Academic integrity considerations in online teaching
In this time of transition and change, many instructors and students are transitioning from a face-to-face environment to an online setting. These transitions impact core components of how and what we teach and may significantly affect the final assessments for our students and the pressures that are placed on them to be successful.
Regardless of changes to assessments, Dalhousie University still requires students to uphold academic integrity at all times, and instructors must still abide by the policies and processes in place when dealing with suspected academic offenses.
Below are some tips and resources to help course instructors support their students in meeting the Academic Integrity guidelines of Dalhousie during the upcoming months when courses are in transition, anxiety and stress are high, and we’re all teaching and learning in an online environment.
Emphasizing the importance of academic integrity and personal accountability
We are in a transition where students are balancing many changes to their academic and personal lives, and more than ever it’s important that instructors promote and support students engaging in academic integrity and pursuing the core values of integrity, honesty, and accountability. Here are some tips for emphasizing why students should be thinking about academic integrity as they transition to online learning:
- For many students, this may be their first time engaging in online learning. Recognize that this will mean conveying what Academic Integrity might mean in the context of using technology to learn, and particularly completing final assessments (see below for tips specifically on this topic).
- Research has shown that asking students to agree and sign an honour statement before starting their exam or starting a test can reduce the incidents of academic dishonest (Konheim-Kalkstein, et al., 2008). The University Academic Honour Statement (for all members of Dalhousie) will alert students to the importance of adhering to Dalhousie’s standards of academic integrity.
- Now is the time to return to the Academic Integrity Policy with your students and highlight the support services available to them. Don’t just point them to the syllabus. Announce in your course space, or directly email students, a message highlighting where they can find information about Dalhousie’s Academic Integrity policy and the Academic Supports available to them on campus.
Creating an open learning environment
Students are less likely to feel the need to cheat when they know that they can come to you for support. Building rapport in your new course environment will be critical to ensure students seek your help during this difficult time. So how can you begin to build a safe environment and develop online rapport for your students?
- Make sure that students are reminded of the various ways they can get in contact with you. Let students know if you are hosting online office hours, and how they might access them. Brightspace has various tools to help you engage with your students and open the pathways for communication.
- Share with your students why academic integrity is important, not just to you or to Dalhousie as an institution, but also to them and their future success. Consider an activity where students share with the class what Academic Integrity now means within the current transition to an online learning context.
- Reach out to students during this time and see what supports they need to be successful. Students who may not have identified needing academic accommodations, may find themselves in a situation where they are unsure of where to go for help, if they can request it, and how it can support their learning. For more information, please check out this FOCUS post.
Don’t focus on statements about penalties, rather emphasize your responsibility as an instructor to adhere to the Dalhousie policies around Academic Integrity and maintaining those expectations during this transitional time.
Students are more likely to engage in academic dishonesty when they are unaware or unsure of what is expected of them, or do not see how the assessment directly supports their learning. If major changes have been made to their final assessment(s), it’s even more important to be clear on how these changes support them in achieving the intended learning outcomes of the course. This can be difficult in an online setting, however, where you might not be able to see or respond quickly to how your students are reacting to instructions or revised expectations. Here are some ideas to help you clearly share your expectations for final assessments:
- Try conveying your new expectations through multiple formats. Record and share a quick video announcement speaking to your students, make sure everyone has access to new course documents, or create a visual graphic to convey the changes – providing multiple ways for your students to understand how the course is changing will help them meet your new expectations. To help prevent students from feeling like they need to cheat to succeed, make sure you clearly articulate how and why they are being assessed, and if there are any changes to the original course plan. Think about providing updated copies of your course syllabus (with any re-weighting of grades highlighted), assessment descriptions, rubrics, and guidelines on formatting and submitting assessments.
- Set clear expectations for your students as to what is and is not allowed – especially in alternative assessments. Remember that students may be completing their final assessments in very different environments than they’re used too. Think about clarifying:
- How much time students have to complete the assessment (especially if an online exam)
- If students can work together as a group, or must work individually
- How students can seek help – can they reach out to other students, or should they come to you
- Any additional resources that can help a student be successful during their assessment, and what these might look like
- How a student should submit their assessment to you
- Help students navigate how to submit their assessment using the Learning Management System. Try doing a video capturing, via Panopto, demonstrating to students how to submit their online assignments, course projects, and access any online quizzes/tests.
- Make sure you’re aware of any details on arrangements for exams that may be provided through your Faculty and/or department and convey that to your students.
The stress of adapting and/or changing final course assessments is stressful for both instructors and students, but it’s important to plan your assessments with the assumption that your students have the best of intentions and want to be successful in your course.
Here are some things to think about as you embark on your final assessments during the next few weeks:
- What is your goal for using this assessment, and how can you help your students be successful in their assessment(s)? Be transparent with your students about the purpose for your decision.
- If using an online exam, encourage academic integrity by using multiple versions of the exam, and consider it to be open book. Let students know of these factors, and what resources will be allowed. Creating a shorter exam (with fewer questions) can help students new to the technology have adequate time to complete the exam.
- Online testing can be stressful to students for a number of reasons, but the number one stressor is the technology. There is a real risk of failure due to the need for sustained and often extended internet access. Students will want to know what happens if something goes wrong. Make sure you address common concerns and reach out to ask specifically if there are any you missed.
Below are some standard things to convey to your students:
- If a student’s computer crashes or they lose internet, how should they immediately contact you? Will there be a backup assessment or an additional opportunity for them to complete the assessment if this happens?
- Battling environmental factors can increase stress for students – suggest they complete their exam in a room away from distractions (I.e. roommates, or pets).
- Let students know what they can do if they don’t have a laptop or computer.
- Make sure students know if they need to install and test run any software well before the start of the exam. Having a practice quiz to let them try out the software can help with some of these concerns.
- Proctoring lockdown software only applies to one device. Let students know if they can have access to more than one device, and if they can use it to access resources. While this is difficult to control for, remember to emphasize to students that you are trusting them to be honest and adhere to the Dalhousie Student Code of Conduct.
- Ask students to submit additional work products along with their summative assessment. Artifacts like notes, outlines, and scholarly articles they are using all highlight the learning process and can help prevent students from copying other work.
- Reduce late penalties or be more flexible with deadlines. During this time of transition and uncertainty students are dealing with a lot of additional concerns, stress, and change. Being under pressure to get something in that is worth a considerable amount of marks if late encourages students to plagiarize.
Since many students have returned home, you will likely have students completing final assessments in different time zones. Due dates and getting answers to questions in a timely fashion can be very stressful students.
Consider these factors that can help create an environment for assessment that discourages dishonesty:
- Make sure to write the time zone for all due dates.
- Provide a wide time range to start and finish an online exam to accommodate various time zones.
- The University of Waterloo suggests setting a “Due date” and a “Later Due Date” to allow for late submissions and to be flexible for time.
- Plan for how students in different time zones can contact you during the exam.
Academic Integrity Toolkit
The Academic Integrity Working Group has compiled alternative design ideas for courses with the aim of diminishing student academic integrity offences. The Academic Integrity Toolkit for Course Instructors proposes two core considerations to diminish student cheating.
- Designing courses (and assignments) that reduce pressures and other situations that encourage student cheating.
- Designing assessments that are more resistant to overt cheating, unauthorized collaboration, or other forms of integrity violations.
It is recognized that courses and course instructors will have varying options available to them, depending on factors, including:
- Course level (e.g., 1000-level undergraduate vs. 3000-level undergraduate vs. graduate)
- Class size (i.e., what works for a seminar of 10 will likely not be feasible for a class of 300+)
- Content (e.g., survey vs. seminar, writing class vs. lab class)
The Academic Integrity Working Group also acknowledge that, like anything worthwhile, academic integrity mitigation strategies and techniques take work and effort–there is no quick fix, no guarantees, and no one-size-fitsall approach for improving academic integrity. Implement the suggestions as appropriate for your needs or use them as a starting point and adapt them for your specific course. These tools and suggestions have been curated from conversations with faculty across many disciplines at Dalhousie and from the published work being done across the globe at institutions of higher education, and attributions have been made when beyond common knowledge in the field.
Dukewich, K. (2020). Academic Integrity Strategies. From: https://kputlcommons.freshdesk.com/support/solutions/articles/43000564861--video-academic-integrity-strategies
Konheim-Kalkstein, Y. L., Stellmack, M. A., & Shilkey, M. L. (2008). Comparison of honor code and non-honor code classrooms at a non-honor code university. Journal of College and Character, 9(3).
Ontario Council of Universities (2015), Assessment Supports for Online Courses, From: https://cou.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/COU-Assessment-Supports-for-Online-Courses.pdf
Vincent, D. (2013). Promoting academic integrity in assessment in online distance learning. From: http://mun.ca/educ/faculty/mwatch/vol41/fall2013/deniseVincent.pdf
University of Waterloo (2020). Making the transition to online exams, From: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/teaching-tips-assessing-students/making-transition-online-exams