Academic Honesty

Academic honesty is an issue facing all educational institutions today. The new technologies of the internet only make it more important to try and address these issues not only in online education but also in traditional classrooms. Direct copying of websites and internet "paper mills" have replaced copying text straight out of books. So what steps can be taken to minimize student submission of un-authentic work in online classes?

McCabe and Trevino (McCabe and Trevino, 1996 ) and Bowers (Bowers, 1964 ) suggest that the culture of academic honesty on a campus may be the most important determining factor in how much cheating occurs at a college. The more unacceptable cheating is to a student's peers, the less likely it is that this student will try to cheat. One strategy that can have help generate this sort of atmosphere is the establishment of a school Honor Code. These studies provide convincing evidence that cheating is generally lower on campuses with honor codes than those without.

The next level of defense can be technological. As suggested by Quizzing and Testing On the Internet (more info) and Strategies to Minimize Cheating Online (more info) :

  • Control who is able to access the class sites with Log-in IDs and passwords.
  • Establish limits on when the activities can be completed online. For example, online quizzes might only be available for 1 hour on a particular day or homework has to be submitted by a certain time to get credit.
  • Embed many short quizzes into online assignments. Students are not likely to have "help" around at all times.
  • Have a large number of questions available for each assessment and have each student receive a different subset selected at random by the computer.

These tactics involve placing barriers in the way of having someone else complete the students' assignments. The more difficult it becomes to get "help" when you need it, the more likely students with have to complete their own assignments. 

The educational design of the class can also offer opportunities to crack down on dishonesty. (Gore, 2000 ; Quizzing and Testing On the Internet (more info) ; Strategies to Minimize Cheating Online (more info) ; Higher Ed Takes On High-Tech Cheating (more info) )

  • Have online quizzes count for a very small fraction of their final grade. Then if students do get help it can't influence their overall grade to a great extent.
  • Provide graded quizzes and practice exams online but require in-person proctored exams at least once in a class so that IDs can be checked. Students could be required to come to campus or have a local librarian proctor them on the exam if they are remotely located.
  • Ask questions that stress mastery over a topic rather than memorization of facts. Case studies are good examples of exercises that ask students to demonstrate this kind of higher order thinking.
  • Use more short answer and essay questions instead of true-false and multiple choice questions.


Administratively, you can also help yourself. (Quizzing and Testing On the Internet (more info) ; Strategies to Minimize Cheating Online (more info) ; Higher Ed Takes On High-Tech Cheating (more info) )

  • Develop profiles of the work your students are capable of on a regular basis. This will help you spot significant departures from normal. Then you can check to see what caused the difference.
  • If you require papers or other written material in you class, spot check some of them by using text searches through search engines or taking advantage of new services that search the internet, compare available text to your sample and then give you a measure of how closely it is to other text available on the web.
  • Assess your students using other methods besides tests and quizzes. Make part of their grade explicitly dependent on how much or how often they contribute to online discussions. Ask students to evaluate the quality and reliability of different web resources that they make use of.
  • Require multiple products or drafts of assignments over the course of their completion. It will be much more difficult to have a third party generate these intermediate forms.