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Published February 8, 2021 | Multidisciplinary

Academic Integrity in Assessment at a Distance or Outside the Classroom — Part 1: Prevention

This article is a translation of a text published in Profweb’s French edition.

Plagiarism is on many teachers’ minds, especially in the context of distance learning. While there is no silver bullet against academic dishonesty, I offer you different strategies so that you can be confident that your students did write the answers or assignments that you are evaluating.

In this article, I will offer strategies to prevent plagiarism and cheating.

In a second article, I will suggest ways to move away from traditional written exams.

Informing the students of the rules and sensitizing them to the importance of respecting them

The first thing to do to avoid that your students cheat during an evaluation is to make sure that they know the rules. Is asking a question to a friend during the writing of an assignment cheating? It depends! Make sure to clarify the rules for each assignment. For an essay, you may encourage students to help one another (while requiring individual, personal productions) but, for a test, you may prohibit them from communicating with anyone at all. Make sure that the rules are always clear for your students.

Talk to them about the disciplinary procedures of your college. Inform them of the sanctions associated with plagiarism.

Have your students sign an academic integrity declaration form, before each evaluation. Ask around your college to know if an institutional document exists. Make sure that the language used in the document is clear and simple.

Be benevolent: your students are in school to learn. Intellectual integrity is something that is learned and it is likely that many cases of plagiarism are due to a lack of knowledge rather than bad faith.

However, if you detect a case of plagiarism where there is no reasonable doubt as to the intentions of the student, apply the pre-established sanctions. This often implies noticing the academic affairs of your college of the incident, which will make the appropriate follow up if the same students are involved in a similar case in another course. Applying the sanctions will discourage recidivism.

Minimizing the temptation to cheat

Make the students feel safe

If a student feels like they will not be able to succeed without breaking the rules, they will be more likely to cheat. Make your students feel like they can succeed:

  • Offer them a variety of formative evaluations with feedback
  • Inform them ahead of time of the terms of the evaluation. Make sure that at least one formative evaluation has had a form similar to that of the summative evaluation.
  • Consider putting in place an inclusive approach that allows each student to choose the format that works best for them. For example, to present the results of a research project, offer the students the choice of producing a text or a video.

At Vanier College, Neerusha Gokhool Baurhoo, who teaches biology, chose to make her students feel safe to limit plagiarism. In her real life story Remote Exam in Teams for an Inclusive, Honest, and Fair Evaluation, she explains how she allowed the students who wanted to complete their exam in teams to do so. (The exam was 3 “case study” type questions.) Then, she had a short one-on-one interview with each student to make sure that they had done their share of the work. (For example, she asked each student “On [x question], you answered [y answer]: can you explain why?”.) Her interviews convinced her that the assignments were indeed the result of a team effort: the students had discussed and shared with one another to come to a better understanding of the content than if they had done an exam individually.

Promote learning

If a student’s only motivation in a class is to obtain the best grade possible rather than to learn or acquire new competencies, they will be more likely to cheat.

Once again, there is no miracle solution to this problem, but offering students authentic assessment (and learning) situations and making it so that they are conscious of the usefulness of their learnings on the job market, for example, are good solutions.

Also offer the students rich feedback on their work throughout the semester so that they learn to see evaluations as learning opportunities.

Share the work of the students

Another good practice is to share the creations that the students produce during their evaluations.

You could simply ask the students to share their work with their colleagues. For example:

  • At the end of a term project, you could imitate the My Thesis in 180 Seconds [in French] formula to ask your students to summarize their project as a 3-minute video. Those videos could then be shared on the class’s forum (be it Flipgrid, a forum on Moodle or a channel on Teams).
  • If the students’ creations have a visual aspect (image, video, model, etc.), you can organize a virtual exhibition.
    • Ask your students to upload their creations to the class’s forum rather than to submit them only to you
    • or
    • Organize a “gallery walk”: the students present their work in a short video uploaded to the class’s forum or as a video conference during a synchronous class.

The sharing of your students’ work can also go beyond the confines of the classroom. Why not offer your students to contribute to Wikipedia for an evaluation? Teachers from various disciplines have told their real-life stories of using such an evaluation on Profweb:

Another option along the same lines: a public class blog.

In any case, sharing the work of your students may motivate them to put in the effort. It might also dissuade potential cheaters who would fear their classmates (or other people) noticing their fraud.

Double Evaluation

In Neerusha Gokhool Baurhoo’s experience presented above, the one-on-one interview is used in a double-evaluation approach: it is paired with another evaluation method. As Neerusha’s written evaluation was done in teams, pairing two evaluation methods was an excellent idea (or a necessity). The interview ensures that the student masters, individually, the targeted competency.

However, even when an exam or a written assignment is done individually, we can doubt the academic integrity of the students. Following a written examination with an oral evaluation is then a way to confirm that the student did write the assignment submitted.

A less time-consuming version of systematic double evaluation is to tell the students that an one-on-one interview might be requested, in case of suspicion. This might be enough to limit the temptation to cheat.

The double evaluation “on request” could be extended also to students that you do not necessarily suspect of cheating, but whose answers lack clarity. In fact, sometimes the lack of clarity of an answer or an element of their work prevents you from fully evaluating their mastery of the competency. Orally, you could ask questions to clarify in order to truly be able to judge the level of competency of the student.

For even more inspiration on the topic of preventing plagiarism, please consult the Guide sur le plagiat et l'intégrité intellectuelle developed by the IT Representative Network [in French].

Additionally, the excellent featured report published on Profweb, in 2007, by Nicole Perreault, then community leader for the IT Rep Network, is still very relevant.

For suggestions of remote assessment methods that are less open to plagiarism than a traditional exam, read the second article of this series.

About the Author

Catherine Rhéaume She has been an editor and writer for Profweb since 2013. She also teaches physics at Cégep Limoilou and is a sessional lecturer for qualifying courses at University Laval. Her work for Profweb fosters her interest for technopedagogy and encourages her to try innovative teaching practices.

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