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The Truth about Academic Integrity in Online Courses

Submitted by on February 6, 2013 – 2:08 pm2 Comments

Because online students lack face-to-face interaction with instructors, you might assume they cheat more than their on-campus counterparts. However, research conducted by the Distance Education Center at the University of West Georgia indicates higher rates of cheating in traditional, live courses.

Researchers suggest that social interaction in live classrooms may contribute to high rates of academic dishonesty:

“Familiarity with fellow students may lessen moral objections to cheating as [students] work through assignments and assessments together over the course of a school term.”

But although online students may cheat less frequently, the lack of an instructor’s physical presence does contribute to cheating when it comes to assessments: Online students are significantly more likely to obtain answers from each other during quizzes and tests. Advising that course designers take extra precaution when developing assessments, researchers suggest four ways to promote academic integrity during online quizzes and tests:

  • Use exam proctors. Live proctoring at test centers, while helpful,  can “nullify the strength of an online course.”Our suggestion >> Consider purchasing programs that virtually proctor students during exams. (Read about the top five tools for exam proctoring.)
  • Avoid multiple choice assessments. Instead, use assessment types that prevent students from duplicating answers, and require customized responses like essays and discussions.
  • If using multiple choice tests, lessen their grade value. Other assessment types should carry a greater weight in a student’s overall grade.
  • Instill a prominent level of ethical behavior. To reorient students perception and practice of ethical behavior, require incoming students to complete an ethics and moral development course. (Read more about fostering a community integrity.)

Share Your Experiences

What methods do you use to prevent cheating in an online course? Tell us in the comments section below.



  • Melanie Johnson says:

    Thank you for sharing the study from University of West Georgia – Those findings are encouraging! Since instructor presence plays an important part in preventing cheating and fostering a community of integrity, I have found that the more presence you have in the course, the better. This can come in video, audio, and written forms in the discussion boards and announcements. Here is an article with suggestions of how to increase your social presence in your course:

  • Sarah Linden says:

    Melanie–you’re right, the research data is encouraging! As you know, academic integrity is a common concern among faculty who teach online. The good news is that many of the same methods used to help prevent cheating are also the same methods for engaging students and increasing their learning! Thanks for sharing the Faculty Focus article. 🙂