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Academic Integrity

Why (the average) Student Cheats

  • The majority of students are not "cheaters", that is, people with a personality defect or low moral character (there are some that are, but we can't focus on them because the ability to make changes is almost non-existent) 
  • The average student who cheats does so for other reasons, mainly:
    • Misperceptions
      • They think that everyone is doing it
      • Think that their peers approve of it
      • They have a different understanding of "cheating" or standards than the instructor or institutio
    • Opportunities
      • Technology makes it easy
      • The academic or testing environment enables it
      • Their classmates encourage it (e.g., giving each other material)
    • Temptations
      • They perceive high benefits (grades) and low costs (likelihood of getting caught)
      • They use cheating as a way to resolve pressures (e.g. time pressures caused by procrastination; pressures from parents or financial sources)
      • They desire grades they can't honestly earn (usually because of post-graduation goals)
  • The main causes of cheating, then, are those that can be manipulated/impacted by an instructor and/or institution (Bertram Gallant, 2008)

How common is cheating?

  • Cheating, based on self-reports (so social desirability bias exists and numbers are probably higher), can be high, depending on the assessment method
    • as many as 54% of high school students admit to cheating on tests (www.josephsoninstitute.org) as many as 42% of college students admit to cheating on homework assignments and 38% admit to plagiarizing (McCabe, 2005)
      • Academic integrity efforts should be focused on the types of assessments more prone to cheating and alternative ways of assessing the same skills or knowledge
  • Studies are inconclusive on whether more cheating occurs in online or face-to-face environments (Grijalva, Kerkvliet & Nowell, 2006; Kennedy & Nowak, 2000; Stuber-McEwen, Wiseley, & Hoggatt, 2009)
    • What matters more is if there exists opportunity (e.g., there will be almost equal opportunity to cheat on an exam in a 400 person face-to-face class as in a remote instruction environment)
      • Academic integrity efforts should be focused on reducing opportunities for cheating 
    • Students and faculty alike perceive that cheating is more common online than in face-to-face (Krask, 2007; Stuber-McEwen et al., 2009)
      • Academic integrity efforts should be focused on correcting misperceptions because misperceptions are a great influence on behaviors

Methods to Reduce Cheating in Remote Instruction

  1. Role Model Integrity - students not only look to each other for cues on how to act, but they look to the instructor. For example, the instructor should cite his/her sources in all course materials, lectures and postings; return graded assignments in a timely manner; respond to discussion forums in a timely manner; be available when promises to be.
  2. Establish Assignment Expectations - students have different definitions of cheating than instructors do so instructors should not assume students already "know" their expectations. If students are expected to work on their own on a particular assignment, the instructor needs to state that and tell the students why (i.e., connect the expectation to the learning goal). Be clear and specific for each assignment. Avoid just saying "don't cheat or else!" since most students will not know what that means. Also, be sure to clearly explain what allowable collaboration means. Can students split up assignments and do them together? Can they do the problems together? Can they share answers?
  3. Articulate Academic Integrity Standards - related to #2 but this can be overall for the class. Have a clear statement that touches on the University policy and outlines clearly what you consider cheating in your class. Have students sign the statement to indicate their agreement/understanding. You can have one overall statement for the class but on each assignment/exam you can have students reaffirm academic integrity (e.g., "I promise that I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment"). Studies have shown that this does help reduce cheating (e.g., LoSchiavo & Shatz, 2011).
  4. Adjust Assessment Methods - students are more likely to cheat if it is easy or the assignment seems too silly or just "busy work." Students will also more likely cheat if there is an easy opportunity to do so. If you are giving students homework from a textbook and it is easy for them to copy from the solutions manual, there is no point grading that work as if it represents their learning. So, rethink each assessment you use and ask yourself: 1) is it easy for students to cheat on it and if so 2) how can I adapt it so that cheating is less tempting and therefore the assessment will be more valid? Some ideas include:
    1. assign homework for learning, not for grading. Tie your tests to the homework so that the students who do the homework will naturally do better on the tests.
    2. create your own exam questions or use a large test bank and randomly select test questions each time you administer the test. You can even randomly select questions for each student.
    3. have students create e-portfolios to showcase the totality of their learning
    4. use multiple, smaller worth, quizzes/tests instead of one or two large exams (the pressure to perform will be less)
    5. have students acknowledge collaboration and then take that into consideration when grading; if two students worked on an assignment, it had better be of higher quality than if one student did
    6. monitor time to complete online tests; if students are taking too long, they might be cheating
    7. create exams that can be open-book, open-net, open-notes; questions are more difficult but students can use whatever resources they want (except another person)
    8. allow students to submit drafts of papers and correct their citation mistakes along the way
  5. Consider proctored final exams. If you are teaching a course that requires a final, cumulative exam, you may have to consider a proctored environment. The stress and pressure on students to perform, coupled with temptation and opportunities, may be too much for a young student to resist cheating.


Bertram Gallant, T. (2008). Academic Integrity in the Twenty-First Century: A Teaching & Learning Imperative. Jossey-Bass.

Chiesel, N. (2007). Pragmatic methods to reduce dishonesty in web-based courses. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 8 (3), 203-2011.

Epilon, D.M. & Keefe, T.J. (2005). On-line exams: Strategies to detect cheating and minimize its impact.

Grijalva, T.C., Kerkvliet, J., & Nowell, C. (2006). Academic honesty and online courses. College Student Journal, 40, 180-185.

Harmon, O.R., Lambrinos, J., & Buffolino, J. (2010). Assessment design and cheating risk in online instruction. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 113 (3). To visit this resource, click here.

Howell, S.L., Sorensen, D., & Tippets, H.R. (2009). The new (and old) news about cheating for distance educators. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12 (3). To visit this resource, click here.

Krsak, A.M. (2007). Curbing academic dishonesty in online courses.TCC 2007 Proceedings. To visit this resource, click here.

Krovitz , G.E. (2007). Ways to prevent cheating in online exams. Educator’s Voice, 8 (6).

LoSchiavo, F.M. & Shatz, M.A. (2011). The impact of an honor code on cheating in online courses. Journal of Online Learning & Teaching, 7 (2). To visit this resource, click here.

McCabe, D. (2005). Cheating among college and university students: A North American perspective. International Journal of Educational Integrity, 1: 1-11.

Rogers, C.F., 2006, Faculty Perceptions about E-cheating during online testing. Journal of Consortium for Computing Sciences, 22 (2), 206-212).

Stuber-McEwen, D., Wiseley, P., & Hoggatt, S. (2009). Point, click, and cheat: Frequency and type of academic dishonesty in the virtual classroom. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12 (3). To visit this resource, click here.