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How to Uphold Academic Integrity in a Remote Learning Environment: 3 Tactics to Consider

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2021-02-15T22:13:15+00:00January 21, 2021|

With the prevalence of remote learning in higher education today, maintaining academic integrity remains critical across modalities. Whether online or in person, academic dishonesty undermines established learning systems and invalidates assessments.

Preserving academic integrity is more complicated in an online learning environment. Unique challenges, like whether cheating will increase as students work and take tests away from the eyes of instructors, are presented when students use devices to facilitate their learning. But it’s not a lost cause.

We enlisted Tim Loatman, Director of Academic Services at Collegis Education, to discuss the issue of academic dishonesty and share advice on how to protect against it.

First, what is academic integrity?

Academic integrity is the concept of “honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility and courage” in an academic practice. It is a foundation that legitimizes academics against malpractice behaviors, such as cheating, plagiarism and other types of dishonesty.

Academic integrity is essentially the same as regular integrity, according to Loatman. “It’s doing what you say you’re going to do,” he elaborates. “In an academic sense, your actions – your work as a student – need to match who you are.”

While the concept of academic integrity is often associated with students, it is applicable to many roles within the world of higher education, including instructors, researchers and administrators. All of these stakeholders are responsible for establishing and maintaining a standard of academic integrity.

Now, with the pandemic-induced shift to remote learning, academic integrity is receiving more attention – and more scrutiny – than ever before.

How important is academic integrity in a remote learning setting?

Whether students are sitting in a classroom or learning remotely, protecting against academic dishonesty is essential.

“Academic integrity is paramount because much of our teaching and learning system is based on assessment,” Loatman explains. “That is, the assessment is proof that you know what you know – but only if there is integrity.”

Academic dishonesty, therefore, undermines these assessments along with the entire learning system. It creates the illusion that the learner has mastered subject matter when that is not the case. That may benefit them in the short term, but it catches up with them eventually.

“Integrity is integrity regardless of modality,” Loatman states. “Unfortunately, students in face-to-face learning environments have been figuring out ways to invalidate assessments for decades.”

Most instructors have become wise to most of the traditional methods of cheating, such as writing answers on your hand or physically adjusting so another learner can see your answers. However, remote learning scenarios pose new ways of invalidating assessments, which require some adjustments from faculty.

In the transition to remote learning amidst the global pandemic, concerns about cheating were top of mind for many instructors. And while it took some getting used to, educators banded together to share advice and tactics to help uphold academic integrity in online courses.

“Teachers are a savvy group. They’ve already developed countermeasures to protect the integrity of the teaching and learning process,” Loatman explains.

3 tips for maintaining academic integrity in online courses

Many experienced online instructors agree that negative messages warning students about cheating are often less effective than positive reinforcement encouraging honesty. Consider these tactics for establishing a foundation of academic integrity in your online courses.

1. Look to online learning veterans

Online learning was established long before the pandemic. Those institutions that were early adopters have had more time to understand the complexities of remote learning and implement effective protocols to avoid issues with academic dishonesty. These serve as good examples for schools that are new to distance learning.

“These schools have already figured out that, in a world where students can Google anything, assessments that are pure recitation are fairly useless,” Loatman says. He explains that instructors of established online courses rely on assignments that involve critique, collaboration and synthesis – all methods that make it very hard to simply Google and answer for a test.

“Instead, they utilize assessments that are able to truly measure the learning, thus keeping integrity intact,” Loatman adds.

2. Create an honor code

Another tactic online instructors have found successful in encouraging ethical and moral academic practices is creating an honor code that outlines integrity policies. Once you’ve established an Honor Code, discuss it on the first day of class, have students review it and require them to sign it with any assignment or exam submission.

Many instructors have used this approach for years in residential courses. If you already have established an Honor Code, consider customizing it to address the remote learning experience. This will help set the stage from day one and acquire buy-in from the students to hold themselves accountable.

3. Modify assignments for online learning

For those transitioning from residential learning to online learning, it is critical to adjust assignments and exams for online instruction. Simply taking materials used from in-person lessons to online learning doesn’t work – and it’s a common pitfall of those looking to transition.

The biggest challenge is assuming that face-to-face assignments are translatable to online with no modification. Many educators think because their assignment worked well in the classroom, it will work well online.

Tim Loatman

This may be true in some cases, but it’s likely that some revisions are necessary in order to ensure the most effective learning is taking place. Loatman recommends taking your assignments and assessments from an in-person curriculum and giving them a modality makeover.

For example, questions asking for concepts and definitions tend to not translate well into online learning. Instead, adjust assignments so that students are prompted to provide their thoughts on topics, defend answers or provide critiques on concepts. Instructors may also consider including collaborative exercises with other students or having ‘“show your work” requirements.

Don’t compromise your quality of education

Academic integrity is essential in higher education. Though it may be tricky to transition from residential to remote learning, it is possible to defend against academic dishonesty with a few strategic adjustments. And remember that deceitful students are far outnumbered by trustworthy ones.

“For the most part, learners are honest. For all the talk about academic integrity and cheating online, it really is a minority of students,” Loatman reassures. “For every news story about a high stakes exam that’s been invalidated, there are thousands of students who are doing the right thing and learning the honorable way.”

Protecting against cheating is one important element of preparing your courses for remote delivery, but there is more to it. Gather additional advice for this transition in our article “Assessing Students When Your Residential Class Moves Online.”

Let our experts help you transition to the next generation of online course delivery.

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About the Author
Kristina Ericksen
Kristina Ericksen is a content writer with four years of experience writing for higher education. She holds an English degree from Gustavus Adolphus College.