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Reduce Cheating Online

Mon Apr 6, 2020 at 07:30 AM

Especially with technology involved, some students can pull off the incredible when it comes to cheating. Many of us are used to traditional modes to curb cheating, basically having students take tests in a controlled environment under our attention. Especially with the sudden move to remote teaching, that standby may no longer be an option (for example, Rutgers identifies issues with online proctoring beyond cost).

While there are thoughtful ways to curb cheating online, some universities are doing away with proctoring and instead assigning more authentic assessments, building trust with students, and attending to the conditions that may motivate students to cheat. Stanford University’s Honor Code goes two ways: with the pledge that students will not cheat, instructors do not proctor or give “closed book” exams.

Minding the here and now, here are some ways to reduce cheating online. 

Talk about academic integrity, especially in the COVID-19 context.

Stress and the feeling of no other viable options can make students inclined to cheat. It may help to talk with students now about academic integrity: why it is important for them to test their own knowledge with the specific assessment material, why students might cheat, what they should do if they anticipate issues, and encouragement to reach out to you if they are particularly stressed. Putting this in the open shows students that you are knowledgeable and thoughtful about the realities of cheating.

Formalize academic integrity with an honor pledge.

McCabe, Treviño, and Butterfield (2012) suggest that having an honor pledge can help increase academic integrity. This can be a simple signed statement from the student such as: “I pledge that all work I do in the course and on my assignments and tests are my own work and I did not receive any unauthorized assistance.” In Moodle’s Assignment activity, there is an option to select “Submission statement,” which functions in a similar way, but I would still put your pledge statement in the assignment description itself. (The Submission statement in Moodle cannot be modified.)

Open the book, and add more authentic assessments.

In the absence of proctoring, we cannot guarantee students will take an assessment without consulting the book. It would be better for learning purposes to design open-book assessments. Even for lower-level learning goals, such as vocabulary and date recall, students could determine which vocabulary terms are most equivalent (rather than matching term to the textbook definition) or be asked to identify a particular movement or period in which an event occurred (rather than a date). Rutgers provides special advice for open-book assessments in quantitative courses.

Authentic assessments beyond multiple choice or matching can deepen learning further. This semester may be an opportunity to explore and try alternative assessments such as inquiry projects, case studies, audio or video recordings, work samples, portfolios, virtual labs and simulations, reflective papers, guides, infographics, annotated bibliographies and other authentic assessments. Rather than deterring collaboration and information-seeking, these types of assessments might encourage these actions to deepen learning.

Decrease the stakes with frequent practice.

When the stakes are high, meaning a significant portion of an entire semester grade lies on one assessment, students are more likely to resort to cheating. Especially in this stressful time for all of us, learning may best happen by decreasing the weight placed on this single assessment. Instead, spread out the grade weight over multiple exams. Ideally, students would get feedback on their tests leading up the final exam, feedback in the form of automated feedback assigned to questions, talking through questions during a live online class session, or at least by students being able to see which answers were right or wrong.

It can be helpful for you and students if students practice taking a test before the final exam simply in terms of test functionality. By going through the process of taking a quiz online, students are likely to be less stressed about what the test process looks like and how to navigate it. Additionally, it can help you ensure quizzes work as expected and troubleshoot issues before final assessments. 

On this note, also talk with students ahead of time about what to do if they are having test issues. Will you be available to answer content questions? Should they contact Moodle Help if they are working a Moodle activity? If they are working with third party material (e.g. MyLab Pearson products), who will they contact? Minimizing barriers for students AND giving them a way to navigate remaining barriers gives students a way to succeed, when otherwise they might have resorted to a questionable “study guide.”

Design tests with more variability.

Time constraints and variability can deter cheating. The longer the window for taking a test, the more ways available for students to collaborate with one another. (Note: If final exams are set for a specific date and time, it should be scheduled at the originally designated date.) This being said, be as generous with the amount of time as possible, as too tight of time can ramp up the anxiety that leads students to cheat. Provide enough time that students can think through their answers while still providing a structure that deters unauthorized collaboration. Also, students who have a documented need for extra time can be given a password that allows the time window they need. See more on added time/extra attempts in Moodle Quizzes. 

Unauthorized coordination is also stymied by quiz settings such as shuffling questions, shuffling answers within a question, and selecting questions from a robust question bank (e.g. the quiz randomly pulls 40 questions from 70 possible questions). e-LIS provides step-by-step guidance in the Moodle Quizzes section of e-LIS Help Docs.

Conclusion: Use these Strategies Together

These and other strategies work best when combined. No one strategy will fix all cheating issues, and context is always and important factor. For specific guidance on online assessments that reduce cheating, CETL Director Judy Ableser is available for virtual consultations (contact her at [email protected]). 


May of these points can be found in these in-depth OU guides.

7 Ways to Assess Students Online and Minimize Cheating. In this Chronicle article, Flower Darby asks, "What can you do to promote academic integrity in your virtual classroom without joining the ‘arms race’ in cheating-prevention tools?"

University of Calgary hosted a timely approach to this topic with the webinar “Academic Integrity in Online Courses: Adapted During COVID-19” (87 minutes).

Thomas J. Tobin’s white paper The Online Administrator’s Semi-Painless Guide to Institution-Wide Academic Integrity (4 pages, 15-minute read) is a helpful elaboration on this topic.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Author

Written by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NCView all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips. Follow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.