if they do.
  • “Educate around cheating:” It’s easy for a teacher to look at the issue of cheating as a game of cops and robbers. But prevention is always a better strategy, and student honesty starts with knowledge. Be sure your students understand what cheating means and what behaviors it involves in your classroom.

Syllabus

Your frontline of defense in the cultivation of academic honesty is your syllabus. Be sure you are crystal clear about your expectations for academic integrity. The UNT Teaching Excellence Handbook recommends standard syllabus language that includes academic integrity. However, many students are used to seeing these sections in their syllabus and looking right over them. Consider adding your own voice to the policy (if possible) so students get more than the generic academic integrity policy.

Honor Codes

Another proactive strategy to consider is Honor Codes. Evidence suggests that Honor Codes do help when they are consistently enforced and actively reinforced: 

“In surveys done over the past decade of more than 14,000 students at 50 colleges, McCabe found that 75 percent of the students had [engaged in behaviors considered as academic misconduct]. He also discovered that schools with honor codes had 25 to 33 percent fewer incidents of serious cheating on exams… ‘If you read as many surveys as I have, there is no way they don't have an impact,’ said McCabe, who worked on the surveys with Duke University's Center for Academic Integrity.” – Dr. Donald L. McCabe, a Rutgers University researcher cited in a 2004 Houston Chronicle article by La Monica Everett-Haynes

Like an honor code, sign-off questions where students acknowledge that they understand something by signing off on it can be included with a syllabus discussion or included with submitted written work. The following list provides some sample statements:

  • I understand what constitutes plagiarism in this class and promise not to plagiarize.
  • I understand the university’s academic honor code and discipline policies and promise to uphold them.
  • I understand that if I cheat or plagiarize in this course, the consequence may include immediate failure of the course.
  • I understand that proper citation style is my responsibility and promise to adhere to a style guide for all written work submitted for college credit.
  • I promise all work will be original and any assistance or resources consulted will be properly credited.

Quizzing

A short quiz or questionnaire given at the beginning of the semester covering issues of academic integrity serves a dual purpose. First, it ensures that students read and understand the academic integrity policies of UNT. In many cases, students may not know they are cheating or violating expectations. Especially when it comes to plagiarism and citation, make sure that they know the rules they are expected to follow. Second, it binds them to explicitly agree to these stated policies. Both knowledge and agreement can help minimize the temptation to cheat.

If you decided to use a quiz, make sure you familiarize yourself with UNT’s specific definitions of academic integrity and academic dishonesty.

You can also use this activity guide that we have created to accompany this article. The activity guide includes sample questions and activities for assessing student understanding of academic integrity that you can incorporate into your course design.

You can also adapt this unique lesson on teaching plagiarism in the digital age to your course.

References

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

Thomas, D. (2005). Encouraging Academic Honesty Toolkit. Center for Faculty Development, University of Colorado at Denver. Retrieved from http://www.ucdenver.edu/faculty_staff/faculty/center-for-faculty-development/Documents/academic_honesty.pdf

Weimer, Maryellen (2015, April 22). Promoting Academic Integrity: Are We doing Enough?” Faculty Focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/promoting-academic-integrity-are-we-doing-enough/