Academic Integrity in Online Learning

There are many reasons why academic cheating occurs. Cheating in a course typically occurs in contexts where the rewards are extrinsic. For example, a student needs a good grade to stay on their soccer team. Other common reasons include desire for a better grade, pressure from family, and fear of failure, to name a few (Chiesel, 2009)

One of the first concerns that I hear from online faculty is the idea that cheating is more prevalent in the online class.  McGee (2013) claims that there is little evidence to support this, and in fact reports that there is evidence that less cheating occurs.

My response to online faculty is typically the same; it’s all in the design. You want academic integrity, you must create it! Easier said than done, so let’s look at some specific strategies that can encourage academic integrity in the online environment (as well as in the face-to-face, because if you think your students don’t cheat in the face-to-face classroom, you might want to pinch yourself).

  1. Set clear expectations at the beginning. Include a policy in the syllabus, a statement in the course ground rules, and point to them in your course introduction/overview all with reference to solid reasons why it is important to be honest.
  2. Quiz students on course expectations. Add a first-week quiz that includes questions about academic integrity and/or an academic integrity pledge that they must read and submit.
  3. Define “cheating” with examples.  Students today use the internet for everything. Provide them with specific examples of what is considered ‘cheating’/academic dishonesty.
  4. Build community. Community is another critical component of any classroom.  Use the concept of academic integrity to build community by asking students to discuss it in a forum, journal their thoughts/experiences, respond to each other’s ideas, and always provide instructor presence to guide the conversation and dispel any misconceptions.
  5. Provide rubrics for all assignments.  This is not only good in support of academic integrity, but also good practice in general.  This sets clear expectations of what the student is required to do and any associated points.  They are also invaluable when grading!
  6. Provide opportunities for authentic assessment.  This is key. Rather than heavy use of traditional assessment (i.e.: multiple choice/true-false exams), provide learning opportunities that not require students to think critically, but also to offer personal perspective and experience that supports or ties into concepts.  For example, instead of a mid-term exam, why not a student-generated presentation that requires a student to pull in various course concepts into a concise virtual presentation on a topic of their choice (that relates to the course).
  7. Put guidelines on traditional assessments. When using multiple choice/true-false/short answer type assessments, utilize:
  • time limits – i.e.: 5 minutes for 10 question quiz.
  • random and shuffled questions from a question bank*
  • shuffled answers
  • open and close time of exam

* Be wary of question banks. The size of the question bank must be fairly large in order to make less of an overlap of questions among students. For example. If a 10-question quiz pulls from a question bank of 20 questions, two students will have 5 (half) of the questions in common (Rowe 2004).

cheating by Sean MacEntee, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseimage  by  Sean MacEntee 




Addressing Academic Dishonesty in the Age of Ubiquitous Technology

Best Practice Strategies To Promote Academic Integrity in Online Education

Designing Online Courses to Discourage Dishonesty

Creating a Climate of Academic Integrity on Campus

Cheating in Online Student Assessment: Beyond Plagiarism



Chiesel, N. (2009). Pragmatic methods to reduce dishonesty in web-based courses. In A. Orellana, T.L. Anderson, & M. r. Simonson (Eds.).The perfect online course: Best practices for designing and teaching (pp. 327-399). Information Age Publishing.

McGhee, P, (2013) Supporting Academic Honesty in Online Courses. The University of Texas at San Antonio.




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