Dealing with Difficult Situations and Academic Integrity Violations (Part 2)

In the previous post, we went over academic integrity violations, what they are, and why they may happen. Here, we will discuss methods to prevent or reduce cheating from occurring in the first place.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

What can we do to prevent cheating?

When discussing cheating in higher education (or in any context), it shouldn’t just be all about “catching” the students who cheat, as it is “not going to be the most helpful way to heal ourselves from this” [1]. While it is still important to catch the cheating and know how to deal with it after it has occurred, time and effort should first be placed into how to prevent cheating from occurring in the first place.

Various works discuss how they attempt to prevent cheating in their own classrooms. Sheard et al., for one, interviewed 30 academics from 25 universities, reporting on 21 different types of strategies [2]. These strategies found were categorized into five themes: (1) education, (2) discouraging cheating, (3) reducing the benefits of cheating, (4) making cheating difficult, and (5) empowerment.


“I start off very early talking about what they can steal online and how they can do it. Basically, I say ‘I’m happy with you finding code online as long as you tell me where you got it from’. As long as it’s not the entire program. If you bought the program you won’t get the marks.”

An instructor interviewed in [2]

These strategies involve “educating students about the acceptability of different practices in the use of resources and assistance” [2]. If we recall previously, sometimes students just genuinely don’t understand the expectations [1]. And so, discussing those expectations with them is one such prevention strategy. This can include giving instruction about academic integrity, providing informational resources about it (such as info in the course syllabus or pointing to university plagiarism policies), or providing instructional tools [2].

Discouraging cheating

“… we get students to collaborate on assignments or content on a Wikipedia-style server that they can all edit simultaneously. That’s been successful. … Because it’s online, the students see an evolving projects and can see the group members’ work. As staff members, we … can see who’s doing work and who’s not.”

An instructor interviewed in [2]

Strategies discussed by instructors to discourage cheating included [2]:

  1. Heightened awareness of the consequences of cheating
  2. Requiring students to commit to abide by academic integrity policies
  3. Observing students working
  4. Monitoring work
  5. Setting staged assessments
  6. Making work visible
  7. Requiring students to work in groups
  8. Oral presentations
  9. Interviewing student
  10. Making it too risky to cheat

To bring more awareness to the consequences of cheating, some instructors sent out reminders to their students. Otherwise may require students to sign a commitment stating that they have and will abide by the academic integrity policies (e.g., at the beginning of the course, after an assignment, etc.).

Reducing the benefits of cheating

Joyner, in his work, discussed that “preventing collaboration on homework was impossible,” and so, collaboration was simply expected and allowed. The homework assignments were then treated as “a learning opportunity, without the high stakes that would otherwise motivate dishonesty” [3]. He also discuses the use of proctored exams, then, in order to measure students’ abilities and how much they have learned from the homework assessments.

Along with low stakes assessments, other strategies discussed include “setting hurdle assessments” and “verification of assignment work in exams” [2].

Making cheating difficult

“I think one of the things we found in this most recent study was that, although there’s lots of good information… being taught to educators about assessment design, the idea that this will also help with academic integrity is not at the front and center…”

Phil Newton on the Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast #157

Along with discouraging cheating and reducing the benefits, additional strategies discussed ways to remove or reduce the opportunity to cheat [2]. This can be taken in many ways, many of which relating to the goal of creating valid assessments. For example, exams could be proctored, such as discussed by Joyner [3]. This is further emphasized in Sheard et al.’s discussions: “interviewees agreed that the incidence of cheating is greatly reduced in invigilated situations” [2]. Others discussed the adaptation to more open-book exams since it “reduces the stress for the exam supervisors.” If the exam is open-book, students can use any resources. However, the assessment then needs to be designed so that the answer “can’t simply [be found] from the internet” [2].

Assessments could also be “individualized.” This could include, for example, “using randomly generated questions in tests, tailoring assignment work to individual students, [or] allowing students to negotiate their own assignment” [2].

Empowering students

The last theme discussed focuses on empowering students “so as to reduce the likelihood that they would resort to cheating or would want to cheat” [2]. This can include supporting students, building relationships with them, and emphasizing the learning gained through tasks (rather than just grades). This relates to our previous discussion on understanding the reasons that may drive a student to cheat and having empathy for the student. As instructors and TA’s, we can use this knowledge to provide students with the support they may need.

One instructor interviewed by Sheard et al., for example, provides personal support to students by emailing them close to assignment due dates and encouraging them to ask for support (from the instructor or TA’s) if they have fallen behind. Others interviewees “the importance of encouraging students to work for their own learning” [2]. When they were able to create an environment focused on learning, “everything was focused on learning and the assessment became secondary” [2]. The importance of learning can also be stressed to students by relating the content to their future motivations.


  1. Technology, Promoting Academic Integrity-Teaching in Higher Ed –. Educational, and Design in the School of Nursing says. “Promoting Academic Integrity.” Teaching in Higher Ed, 15 June 2017,
  2. Sheard, Judy, et al. “Strategies for maintaining academic integrity in first-year computing courses.” Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education. 2017.
  3. Joyner, David. “A holistic approach to academic integrity in a CS1 MOOC.” Proceedings of Learning with MOOCs IV (2017).

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