Academic Integrity - Photo of Student CheatingOne of the biggest challenges facing distance learning today is ensuring academic integrity. There are swaths of blog posts, scholarly articles and stories in the Chronicle covering this topic.  Let’s clear the air now and let you know that their is no absolute sure-fire way to eliminate cheating in your online courses, just as there is no way to do it in your face-to-face courses.  There are however, strategies you can adopt and methods you can employ that will assist in making it extremely difficult to do so. We will cover 5 ways to encourage academic integrity:

  • Get Students on the Record
  • Original Discussion Posts
  • Pool Your Resources
  • Multiple Measuring Sticks
  • Use the Tools Available


The president has the Oath of Office, doctors have the Hippocratic Oath. We all have oaths or agreements that we sign our name to that guaranty a certain behavior on our part.  One underutilized best practice in your online courses is to have your students go on record stating that they will maintain academic integrity while taking part in your class.

Whether you use a Mark Review Status, a discussion forum for a publicly stated pledge or an assessment where they put into words their commitment, having students go on record stating that they will have academic honesty is a good idea.  This activity assists with your course expectations and helps to make crystal clear the academic integrity policy in your course and for the University.

Note:  You can also make access to your course content contingent upon them “signing off” on the academic integrity agreement.

Discussion Forums GraphicOne of the best communication tools used in online, hybrid and face-to-face courses is the discussion forum. The benefits of forum use are widely published in academic circles. Some examples of these benefits are:

  • allowing the student to reflect and respond thoughtfully to a discussion question
  • allow them to apply that same kind of critical thinking to a peer’s posting
  • enables students who might not otherwise responds in a live classroom environment to have a “voice”

As envelopes are pushed in the distance education arena, we are discovering some things that need to be addressed.  Having taken a few online courses for my Master’s degree and in working with faculty in their courses, I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to some student postings in what are supposed to be well reasoned, interactive back-and-forth discussions.

Copy Paste GraphicStudents are waiting to see what their colleagues post and then creatively copy-pasting their own discussion board posts. Instead of doing the leg work of coming up with their own thoughts about whatever it is they are supposed to be posting, they are rehashing their colleague’s posts.  There are thoughts as to why this may be happening, but that is subject for a different day.

The challenge then becomes one of encouraging the interaction and critical thinking you want in a discussion board while maintaining the academic integrity of original thought.  Blackboard now offers a check box when setting up Discussion Forums that ensures that discussion Participants must create a thread in order to view other threads in this forum.

By checking this box, you force the students to make their posts, completing the first part of the discussion assignment (the part when you want them to reply with their original thoughts) without being able to view the posts of fellow students. This solution does not have to be utilized on every discussion forum in your course, but can be leveraged for when you want to ensure the student’s thoughts are original.


Question Mark for Pools GraphicQuestion Pools are a longstanding best practice when it comes to ensuring academic integrity in your online courses. Question pools are inventories of questions that you may use across all of your assessments.  The ability to select questions from a pool or pools in your online assessments gives you the flexibility you need to ensure a fair assessment.  Over time you create a large amount of questions for you assessments.  Imagine storing all of those questions together so you can draw from them whenever you want for your assessments.

In Blackboard, question pools allow for Random Blocks of questions and Question Sets.

Random blocks are groups of questions that can be presented in a random fashion determined by an instructor. You create random blocks by:

  • Finding and selecting questions
  • Deciding on the number of points per question
  • Determining the number of questions to display to the user

A question set is a collection of questions retrieved from selected tests and pools. From this set, you specify how many questions to display. The specific questions displayed are randomly chosen each time the test is taken.

For each question set, you can specify:

  • The pools and tests that it will draw from.
  • The type of questions to draw from.
  • The number of questions to draw from.


Measuring Sticks GraphicAfter reading the mountain of anecdotal evidence on the Internet about students cheating in online courses, you might be tempted to just throw your hands up and stop before you start!  Measuring student success is not something that is done just by looking at scores on objective tests. You should use multiple measure sticks to gain 360 degree view of your students.

Change the percentage that tests a worth in your overall grading schema.  Look at their participation in group activity, discussions, papers and other activities to determine how they are doing.  Get a feel for your student’s “voice” by looking at their work over more than 1 assignment.  If you are concerned question the student over the phone or via video chat in Collaborate to determine the real extent of their knowledge.


Toolbelt GraphicBlackboard has/partners with tools that can help you work to foster academic integrity in your course(s).  Using a combination of these tools will assist you in throwing up road blocks to cheating and get your students in the routine of making good decisions when it comes to “playing it straight”.  Let your students know up front (via your syllabus and/or an expectations document) what tools you will employ to encourage them to contribute honestly in your course.

Examples of these tools:

  • Respondus Lockdown Browser
  • ProctorU (live remote proctoring service – additional fee involved – payable by your students)
  • Question Pools
  • Randomized Questions and Answers
  • Tegrity Remote Proctoring (Records student’s screen + web cam)
  • Turnitin Assignments (check for plagiarism)