6. Assessment & Feedback

Recommendation 6.6: Academic Integrity
Design assessments that promote academic integrity and honesty.

Synopsis from Self-Review

Instructors can improve students’ commitment to academic integrity by clearly spelling out honesty expectations, teaching citation skills, emphasizing the educational benefits of a course, and using appropriate software tools. It is also important to address known and even suspected academic dishonesty.

How to Put Into Practice

According to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, “Academic Integrity is critical to the mission of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a research institution with high academic standards and rigor. All members of the University community play a role in fostering an environment in which student learning is achieved in a fair, just, and honest way.”

While research does not suggest that cheating happens more frequently in online courses than in face-to-face courses, there are a number of ways to promote academic integrity and honesty in all courses. Note that many converge with practices for creating effective assessments overall (see Recommendation 6.1 Measuring Achievement).

Spell out expectations for honesty. Ensure that students understand what cheating and plagiarism are and how you will handle suspected cases. Strategies include:

  • Clearly state the academic misconduct policy. Include a statement of the UW-Madison academic misconduct policy as well as the course’s academic honesty and integrity expectations and the consequences for dishonesty, such in the syllabus or course orientation module. 
  • Engage your students early on in an activity that surfaces their ideas and attitudes about plagiarism and cheating. For example, students can take a quiz like the example below or you can provide examples/cases for them to discuss.
  • You can import an example quiz from Canvas Commons (search: “EXAMPLE QUIZ: “Plagiarism”). After downloading the file from Canvas Commons, follow the directions to import the resource into your course. You can also copy this quiz and other useful templates from the UW-Madison Canvas Template. Then you can add your course-specific questions.
  • Involve students in committing to an honor code of honesty and integrity by signing their name to an official document or as the first question on an exam.
    • One example, adapted from language by University of Rochester, is to present an honesty pledge as the first item on the exam: “Honor Pledge:  To sign the honor pledge, please read and type your name below. I affirm that I will not give or receive any unauthorized help on this exam, and that all work will be my own.” 
    • A similar strategy, adapted by the University of Vermont from work by behavioral economist Dan Ariely, would be to present the honor pledge as a yes/no exam question: “Do you pledge that you will abide by UW-Madison’s policy for academic honesty and will not give or receive any help on this exam?” 

Be noticeably present in the course. An instructor who appears to be absent from the course or uninvolved in activities contributes to an environment conducive to cheating.

  • Tip: Let students know that you are willing to listen and help set up an alternate plan if someone is struggling or encounters circumstances beyond their control.

Use multiple assessment methods. Assessments that connect to the real world or to students’ individual interests in the course can make cheating less feasible, and may make individual effort more appealing. Consider going beyond tests and quizzes to incorporate interactive discussions, written assignments, case studies, projects, reports, presentations, role plays, and self-check quizzes with feedback, etc. For details, see Recommendation 6.3: Frequency & Variety.

Clearly distinguish between collaborative and individual work. Clearly identify what types of work are to be completed individually, with a partner, or as a member of a small group. Consider whether some forms of “cheating” may lead to effective learning, and consider designing assessments to allow for meaningful collaboration or just-in-time learning. 

  • For example, you may assign students to partners or groups, and assign each partner or group member to a specific contribution to the task or project.

Require drafts and progress reports for major papers. For written assignments, require the submission of component elements (research question, annotated bibliography, drafts or outlines, revision plans) to see the student’s work in progress. Other tips: 

  • Incorporate a peer review assignment with attention to the writer’s use of sources.
  • Ask each student to log their work, answer questions about their research methods, or journal about their progress.
  • Require students to place the following phrase at the end of a major paper: “I certify that the writing contained in this paper is my own and that any direct quotations have been identified and cited. Additionally, I have cited references in any place where I have significantly borrowed someone else’s ideas.”

Adjust grading policies weighted heavily towards a few high-stakes assessments. An over-fixation on points and the temptation to cheat lessen when the grading policy encourages students to study and accumulate points on a regular basis, rather than in a few large chunks. Breaking up high-stakes assessments into lower-stakes, smaller pieces also increases the effort required to cheat because of the frequency of the assignments. 

Teach citation skills and other positive practices of academic integrity. Practices of citation, including the relative value attributed to originality as opposed to imitation, can differ based on one’s cultural or institutional context. Normalize appropriate help-seeking and ethical practices of citation and acknowledgement in the course or discipline. For example:

  • Communicate to students what types of conversations you welcome in office hours and how these can support a practice of academic integrity (e.g., help them identify appropriate sources, help them understand specialized language and accurately represent the ideas in a source).
  • Share examples from your research or professional practice of how you consult resources and draw on the expertise of colleagues in your work while giving them appropriate acknowledgement. 
  • Model how to acknowledge a classmate or colleague in a footnote, or have students read and discuss the acknowledgements section of an assigned book.
  • Share resources from the Writing Center and the Libraries on how to use sources rigorously and ethically. See the section on Documentation from the Writer’s Handbook and the Libraries’ curated list of student-facing resources on Academic Integrity.

Emphasize the educational benefits of the course. When students can connect to the larger purpose of the course and the relevance of the skills it is designed for them to learn, they are more motivated to put effort into their work. 

Design quizzes and exams to discourage cheating. Mixing the order of questions or question responses, varying the types of questions (e.g. including some written reflective answers, or asking students to justify their response), or providing frequent lower-stakes testing in place of long exams can help to complicate cheating, or reduce the motivation to cheat. 

Consider the use of appropriate software tools. These include automatic time limits in Canvas Quizzes and  online proctoring via Honorlock. Such tools are best implemented when there is a strong pedagogical rationale behind their use, as they introduce issues around equity and inclusivity. For example, not all students have the internet bandwidth to accommodate the online monitoring of test-taking via webcam; the use of short time limits and webcam monitoring in the online environment can also pose barriers for students with disabilities, among others who may not demonstrate their best work in this scenario.

  • If using these online tools, communicate to students how being prepared to answer questions in the given time limit and/or with online proctoring will benefit their learning.
  • Familiarize students with Honorlock using the student tech module for Honorlock that can be uploaded to your Canvas site.
  • Give students hands-on practice with Honorlock ahead of the exam. Please follow these instructions from Honorlock to create a practice exam. As you create your practice exam, please make sure that the exam is set up with the same settings as your real exam.
  • Turnitin, an originality checker that can be activated in Canvas Assignment settings, supports plagiarism detection. Note that there are accessibility barriers with Turnitin for users of screen readers and keyboard navigation (using a computer without a mouse or touchpad). 
  • Work closely with students who may need accommodations in consultation with the McBurney Disability Resource Center.

Additional Resources

  • Thomas Tobin (Center for Teaching, Learning, and Mentoring) has written in InsideHigherEd on how to approach assessment in online formats in order to encourage honest academic conduct
  • The Libraries offer a Canvas Module on Citing Sources and Plagiarism that you can upload to your Canvas site and customize for the course. It features an interactive video with embedded knowledge-check quizzes on key definitions and practices of academic integrity. To preview and download this content, log into Canvas, navigate to Canvas Commons, and then visit this resource link housing the module (or use the Canvas Commons search bar to search for “Citing Sources UW-Madison”).

Background Information

What is this?

Academic integrity is fostering an environment in which student learning is achieved in a fair, just, and honest way.

Why is this important?

Academic integrity is essential if you are going to accurately measure students’ learning against the stated learning outcomes. It ensures that students are not rewarded for work they did not do. And it reflects the commitment of the institution to prepare students for work and life after university, through a quality education.

Where is this?

Explanations of academic integrity are often found in the syllabus and in the Course Orientation, along with institutional academic integrity policies. It can also be reinforced at the “point of need,” in the directions for tests, quizzes, assignments, and activities.

Success Factor 6: Assessment & Feedback

Methods for assessment, grading, and feedback are planned and clearly outlined for students. Assessment methods should be carefully considered in terms of equity, transparency, rigor, and integrity, and may challenge conventional approaches to quizzes and exams.