Preventing Academic Integrity Issues

Unfortunately, cheating does occur in University classes. Acknowledging this, being prepared, and enforcing policies will go a long way to minimizing the effects in your class, in your department and in the college as a whole. Following are some ideas for you to consider as you work to prevent cheating in your online and resident courses. Please talk to the ADED office (for resident courses), or your learning designer or Stevie Rocco (for online courses) for additional assistance.

Communicating an Academic Integrity Policy

Whether teaching face-to-face or online, Penn State faculty are required by University policy to include a statement of Academic Integrity on the course syllabus. The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences has a required statement for both resident and online students.

An important part of any policy of Academic Integrity is a clear communication of the penalties associated with each infraction. Some of these might be determined by a college or campus, while others may require the instructor to determine penalties unique to his/her course. See an example of violations and sanctions from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Strategies for Minimizing Cheating in Online and Resident Courses

  • Educate your students about what constitutes academic integrity. Some instructors choose to use the iStudy for Success modules on academic integrity as part of their orientation activities.
  • Make sure that the syllabus spells out expectations, and hold yourself and your students accountable to them. See the required and suggested syllabus policies below for details. Consider going above and beyond this policy to explicitly state your expectations.
    Resident Course Policies
    Blended and Online Course Policies
  • Quiz all students on academic integrity and other course policies during the course orientation. We call this a Course Readiness Quiz. You can give this quiz whether the course is an online or resident course.
  • Consider adding a statement on all submissions that says, "By submitting this (paper, exam, assignment), I unequivocally state that all work is entirely my own and does not violate Penn State's Academic Integrity policy." Ask students to sign this prior to submitting each assignment. 
  • Consider authentic assessment (activities or projects where students demonstrate application of their learning) utilizing rubrics where possible. Not only will rubrics save time in grading, they will make expectations for all assignments clear for students. Consider enrolling in OL 2900: Assessment of Online Learners, offered by Faculty Development for Outreach and Online Education. This is an excellent 4-week online course that covers a variety of effective techniques for assessing student learning online, including authentic assessment and rubrics. This course can be useful whether you are teaching online or in residence. Resident course instructors may also benefit from sessions offered by the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence.
  • Change assessments each semester or create three or four versions that you rotate throughout the year. Students use course material sharing sites such as CourseHero to post information, so changing things up is often the best way to prevent issues.
  • Be aware of and monitor sites such as CourseHero for your materials, exams, and assignments, and issue a takedown notice if and when you find them.
  • Prepare in advance for students who are sick for exams--consider requiring a doctor's note and use alternate assessments or a different type of assessment that students perceive as being harder, even if it's not (essay, etc). Tell the students about this practice in the course contract or syllabus.
  • Utilize test blueprinting to produce fair exam question pools. This also makes it easier to create multiple questions that test the same idea. For more information on blueprinting a test, see our resource on blueprinting for details.
  • Compare a student's "voice" on a writing assignment with his/her discussion postings and e-mail messages. If the voice is dramatically different, examine the written assignment more closely.
  • Use Turnitin.com to ensure that writing assignments do not contain plagiarism. Penn State has free access to this service for all faculty. Be sure that the course syllabus states that you will use this service.
  • In addition, the new recommendation from the college is that all students sign and return the Syllabus Acknowledgement Form during the first week of the semester. In addition. the College also recommends the attached Paper Submission Form as a way to have students take responsibility for papers/labs/homework done as part of group work.
  • Pursue disciplinary action. Information on how to do so can be found below. Taking a strong stance and completing the paperwork for such violations lets the students know that they cannot violate academic integrity standards with impunity. When instructors pursue violations, students quickly come to understand that it does not serve them well to engage in cheating.

Specific Strategies for Online Instruction

  • Quiz all online students on academic integrity and syllabus policies during the course orientation. We call this the Course Readiness Quiz. Not only does it make students aware of these policies, it can reduce student questions regarding assignment due dates and other information in the course.
  • Include waivers at the top of tests/online assessments that require a click before the assessment can be accessed. Statements such as, "I certify that all work on this assessment is entirely my own and does not violate Penn State's Academic Integrity policy" could be included.
  • Ensure that user tracking is enabled throughout ANGEL.
  • Use quiz banks and randomize the questions and answers so that students have a more difficult time sharing answers.
  • Limit the time during which a student can complete an online assessment to something that is reasonable, yet prevents their looking up answers.
  • Utilize the reports available in systems like ANGEL to analyze suspicious test results. For example, you can easily see the exact time and date when a student took an ANGEL-based exam and you can even see the IP address they had. The IP address designates what computer they were using to access the assessment. If you see two similar test results from the same date/time and from contiguous IP addresses, you might surmise that the two students were sitting next to each other in a computer lab! (Note: IP addresses are in the format of four sets of numbers separated by decimal points, e.g., 128.118.67.43. All addresses starting with 128.118 are PSU computer lab addresses). If you need assistance learning how to use these features, contact Stevie Rocco at the Dutton Institute to arrange a consultation.
  • In an effort to thwart students' abilities to organize for the purpose of cheating (secret Facebook groups, etc.), set ANGEL email so that students cannot email the entire class and exclude the faculty member. This can be set in Manage > Mail Settings in ANGEL.
  • For high-stakes assessments like exams, consider utilizing proctors. The University has had an approval process in place for many decades to govern the use of proctors in distance education courses. See Finding a Proctor for more information.

Specific Strategies for Resident Instruction

  • Quiz all students on academic integrity and syllabus policies during the course orientation. We call this the Course Readiness Quiz. Not only does it make students aware of these policies, it can reduce student questions regarding assignment due dates and other information in the course. See this article on having a living syllabus.
  • Require that student phones are face down on top of desks so that it's clear if a student picks up his/her phone and looks at it during an assessment.
  • Walk around--a lot! Proximity is an easy way to discourage cheating during exams. If you have TAs, each should walk around a "zone" of the lecture hall to monitor the students in all areas of the classroom.
  • Use test proctors, or have the students use the University's Testing Center. Note that use of the testing center requires advance planning and reserving of space well before the start of the semester. 
  • Videotape exams. (We believe that internal taping is legitimate, but do let your students know that you will be engaging in this practice in advance--and be sure it's in your syllabus. Guidelines can be found in University Policy AD-40.)
  • For paper exams, create two or three versions of a test but differentiate them with only a small tick or mark prior to copying. This way, students won't recognize the exams as different, but you will. Further, it will help ensure that a cheating student copying an incorrect answer from a nearby classmate will be caught.
  • In an effort to thwart students' abilities to organize for the purpose of cheating (secret Facebook groups, etc.), set ANGEL email so that students cannot email the entire class and exclude the faculty member. This can be set in Manage > Mail Settings in ANGEL.
  • Ensure that different versions of an exam do not use the same grading scheme. For example, if Form A's key is A-B-B-A-C-D, Form B's key should be different.

What to do if You Suspect Academic Integrity Problems

Cheating is likely to occur in any class at one point or another. The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences has a specific course of action that you should pursue if this happens to you. Full details are available on the EMS website. The Dutton Institute also provides an Academic Integrity Practices and Procedures cheat sheet. The process of pursuing violations can be time consuming for faculty, but its completion is important in order to maintain a culture of academic integrity.

Specifically, you would work with the College’s Academic Integrity Committee. Martha Traverse, mjt5@psu.edu, is the point person for the committee. She handles getting everything she needs from both the student(s) and faculty when a violation arises.  If a student contests the violation (in other words, denies the accusation of cheating), Martha convenes the committee members in person to review the case and make a determination.

Additional Resources