Academic Integrity in Online Teaching Environments

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This is Part Three in the Centre for Teaching and Learning's four-part series, Teaching Online. Read Part One: Coming Out of Crisis Mode: Bettering the Remote Learning Environment or Part Two: The Most Common Questions for Teaching Online.Teaching Online. Read Part One: Coming Out of Crisis Mode: Bettering the Remote Learning Environment or Part Two: The Most Common Questions for Teaching Online.

Regardless of whether we are teaching in-person or online, a component of each course must be dedicated to educating students about academic integrity. As part three of the ongoing series on teaching online, we are exploring strategies on how to do this, giving special attention to the online environment.

First question: How is teaching academic integrity different online?

The basic principles for teaching about academic integrity are summarized on the Dean of Students Academic Integrity pages:

  1. Make your expectations clear and explicit.
  2. Engage your students in a discussion about academic integrity.
  3. Make sure the academic integrity policy is explicitly stated on your syllabus.
  4. Give examples of how you practice academic integrity in your academic work.

"Making expectations clear and explicit" is best done in writing. Working online forces instructors to commit their ideas to texts that can be reviewed and consulted many times by students. One suggestion: copy links to the Dean of Students Academic Integrity site into your eClass course site.

You can also record a short podcast/sound file to provide a "gloss" or commentary on those written texts. Taking a base text from the Academic Integrity site - for example, the one on "Inappropriate collaboration" - and annotating it with comments (via a pdf file) or a sound file gives you a chance to talk about how the concept applies to the actual assignments in your course. Another strategy is to create a companion piece - "Appropriate collaboration" - that guides students towards engaging in activities that you have sanctioned, and that they can be certain are appropriate.

The second principle, "Engage your students in a discussion about academic integrity," can also be done effectively online through asynchronous or synchronous discussions. Asynchronous discussion allows the conversation to grow over the term, and enables students to ask better or more sophisticated questions as they approach the actual course assignments and think through academic integrity.

The fourth principle, "Give examples of how you practice academic integrity in your academic work," might be accomplished by sharing a draft of an article you are working on, and showing students where and how you decide what to cite and what does not need a citation. A screencast (voice-over slide or document) showing the text and your cursor while also allowing students to hear your voice offers a great way to convey how you make these decisions.

What are the greatest challenges online?

Having established the basics for communicating the principles of academic integrity, let's look at some of the more common and specific problems in the online environment.

One of the greatest academic integrity challenges is examinations. With online learning (and without proctoring services), it is difficult to verify who has completed work online, and to ensure that students are conveying their own knowledge of the subject area(s) without the support of peers or online resources. Auto-graded and single-correct response questions are particularly fallible. None of these solutions truly replicates the in-person exam environment.

Here are some quick recommendations for promoting integrity during your online exams:

The Opportunity: Alternatives to formal exams

The shift to remote and online teaching has forced us to rethink what it means to 'teach'; we would encourage you to take this opportunity to also rethink what it means to assess. At the University of Alberta, assessments should measure students' achievement of the learning outcomes of a course. The question is, "how can you best measure whether students have met an outcome?" There are many alternatives to the formal exam, and it may be that one of these approaches measures outcome achievement just as well - if not better - than the traditional proctored exam.

We have already heard of some innovative solutions from instructors within our community, including having students submit a metacognitive video where they explain how they have solved a problem and why (this video may or may not be graded, but it does ensure that students understand what they are submitting). Another great example is having students submit their work with annotations about why they have taken certain actions to solve a problem or answer a question. An equivalent strategy is to require that students include a cover letter or memo in which they explain why they wrote the document they are submitting.

A final take-away

Metacognitive strategies work doubly to promote integrity and to support metacognitive reflection - something we know improves learning. So as you reflect on your online experiences teaching so far, think about building in some re-thinking space for your students. Don't give it a second thought! No, do give it a second thought!

Roger Graves is Associate Director (Writing) at the Centre for Teaching and Learning, and a Professor in the Department of English & Film Studies.

Ellen Watson is Senior Educational Developer (Assessment) at the CTL and a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Education.

CTL's Teaching Online Series:

The podcast episode that accompanies this blog post is available at both visit the CTL podcast site - Teaching + - or Roger Graves' podcast site, Teaching Writing: Ideas and Strategies.Teaching + - or Roger Graves' podcast site, Teaching Writing: Ideas and Strategies.