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Blog » Building Academic Integrity into Your Course

Katie Bush--As an instructional technologist I get a lot of questions around midterms or finals about how to prevent cheating or how to catch students suspected of cheating. The best way to encourage students to take your class with academic integrity is to design it into your course from the beginning.

Focus on Low-stakes Assessment Approach

One of the best ways to remove the urge to cheat is to remove the factors that cause students to feel that cheating is the best solution to pass. Often students decide to cheat when they are feeling underprepared, overwhelmed, or know that this is their one chance to improve their grade. For classes that focus exclusively on assessment using a midterm and a final, all of the pressure is on these two activities. Instead, provide frequent low-stakes assessments throughout the course. Students have a better confirmation of what they learned closer to when they should have learned it. You have a better understanding of what the students did learn and can adjust your teaching accordingly. There is also an opportunity for a student to not do well on one activity, learn from it, then do better next time, and not significantly impact their grade. Use a mix of low-stakes assessments, such as:

  • Simple “check-your-knowledge” quizzes using the myCourses Quiz tool. Questions can be set to provide question-level feedback and an immediate automatic grade.
  • Brief written assignments, blogs, projects, or study guide summaries where students synthesize material.
  • Discussion forums with “apply-level” prompts where students synthesize their “remember-level” learning into a response. Students engage with other students to display conceptual understanding.
  • Students build a study guide or a user's guide to a particular topic. They may do so in Google Drive or another collaboratively authored space.

Develop a grading scheme that corresponds to the amount of work required or expected for each activity; if online discussion takes up 20% of the students’ time, it should be worth 20% of the final grade.

Academic Integrity Culture Approach

A more holistic approach is to foster a culture of academic integrity in the course. At the beginning of the course, facilitate a dialogue on why academic integrity matters, what academic integrity looks in that discipline, and what is expected of the students. Then reinforce that message throughout the course. By doing this, you promote mutual trust and respect, and encourage students to be accountable for their own actions.

Some topics to focus on:

  • Be clear when students should collaborate or not collaborate. Also discuss why it is important for students to work on their own in certain situations.
  • Discuss the appropriate use of resources for different contexts (e.g. reference sheets, use of gitlab in work versus school).
  • Discuss the value of intellectual property and authorship, especially as it exists in the current digital culture and sharing culture.
  • Explain the meaning behind assignments, for example, what skills or knowledge the students should gain by doing the assignment. If students feel like assignments are meaningful to them and are not busywork, they may feel less likely to cheat to just get an assignment over with.
  • Have students collaborate on a class honor code. The honor code will have more meaning to students if they are involved in creating it. You can include this class honor code in assignment or exam instructions as a reminder. Students can be asked to sign off that they followed the class honor code when submitting their assignment or starting their exam.
  • Review RIT's "Talking about Academic Integrity" for additional topics.

Approaches for Quiz/Exam Assessments in the myCourses Quiz Tool

If using short, low-stakes quizzes, these approaches may not be necessary. If the learning objectives support giving a larger exam or for disciplines that use exams for credentialing, you may use some of the following approaches:

  • Use question pools. Here are tutorials for building a question library and inserting questions into a quiz from pools.
    • Build 1.5 times or double the amount of questions you intend to assign so that students receive different enough exams.
    • Have separate pools for multiple choice and short answer questions so you can give each student a consistent number of each question type. You can also pool by topic.
    • Update your pool after a few uses or rotate questions in and out of the pools. This helps defeat those who copy exams and share or sell them.
    • Avoid using exclusively question banks from publishers. There are websites that offer answers to question banks.
  • Use randomization features. You can randomize the order of the questions on a page and the order of the answers within a question.
    • Do not randomize the order of the answers for questions with “all of the above” or ”none of the above” choices.
  • Pair some multiple choice questions with an "explain your answer" open-ended question. This forces students to explain why they know what they know.
  • Revise the exam to be intentionally open book (i.e. any reference material allowed). Open book questions require students to synthesize ideas and demonstrate thought processes.
    • Use a case study or base the question on an example. The students can't simply look to course materials to find the answer.
    • Review suggestions for writing multiple choice questions (especially page 2).
    • Use some open-ended questions where there is no one right answer. Students provide a written response. Note that these types of questions are more time-intensive for students to work on and take longer for you to grade.
  • Time the exam so students do not have time to look up every answer. The time allotment should be based on the number of questions and type of questions. If possible, use average completion times from past uses of the exam to guide the time allotment. You may need to err on the side of providing more time to help reduce test anxiety.
    • For students with extended test time accommodations, use the special access feature to provide this extended time. Consult the students' Disability Services Agreements for their specific accommodated test parameters (e.g., 1.5x extended time or 2.0x extended time).
    • Never use the "Allow the student to continue working, but automatically score the attempt as zero after an extended deadline" setting. Pick one of the other options instead.
    • Explain to students that your expectation is that the exam will fairly demonstrate what they have learned and that the exam is time-limited. If the time is spent thinking about answers and answering questions there will be plenty of time. If the time is spent looking up answers you’ll likely run out of time.
  • Split a long exam into a couple shorter exams so students can take a break in between. Exams that last multiple hours can exhaust students.
  • For higher-stakes exams, customize the Submission Views to delay revealing correct answers until the exam-taking window is over.
    • For short, low-stakes quizzes, it is better for students to see the correct answers sooner with feedback for why the correct answer is correct. This helps students return to the learning materials to refresh their understanding and improve for next time.
  • View the Quiz Event Log if you notice concerning things such as students with too similar written answers, or a student who writes or performs differently than they historically have throughout the course. The Quiz Event Log can provide context around when the student completed parts of the exam. Questions answered too quickly in succession may mean a student is copy/pasting from somewhere. Students with the same start and end times may be working together. After collecting information, have an open, private conversation with each student about what you noticed.

One RIT Faculty Member's Application of This Advice

Recently, I and a colleague met with an RIT faculty member to discuss academic integrity and final exams. This person has allowed us to share a description of how they applied the advice we provided.

In my class this semester, I gave a closed-book final exam using the myCourses Quizzes tool. I cannot prove it was entirely without any sort of cheating or integrity violation, but its outcome was very similar to the regular (in-person) exams in this course. I interpret that as a sign of a successful implementation of the exam without proctoring or making the exam unnecessarily hard. Here are a few strategies I followed
  • ​​First of all, ​I reduced the weight of the final exam once the course was converted to the online mode. ​This was an attempt to disincentive cheating.
  • I did not increase the exam time compared to in-person exams (two parts, each 60 minutes). Likewise, I did not reduce the number of questions. Further, I did not reduce the volume of materials I typically cover for the final exam. So, the students had limited time to answer each question (the same as in-person exams in this course). This was meant to make it difficult for those who don't study but want to cheat during the exam. The structure of the exam was clearly communicated to the students days before the exam to help them realize that if they don't study well, they will be less likely to succeed in the exam.
  • There was a genuine connectivity concern, and other concerns related to possible technical difficulties in this method. For example, what happens if a student suddenly loses their network connection during a timed and synchronous exam?
    1. 1. After consultation with ILI staff, I learned about the auto-save mechanism of the Quiz tool on myCourses. I explained about this feature to the students so they didn’t end up starting over when they reconnected.
    2. 2. I created two alternative communication channels for the student so they can report any connection loss and when they returned to the exam. One was a concurrent Zoom meeting (also as a channel through which they could ask questions), and one used the Slack channel for the class.
    3. 3. I used the grace period mechanism of the Quiz tool as a backup time for those who lost part of their exam time as a result of connection issues or for other reasons. It worked very well for one of the students who lost their connection in the middle of the exam. The grace period was also put in place in case I decided to extend the exam time, which actually happened to be the case in part 2 of the exam.
  • I converted just 10-15% of the questions that were of the content-memorizing type to ones that better expose the students' level of understanding. This way, even if the students had access to the materials, it would be difficult to answer the question by just looking at a couple of slides (out of 300+ slides). The rest of the exam questions remained the same as before. Here is an example of the new questions I designed: Suppose that the mayor of Rochester asks for your expertise to develop a contact tracing tool to fight COVID-19. You can use one of the following technologies: [I provide a brief list of technologies]. Which one do you pick? Justify your answer.
  • After the exam started, I hid the lecture notes from myCourses. Believe or not, there was a student who was trying to read the content on myCourses during the exam!

Last but not least, I talked to the students and let them know that I trust them. And because I trust them, I made it clear that I'm not going to use myCourses anti-cheating tools (there are a few!) or video proctoring so as to not make it excessively difficult for non-cheating students. At the same time, I warned them about any violation of academic integrity. According to the ILI staff, the psychology of trusting the students turns out to be effective in many cases. A colleague also suggests that from a cognitive psychology standpoint, if students sign a reminder of the honor code (or similar statement) *before* the exam, it helps to reduce cheating.

 

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