Academic Integrity in the Online Classroom: Traditional Practices and New Challenges

Academic Integrity primary image

Wednesday, April 21 | 1PM – 2PM


Dr. Shawna Faber, Associate Professor of Teaching, ECPS

Louai Rahal, PhD Student


Meghan McMillen, Learning Designer, ETS


Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

In our second Viewpoints session, “Academic Integrity in the Online Classroom”, we welcomed observations and reflections from faculty, staff and students on academic integrity and its impact in online learning. In this session, we were joined by Dr. Shawna Faber, Associate Professor of Teaching, Deputy Head, Director of Undergraduate Programs, ECPS Department in the Faculty of Education and Louai Rahal, a PhD student in Human Development, Learning and Culture. The overarching question from the session remains not that students cheat, but what are the reasons behind academic dishonesty? Is academic integrity harder to achieve in an online learning environment than it is in a face-to-face classroom?

Opening remarks

Louai Rahal
Louai shared his thoughts, as a student/sessional instructor, on academic integrity and how the attitude toward integrity is sometimes questioned when academic credentials are earned in an online learning environment. Academic integrity is important both in a face-to-face environment as well as in online learning. Louai touched on three classroom practices he has seen used in an effort to uphold academic integrity in higher learning.

The first practice is to have students sign an honor statement with the submission of assignments, acknowledging the work being handed in is their own and not copied from elsewhere. This practice, paired with clear consequences for acting without integrity, encourages students to hand in original work. The second classroom practice involves the use of Turnitin before the submission of a summative assignment as a tool for students and instructors to be more aware of plagiarism. The final practice, and the one Loaui finds most effective, is the use of scaffolding of assignments throughout the term. Students submit drafts and receive feedback throughout the term before handing in a final project at the end. This encourages the use of feedback and revision rather than relying on sourcing information from others.

Dr. Shawna Faber
Dr. Faber started the session with a reflective exercise and asked participants to think about a time when they themselves had cheated on assignment, exam, etc.

After a time for reflection, Dr. Faber then asked participants to consider why students may feel compelled to cheat and the reasons varied from pressure, high stakes, getting into university, lack of scaffolding, lack of confidence and many more. Dr. Faber shared that the research shows most students have cheated at some point, the bigger issue is the reasons why students feel compelled to cheat. One of the issues is students are not always aware of what academic integrity involves or when they are plagiarizing without intent.

Some universities require students to take an online module covering academic integrity, although UBC currently does not. Dr. Faber is in the process of creating one for her courses as a way to educate students on the variety of ways cheating and plagiarism does occur. Dr. Faber then spoke on the importance of creating a culture of caring. Building relationships with students to create an atmosphere where they feel heard and cared for lends itself to a learning environment that values academic integrity.

Discussion themes

Over the hour, participants interacted with panelists and explored a wide range of themes. Below is a summary of the ideas generated by the group.

It was suggested the learning environment plays an important role in academic integrity. A learning space where students feel heard, the links between content and learning are clear and expectations and consequences related to academic integrity are shared at the beginning of the course are all elements that support a culture of honesty.

Students can sometimes find themselves cheating without intent. Responding with care while still exacting a consequence for the action helps students to learn from their mistakes.

As part of a culture of care, reasonable student workload was another issue touched on during the discussion. Students often feel quite a bit of outside pressure to succeed. As an instructor, keeping that in mind when creating assessments and setting expectations for the course lends itself to students feeling supported in their learning and they are more likely to engage in the course content with academic integrity in mind.

One participant in the session did share that students should be held accountable for their actions. An act of academic dishonesty is just that and there should be explicit consequences for those actions.

It was pointed out that it is much easier to look to outside agencies to create an essay or standard assignment than it is creating an assignment that relates theory and practice and is scaffolded over several assignments throughout the course. When assignments are related both to course content and relevant practice students are more invested in the process and there are fewer opportunities for students to act dishonestly.

However, it was also noted that tests are an important aspect of learning. What generally works for students are low stakes/no stakes quizzes rather than one or two high stakes exams. Creating exams where students work in a team to come up with answers is another option to dissuade students from cheating.

Alternative assessment options that move away from standard essays, tests and presentations are another way to discourage students from acting without academic integrity. Students can tap into their creativity, apply what they have learned into real-life situations, and come away with a deeper understanding of what they have just learned. Is there space for alternative assessments in online learning?

Another area brought up by participants during our discussion is some of the macro level challenges faced by students that can lead to instances of cheating. One of the most salient issues included increasing and often very expensive tuition fees. When failure of an assignment or course is not an option, students will look to outside sources to get the passing grade without consideration of academic integrity. Some students are faced with failing a course and not being able to afford to retake it, or using the work of others to get a pass onto the next level.

One other macro issue touched on is the disconnect between education at the K-12 level and higher education. Students currently enrolled in K-12 focus on growth mindset and viewing failures as an opportunity for continued learning and development of their skills. This is in stark contrast to higher education with high stakes exams and pressure to succeed at every opportunity.

During the conversation, online tools aimed at preventing cheating (e.g. Turnitin) and online tutoring tools that can often help students cheat (e.g. Chegg) were explored.

Does the use of tools like Turnitin impact honesty from the student perspective? As part of the discussion, Loaui gave an example of a student who scored high on Turnitin (suggesting he was plagiarizing). The student asked Loaui why this was and it became a learning opportunity for the student as they explored how the citations were written and what is a better approach. This led to a positive learning experience for both student and instructor.

Another question pondered during the session was how the role of sites like Chegg impact academic integrity? The sites are marketed as tutoring sites to help with homework, but there are instances when they are being used to help students cheat on exams. Students can put a question in Chegg, and others can answer it. This appears to be a fairly common tool as a homework helper, but in an exam situation can cause issues. Should the use of these sites be discussed as part of an academic integrity policy?

The online learning environment has created some new opportunities to use technology for the purposes of cheating. Issues surrounding academic integrity seem more prevalent these days but it could be a reflection of our current situations. Instructors have not had the time to change assessments to those that involve more authentic tasks. Going forward in online learning what are some considerations on academic integrity as it relates platforms for sharing study aids, textbook solutions and tutoring support?

Articles Shared

As part of the panel discussion, two articles were shared with views on academic integrity. One speaks to the issue at the PhD level, which is not always a consideration when thinking about academic integrity. The other article speaks about the rise in file-sharing sites such as Chegg and its negative impact on academic integrity.

Cutri, J., Abraham, A., Karlina, Y., Patel, S. V., Moharami, M., Zeng, S., Manzari, E., & Pretorius, L. (2021). Academic integrity at doctoral level: The influence of the imposter phenomenon and cultural differences on academic writing. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 17(1), 8.

Lancaster, T. (n.d.). Thomas Lancaster Blog Posts from Academic Integrity Expert and Higher Education Professional.

A few resources were also made available prior to the sessions.

LeBlanc, P. (2021). Addressing Academic Integrity In A Hyper-Connected, Pandemic World. [Weblog] 

In a time when access to information is easier than it has ever been, it is important to consider why students are cheating rather than which programs they are to cheat. Another consideration in this age of instant information is giving students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning through authentic assessments which are more cheat resistant than some of the traditional assessment practices.

Redden, E. (2021). A Spike in Cheating Since the Move to Remote? [Weblog]

Student requests for homework help from the popular “homework help” site Chegg are up 196.25% in a one year period from August 2019 to August 2020. Chegg argues that in a time where millions of students are now learning online and have lost access to the typical on-campus student services. Even though there has been an increase in the use of online tutoring services, the author asks an important question about context. The move to online learning and increase in cheating does not mean online learning is inferior or more vulnerable to compromise.

Eashwaran, M. (2021). Remote Learning and Cheating: Professors and Students Weigh In. [Weblog]

Academic integrity is an issue plaguing both students and instructors after a year of online learning. There are many contributing factors that have led to the increase in student stress levels; Zoom, fatigue, time differences, changes to in-class assessments. The issue of academic integrity weighs heavily on students and instructors. One suggestion is altering learning activities so students are demonstrating their learning rather than relying on Google for answers.

McCabe, (2005). It Takes a Village: Academic Dishonesty and Educational Opportunity. [Journal]

Do honor codes at higher learning institutions help lower the incidence of cheating and student dishonesty? The author surmises that honor codes are beneficial for instances of cheating, but the greater issue of academic integrity requires buy-in from students, faculty and administration alike. The goal should shift from one of reducing cheating to that of encouraging students to become ethical and responsible adults.

We invite readers to continue the discussion in the comment area below. Share your thoughts and experiences in relation to Academic Integrity in the online classroom.

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