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Academic integrity is a core consideration in promoting student learning. CETLI provides academic integrity resources to support instructors of all courses, whether online or in person. This page provides additional recommendations and strategies that apply specifically to online courses. On this page:

Verifying Student Identities

Ensuring that students are completing their own coursework without prohibited assistance can be uniquely challenging online. Your program’s admissions team may have procedures for verifying students’ identities at the time of application or acceptance, but instructors are responsible for creating a course environment that includes precautions to ensure that students complete their own academic work.

Both federal and Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) accreditation regulations require all online education programs to verify that the student who is registered for and enrolled in an online course is the same student who participates in and receives academic credit for the course. 

Online education programs must use one or more of the following verification methods:  

  • An individual secure login and password, which can be achieved by storing all course materials in Canvas. 
  • Proctored examinations using a live monitor or a technology tool.
  • Other verification technologies or practices, such as using technologies that utilize Penn’s multi-factor authentication system.

If you elect to include proctored exams, Penn licenses Honorlock online proctoring software. However, be aware that proctoring tools that utilize AI-based facial recognition may have difficulty accurately monitoring students with darker skin, and that some students perceive these tools as invasive. Clearly communicate with students about which assessments will include a proctor and what they should do if they encounter problems. 

If students will incur additional fees for required tools such as proctoring services, students must be informed of these costs prior to their registration for the course.

Designing Online Assessments

The design of online assessments should take into account the resources and tools that students can access, as well as the life experiences of online students. An online task may look different from its in-person counterpart. It can also be an excellent opportunity to design an authentic assessment that mimics real-world applications and proactively addresses cheating.

Online students often balance work, family, and other responsibilities along with their studies. Designing assessments that hold students to high academic standards while considering their unique needs can help them be successful in your course.

  • Give frequent, low-stakes assessments. This spreads out the time students need to prepare and provides multiple opportunities for them to display mastery, reducing the impulse to cheat on a high-stakes exam.
  • Provide plenty of advance notice about assessments. Many students select online programs to balance learning with other responsibilities. At the start of the term, post a detailed course schedule including due dates and major assessments to help students manage their time.
  • Be clear about synchronous requirements. If your course includes live meetings or assessments, prominently note their dates and times in your syllabus and on Canvas. You may also consider explaining the type of participation that will be expected, such as microphone or video use, so students can plan accordingly.

Since learning online means that all assessments are “take-home,” instructors may worry that students are utilizing resources inappropriately. Certain assignment designs can mitigate this concern.

  • Give “open-book” assessments where students show their work. Unless the assessment will be proctored, assume that students will have access to their course materials and the internet. Consider how students could apply their knowledge to more complex problems or explain how they came to a solution.
  • Have students demonstrate knowledge in varying contexts. You might consider assessing students via live or recorded presentations or through group activities in synchronous breakout groups.
  • Consider assignment designs that are more resistant to AI and other digital tools you may not want students to use for assistance on the assignment.

Ensuring the integrity of online exams is an important component of online courses. In addition to securing exams in Canvas, the design of the exam itself can also help to prevent cheating through unauthorized collaboration or use of resources. 

  • Include open-ended questions. Open-ended questions, especially those for which there are multiple correct answers, make unauthorized collaboration less useful since students’ responses are unlikely to be similar by chance.
  • Create a large item bank. Canvas Quizzes can be used to create question banks and automatically assign questions at random so that each student receives a different version of the exam.
  • Consider setting a time limit or availability window for the exam or quiz as an additional way to discourage students from seeking unauthorized assistance. You can  make specific adjustments for students who receive disability-related testing accommodations.

Promoting Accountability & Community Online

Developing a sense of community and accountability reinforces the importance of academic honesty, and clear policies and expectations can mitigate common causes of cheating. In online courses where interaction may not occur organically, clear and frequent communication can help develop a supportive classroom culture that promotes academic integrity.

Purposeful communication can help to develop a sense of shared accountability and understanding of how assignments benefit learning. While clear instructor expectations are valuable in any course, they are especially helpful in an online setting where students are learning on their own time and points of confusion may slow down their progress. 

  • Be transparent about grading. Explain the criteria for success and how students’ work will be evaluated. Sharing your grading criteria or rubric can help students produce work that meets your expectations and ensure that grades don’t come as a surprise.
  • Define acceptable assistance. Can students reference course materials, use generative AI, collaborate or discuss with peers? Clearly explain what is and is not acceptable for a specific assignment or exam.
  • Clarify guidelines about distributing course materials. If you have restrictions on how students may share assignment prompts or other materials online, clearly state these policies in your syllabus and review them with students.

Additional resources you may wish to include in your Canvas site or consult when defining your course expectations:

Students can be tempted to cheat when they are overwhelmed or confused, and in an online course it can be difficult to sense when students are struggling. For these reasons, consider taking extra care to promote and normalize the ways students can receive assistance. 

  • Real-time help.  Identify what supports will be available for live assistance during an exam window or during certain hours leading up to the due date for a major assignment, including support for technical issues with Canvas. Share with students how they can contact you, TAs, or other support resources, and how soon they should expect a response.
  • Office hours. Students may feel nervous about attending office hours with an instructor they have not met. You might create a session dedicated to review for an upcoming exam or encourage students to join with a partner or small group. Consider scheduling office hours at different times or by appointment so students can join at times that work for their schedules and time zone.
  • University resources. Let students know that many of Penn’s academic support services are available to students in online (for-credit) courses:

When students perceive that others are cheating, they may feel pressure to cheat themselves. Cultivating a sense of community and mutual accountability benefits students’ learning and can offer opportunities for you to get to know students’ work. 

  • Create a course café. Consider using a discussion forum where students can ask and answer questions about course content. This provides opportunities for peer interaction and normalizes struggling and asking for help. An instructor or TA should monitor to be sure that student work is not shared inappropriately and to answer questions when needed.
  • Get to know your students. Having students submit frequent work samples or meet with you individually can help you get to know their work and notice if something seems unusual. If your course includes synchronous meetings, incorporating active participation can dissuade students from having someone else attend class for them. 
  • Allow students to collaborate. Consider encouraging peer collaboration throughout the course through peer review activities, group projects, and online discussions. Clearly define what types of collaboration are acceptable and how individual students’ grades will be determined.

Visit our page on building community online for additional recommendations beyond the scope of academic integrity.

Managing Suspected Violations

In the event that you suspect a student has violated your policies, the Center for Community Standards & Accountability (CSA) can consult with you about next steps. CSA can provide support and guidance for talking with the student, making grading decisions, and more, even if you are unsure or do not plan to formally report a student for investigation or disciplinary action.

CETLI has more information on steps in the disciplinary process, which applies to both in-person and online students.