Academic Integrity in the Learning Environment
NOTE: For information related specifically to AI tools (such as ChatGPT), visit: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Academic Integrity.
Instructors and TAs play a vital role in educating students about academic integrity and helping them understand their responsibilities. The following sections provide information, strategies and resources that you can incorporate to help create a learning environment where positive student behaviour is encouraged, and cases of academic misconduct are minimized.
Fostering Integrity Through a Positive Learning Climate
There are many ways to create a positive learning climate, whether through course design, instructional strategies, or classroom teaching practices. The strategies listed in this section have been selected because of their role in preventing academic misconduct.
Many aspects of the learning environment contribute to student willingness to engage in academic misconduct. Some of these elements are within the scope of the instructor’s influence, such as assignment clarity, skill development, or the perceived relevance of course content. Other elements may be more difficult to address, such as student stress levels, lack of confidence, or competing priorities.
Being aware of student wellness, knowing what institutional resources can support them (e.g. http://tawp.ca/resource-hub/), and adapting your course policies and timelines where possible can all help reduce the temptation to engage in misconduct.
When crafting course-level learning outcomes, consider incorporating academic integrity skills and values. For example:
- By the end of this course, students will be able to apply discipline-specific citation practices in written work and audio-visual presentations
- By the end of this course, students will be able to articulate the ethical standards that underpin academic integrity in this discipline
- By the end of this course, students will be able to interpret scholarly discourse from discipline-specific referencing practises
Research shows several effective strategies that can both pre-empt cheating behaviours and deepen student learning. These include:
Connecting with students’ intrinsic motivation rather than relying on extrinsic motivators, such as grades. (This helps re-frame learning in terms of long-term, student-centred goals).
- Provide students with learning autonomy where possible (e.g. choice of topic or activity, assignment format)
- Make time for interaction with peers while encouraging exploration and discovery of course content
- Provide challenging, “real-world” problems and processes authentic to your discipline
Building knowledge and skills by scaffolding student learning. (This builds confidence and reduces procrastination, which can reduce cheating behaviours).
- Make use of practice activities and low-stakes assessments
- Break down larger projects into manageable chunks with staggered deadlines
- Have students document and share their “process” documents as part of assignments
Fostering connections in the learning environment. (This breaks down psychological barriers that make academic dishonesty feel more acceptable).
- If possible, learn names and chat informally with students before and after class
- Make use of peer-based cooperative learning activities such as note-taking pairs
- Provide opportunities for all to feel comfortable contributing to class discussion (consider small group discussion, iClicker polling, and on-the-spot written responses)
Incorporate diverse perspectives, experiences, and resources in your teaching
- Articulating the “why” behind learning activities by sharing the purpose, task, and grading criteria for each assignment. (This builds confidence and metacognition skills).
- Provide a clear learning path, along with example work and grading
- Reiterate instructions in multiple formats (text, video, orally, etc.)
- Share resources targeted to common trouble spots
Take advantage of opportunities to demonstrate what academic integrity looks like in practice, so that students can see it as an explicit and active part of scholarship and knowledge-creation in your discipline.
- Include citations for quoted and paraphrased text, as well as for images, in your lecture slides.
- Contextualise course content within the larger scholarly conversation.
- Where relevant, make connections between academic integrity standards and practices in higher education and professional practice standards in your discipline.
Just as learning environments can be structured to discourage cheating behaviours, they can also include elements that encourage cheating. Here are some tips on what to avoid:
- Don’t overemphasize the extrinsic rewards of grades as the primary motivator for learning.
- Avoid an environment that focuses on student performance at the expense of student mastery of learning.
- Don’t solely rely on high-stakes assessments. Incorporate safe opportunities to fail as part of the learning process!
- Don’t overload students with too much, or too difficult, coursework. Discouraged and overwhelmed students are more likely to cheat.
Reconsidering Assessments to Reduce Academic Misconduct
Although there is no such thing as a cheating-proof assessment, there are several ways to deter academic misconduct from occurring on tests and assignments.
Reduce student anxiety, confusion, and the temptation to cheat by ensuring that your assessment strategy meets the following criteria.
- Incorporate both low- and high-stakes assessments
- Ensure all assessments have clearly stated instructions, purpose, and questions.
- Where possible, use text/exam questions that require higher-order thinking rather than only simple recall of information
- Consider including drafts or process documents as part of the assignment submission
- Consider asking students to reflect on their learning over the course of completing an assignment, preparing for an assessment, or engaging with a course topic
- Make time to discuss academic integrity with your students, especially your expectations around assessments involving group work or peer feedback
Prior to the assessment
- Provide information about tests/exams beforehand (e.g. the structure of the test, the weighting of each section, what to study)
- Provide opportunities where students can ask questions about upcoming tests/exams
- Specify what which resources are not permitted (e.g. no cellphones, headphones, smart-watches, textbooks, notes, hats, etc.).
- Clarify the test policies (e.g. no communicating with other students)
- Provide old tests or practice questions
- Share strategies that former students have used
- Discuss study strategies with students: you can refer them to the Preparing for Tests and Exams page where they can find tips, resources and related workshops
- In high-stakes assessments, check student IDs as you circulate a sign-in sheet
- Prepare different versions of the test/exam keeping the same questions (for test validity), but change the order of the questions.
- Create seating plans: Ensure friends are not sitting close to one another
- Provide reminders on the front page of the exam
- Monitor the class actively during testing
- Always return student papers individually, rather than having students pick up graded papers or tests from a pile. (This can help prevent student work being stolen and re-used or shared online by others).
- For multiple choice tests, take advantage of eClass Quiz options that allow you to tailor your test (e.g. shuffled question order, time limits, multiple attempts, etc.)
- Offer a practice exam beforehand to help address any technical issues
- Make use of similarity detectors such as Turnitin. These detectors can also be used by students to identify and correct potential academic integrity issues before they submit a final version of their work.
Having a clear example of a sample assignment or a model answer to a test question can help students know how to approach an assessment
Bonus tip: Have students use your rubric to assign a grade to a sample you provide. This can lead to rich conversations and increased understanding around assessment expectations and grading standards.
Formative assessments take a planned, ongoing approach to inform educators and students about the learning process. They are often low-stakes assessments and can provide you with valuable feedback about where students might be challenged by course material. Some examples include:
- Knowledge check quiz or poll at the end of a lesson
- Short written reflection (minute paper, entry or exit slip) in response to a prompt or question
- Self-assessments asking students to reflect on their own learning process and needs
- Guided peer-assessments that support students in providing one another with constructive feedback towards a learning goal
Authentic assessments are designed around “real-world” challenges, topics, or scenarios that are relevant to your discipline. Students apply course learning to solve complex problems that often do not have simple solutions. Some examples include:
- Studio portfolios in an arts-based course
- Simulation or role-play to explore multiple perspectives on a topic
- Presentations of research findings in a format authentic to your field
- Policy briefs targeted to a (real or hypothetical) third-party stakeholder
Alternative assessments include a wide array of non-traditional approaches to measuring student proficiency with a subject, and may also be authentic assessments. A comprehensive list of examples is provided in this Guide to Alternative Assessments.
High-stakes tests and exams can be valuable ways for students to demonstrate their learning, but additional pressure and stress can increase the temptation to cheat.
- Redesign: Where possible, consider redesigning tests and exams using an open book format, allowing students to bring in a crib sheet of notes, or adopting a take-home approach. These strategies reduce student anxiety while also encouraging assessment design that favours higher-order questioning, another best practise for reducing cheating.
- Preparation: Support students in preparing for high-stakes assessments by providing practice opportunities with the same types of questions on more frequent low-stakes quizzes. Practice questions can also be integrated into lectures as knowledge checks using iClickers or other software.
- Exam/test questions: To deter cheating, avoid using publisher question banks as-is or re-using questions from previous years without modification. Include some questions that demonstrate higher-order thinking, and if you have grading time available, consider following these with a short-answer question asking students to explain their reasoning. The IDEA Papers series offers additional guidance on crafting better essay exams and multiple-choice questions.
Using Academic Integrity Resources
Addressing academic integrity with your students shows them that you take it seriously. Here are some ways to communicate expectations and encourage academic integrity throughout the academic term.
- Use an academic integrity statement for quizzes, tests and exams to remind students about maintaining integrity during the assessment
- Incorporate syllabus statements about different types of academic honesty breaches (Tip: You can also post these statements in eClass as announcements throughout the term)
- Require that students submit an assignment checklist with each assignmen
- Ask students to complete modules on academic honesty
- Distribute the Integrity in Practice document to students.
- Provide students with the Peer Feedback Guide for guidelines on providing appropriate feedback.
Incorporating academic integrity-related activities doesn’t have to take much classroom time. Doing so leads to many different benefits for students: they’ll be able to: consider academic integrity more deeply; learn from their peers, and see how it’s relevant to their own lives.
- Incorporate student activities on academic integrity (from McMaster University)
- Incorporate class discussions to influence student attitudes
- Have students read through academic integrity case studies and answer related questions (e.g., from Queen’s University). Note: If you would like assistance on writing academic integrity case studies that relate specifically to your subject matter, you can get assistance from the Academic Integrity Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Connect students to Learning Skills Services at the university, including resources on time management, note-taking strategies and preparing for tests and exams
- Refer students to the Writing Centre
- Request that students attend the Library’s Academic Integrity workshop
- York libraries are your partners in academic integrity. Consider contacting a librarian to discuss more ways to promote academic integrity in the classroom
If you have any questions, or suggestions for more resources, please contact: email@example.com.