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Increasing Academic Integrity

1. Clarify and review the list of what is acceptable and unacceptable. The words cheating and plagiarism are ominous but indefinite in meaning. Students should be given clear guidelines that turn gray ethical areas black and white. Reviews of standards pertaining to plagiarism are particularly useful. Prescribed behaviors should also be reviewed, if appropriate. Some universities, for example, require that students must report all honor violations, so students in such institutions should be reminded of their responsibilities. They should also be urged to take steps to reduce the possibility of cheating by others by safeguarding their work from theft.

2. Establish a code. Academic integrity experts recommend making cheating a moral issue by developing an honor code or set of academic integrity principles (e.g., McCabe et al., 2001). Whitley and Keith-Spiegel (2001), for example, suggest that an academic integrity policy should specify clearly the:

  • reasons for the policy by examining the values of the university and arguing that cheating and other forms of academic dishonesty are inconsistent with those values
  • types of behavior that are forbidden
  • responsibilities of all parties, including students, faculty, and administrators
  • procedures that will be followed when a student is suspected of academic dishonesty
  • penalties that can imposed for various types of offenses

3. Encourage the internalization of academic integrity codes. Evidence indicates fewer students cheat on campuses that have a well-conceived honor code, but the codes' impact depends in large part on the extent to which students have accepted the academic values it expresses (Jordan, 2001; McCabe et al., 2001). So steps should be taken to increase the extent to which students internalize the code

  • Involve students in the discussion and development of a classroom policy. Just as managers have discovered that people are more likely to comply with workplace policies if they had a hand in developing those policies, so professors will find that students will be more likely to endorse and comply with ethical standards if they contribute to the development of the standards.
  • Give students the opportunity to endorse, formally, their adherence to the code.
  • Encourage the development of mastery goals that focus on learning and development rather than extrinsic goals such as grades, GPA, and Dean's List (Jordan, 2001).
  • Encourage the development of a full range of attitudes and values pertaining to academic integrity. Individuals who are generally opposed to cheating, but who have yet to formulate a position on specific types of cheating (such as cribbing or buying term papers) are more likely to cheat than those who have action-specific attitudes.
  • Increase the accessibility of anti-cheating attitudes by mentioning them prior to each test and when making assignments. Evidence indicates that individuals sometimes act in ways that are inconsistent with their values only because they act without considering their personal position on the matter.
4. Eliminate temptations. Given the power of the situation to compel even the best-intentioned student into cheating, testing situations and assignments should be designed so that acting dishonestly is difficult and risky but acting honestly is simple and easy. When giving a test in class:
  • Ask students to sit with desks between them when empty chairs are available. If necessary, break up clusters of friends or have students sit in assigned seats.
  • Reserve one row of a class for students who are tardy, who ask frequent questions, or who engage in suspicious behavior and must be moved.
  • In crowded classes make up at least 2 versions of the test by reordering the items. Have the versions printed on different colored paper and interleave the tests prior to class so that no student is seated beside another student taking the same test version. As students work visually inspect each row for adjacent students with same-colored tests and move them if necessary.
  • In theater-style classes count out the number of examinations needed for each row prior to class. When passing out the exams hold back a question booklet for each empty seat. If a student in the last seat in the row does not get a test, ask the students in the row "to check to make sure they didn't accidentally get two copies."
  • In large classes ask students to display a photo ID when they drop off their test. If necessary, ask each student to sign an attendance list and their question booklet upon leaving the room.
  • If the college honor code does not limit proctoring, observe students carefully as they complete the examination, moving to the rear of the room frequently. In large classes additional proctors will reduce cheating, particularly during the end of the period when attention is diverted to the collection of the tests.
5. Be alert to and investigate possible instances of cheating. Undo local norms that are lax about cheating by being sure to:
  • Announce, prior to class, that you will be asking people to move during the exam when you see any sign at all of test copying. Note that in many cases the people being asked to move are innocent of copying, but are being moved away from the individual who is suspected of copying.
  • During the examination, when observing suspicious behavior, announce to the entire class the reminder about cheating while staring directly at the possible cheater.
  • Establish a clear policy pertaining to attendance on exam days and deadlines for papers, and require documentation of students' excuses for missing tests or deadlines (Caron, Whitbourne, & Halgin, 1992).
  • Make use of statistical or computer-based detective methods to detect cheating and plagiarism, if possible, and warn students about these procedures. Bellezza and Bellezza (1995), for example, describe a technique that tests for unlikely coincidences in answer patterns of students, and several computer programs (e.g., Scutiny!) exist that allow instructors to search for statistical evidence of cheating and plagiarism.
  • Assemble as much evidence as possible pertaining to the incident. Describe the incident in writing and send a copy of the report to your chair. If proctors witnessed the infraction, have them write and sign a statement describing the incident. Statements can also be obtained from students in the class.
  • Respect the suspected student's rights to due process by following your institution's academic integrity guidelines scrupulously. If those codes prohibit you from handling the infraction personally (by giving a cheater a zero on a test), then turn the matter over to the office that handles such matters.
6. Reduce social and academic pressures that sustain cheating. Some students may cheat as a last resort, feeling that it is the only way they can pass the class or test. Indeed, one of the best predictors of cheating is level of preparedness, with unprepared students cheating more than prepared ones. One could therefore eliminate all cheating by giving all students As, but less extreme interventions may be just as effective.
  • Make certain that the demands of the course are appropriate for the types of students you are teaching.
  • Use clear grading criteria and communicate those criteria clearly to students.
  • Test frequently so that students' grades are not based on just one or two major assignments.
  • Give students sufficient time to complete their work.
  • Accept valid excuses for missed work and absences.
  • Consider letting students prepare one page or index card of notes for their use when taking tests.
  • Do not let situational norms develop that encourage cheating. Even students with well-internalized values may cheat if the norms of the situation prevent them from acting on the basis of their values.
7. Maintain rapport with students. Stearns (2001) found that students who admit cheated in a particular class were also more likely to report less liking and respect for their professor. Although the students who cheated may have derogated their professor after the fact so as to rationalize their untoward actions and reduce their sense of guilt, their negative opinion of their professor may have contributed to their cheating.

8. Model integrity and fairness. A professor who prepares diligently for classes, develops sound methods for testing students' achievements, treats students and teaching assistants fairly, and enthusiastically supports the academy's emphasis on scholarship provides students with an admirable ideal to emulate.

Virginia Commonwealth University | Donelson R. Forsyth
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Date Last Modified: February 2002