How Do I Support Students in Maintaining Academic Integrity?

"Cheating Cheaters and the Cheaters Who Love Them" by Mr_Stein is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

An important first step is to reframe this question and think instead of how to support students in maintaining academic integrity. During the spring, online cheating was a hot button topic in higher education. The move to spring remote teaching and learning was new territory for faculty and students alike. Considering what we know about why students cheat and about students' experiences in spring, the sudden shift to virtual learning may have made "it more likely that students will cheat … than they might have a year ago." (Gallant as cited in Lederman, 2020). As faculty plan ahead for future online instruction, they can proactively establish practices to support their students in maintaining academic integrity.

Students are more likely to engage in dishonesty when they’re under stress and pressure, when the norms are unclear, and when there are temptations and opportunities (McCabe, 2012). Can we maintain academic integrity in online learning? The answer is yes, by focusing on the factors that support academic integrity: building a culture and understanding of academic integrity, reducing students’ anxiety and stress, and structuring assessments in a way that lessens the opportunity for dishonesty.


Build a culture of academic integrity

Provide clear expectations for academic honesty for all assignments and exams. Faculty Senate requires that all course syllabi include an academic honesty statement. Instructors can take additional steps to promote academic integrity by:

  • Discussing and including the guidelines for academic integrity expected for course materials, assignments, and exams. Let students know what materials they may or may not use to complete the assignment or exams, what formats students should use in referencing materials (preferred citation styles), what constitutes plagiarism and restrictions there may on sharing or distributing course materials.
  • Building class norms for academic integrity during the first weeks of class or prior to the first exam or assignment due date. Have students discuss and share what academic integrity means within the course and what concerns or questions they may have about academic integrity. Link academic honesty to career goals and the value of integrity in the workplace.
  • Asking students to affirm that they have maintained academic integrity expectations using an honor pledge as the first item on every exam or as part of the assignment submission. Honor pledges that include references to consequences may be more effective in reducing dishonesty (Gurung, Wilhelm, & Filz, 2012). For example, students could read and digitally sign their name to this pledge (see Notre Dame site for more examples):

The Code of Honor will be strictly applied as described in The Academic Code of Honor Handbook.  Students will not give or receive aid on exams. This includes, but is not limited to, viewing the exams of others, sharing answers with others, and making unauthorized use of books or notes while taking the exam. For the group project, teams must work completely independently. Relying on solutions from other groups, whether or not they are currently in the course, constitutes plagiarism. 


  • Shifting students’ focus off only the grade and onto the value of the assessment for their learning. Explain how a particular assignment or an exam will be useful to them in this particular course or even more broadly in the future; discuss your reasons for assessing their learning in this way; and offer suggestions for how students can use the feedback from the assessment to identify the areas of strengths and difficulties. and how this information may be useful later in the course or even more broadly for future course work.

Reduce student anxiety and stress

Students are more likely to engage in dishonest behavior when the stakes are high, they are anxious, and when they feel unprepared.

  • Provide students with practice tests that provide examples of the kinds of test items that will be used and how the test will be graded.
  • Replace high stake tests (a single midterm and final) and assignments with more frequent, lower stakes tests and assessments.
  • Consider offering students options of retaking a test or substituting a cumulative final exam for more frequent chapter/unit/hourly exams.
  • Grade exams and assignments based on a criterion (how many items are correct or a grading rubric) rather than a “curve” that compares an individual student’s performance to their peers.

Decrease the opportunity for cheating through test design

Opportunity does invite academic dishonesty, and unfortunately exams based on multiple choice items typically present the easiest opportunities, especially in online environments.

  • Consider alternative assessments. Alternative assessments can include projects, papers, case studies, design projects, essay exams and take-home tests. Ask for a CTL consultation to discuss what options might be useful in your class.
  • Consider including some open-ended responses or opportunities for students to explain or show their work as one part of a multiple-choice exam.
  • Adopt test design measures and features within Moodle and Blackboard to randomize and shuffle questions and answers, substitute numeric values, and create alternative (and even individualized) test forms.
  • Maintain an open test period to provide flexibility for students but set time limits for the exam completion.

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Beck, V. (2014). Testing a model to predict online cheating—Much ado about nothing. Active learning in higher education, 15(1), 65-75.

Fernandes, D. (2020, April 29). BU investigating whether students cheated on online exams. Boston Globe. Retrieved from

Gurung, R. A. R., Wilhelm, T. M., & Filz, T. (2012). Optimizing Honor Codes for Online Exam Administration. Ethics & Behavior, 22(2), 158–162.

Lederman, D. (2020, July 22).  Best ways to stop cheating in online environments. Inside Higher Education. Retrieved from

McCabe, D. L., Butterfield, K. D., & Trevino, L. K. (2012). Cheating in college: why students do it and what educators can do about it. Johns Hopkins University Press Baltimore, MD.

International Center for Academic Integrity (Retrieved 2020). Statistics on cheating in college and undergraduate students.