Strategies for addressing problems of academic dishonesty

February 3, 2015

Three general approaches to the problem of cheating are available to faculty (Olt, 2002).

      • The virtues approach emphasizes honor codes, disciplinary ethical codes, discussion of the value of academic integrity, and explicit definitions of plagiarism, and direct instruction on appropriate authorship practices (in class or through online tutorials).
      • The prevention approach entails creating assignments and assessments that make dishonesty less likely.
      • The policing approach entails using software (Turnitin, Google string searches, iThenticate) to “catch” dishonest students.

The best way to promote academic integrity is to help students learn what behaviors are considered dishonest and how students can avoid such behaviors. These instructional strategies include the following:

          • Hold a class discussion on why academic integrity is valuable. Communicate your expectations about collaboration, use of scholarly resources, submitting original work, and other relevant academic integrity issues through a statement on your syllabus and in class discussions.
          • Provide guidelines on appropriated disciplinary practices for citing sources. Create opportunities for students to practice these skills and receive feedback before they submit a major written paper. Use “policing” tools (Turnitin, iThenticate) as instructional tools to identify and discuss problematic writing practices.
          • Model academic integrity when you design your course and use copyrighted materials in class. Describe your decisions. For example, acknowledge when you use copyrighted materials, explain “fair use” of materials for academic instruction, and describe when and how you obtain permission to use or post copyrighted materials.

Best practices from the prevention approach include:

            • Create three or more short, low-stakes assessments instead of grading students with only a midterm and final exam. Students are less likely to cheat on low-stakes assessments. Another advantage of this approach is that it creates multiple opportunities to give students feedback on their progress in the course.
            • Require coordination and cooperation among students for some learning activities and assessments. Collaborative learning activities completed during class provide minimal opportunities to cheat. Structure the activities to prevent social loafing and ensure that peers hold one another accountable for preparation and all students contribute to the work.
            • Get to know students so that you can recognize significant departures from their typical academic work (e.g., a change in style or voice in writing, dramatic improvements in quality of writing).
            • Clearly communicate to students whether they are allowed to collaborate on a project and explain how much students are allowed to collaborate on these assignments.
            • Avoid overly-general assignments (e.g., write a 10-page literature review on a topic of your choice). Tailor assignments to reflect specific course content and goals. This strategy will render most materials available on the web or obtained through “paper mills” irrelevant or unsuitable for the assignment.
            • Change assignments frequently to minimize the temptation to submit work submitted by other UWF students during previous terms that might be available on campus.
            • When creating a multiple-choice exam, select questions from a large bank of questions and randomize the order of alternative answers to questions when the test is administered
            • Create intermediate, low-stakes milestone assignments to structure a major written assignment. Students complete the final project in stages, which allows you to provide feedback along the way and get a sense of students’ writing styles. The structure also improves student time management skills and helps minimize procrastination. Procrastination often sets the stage for plagiarism: students are more likely to cut corners when they find themselves running out of time on a high-stakes assignment (Bridges & Roig & DeTommaso, 1995).



McCabe, D.L., Butterfield, K.D., and Trevino, L.K. (2012) Cheating in College: Why Students Do It and What Educators Can do About It. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Olt, M.R. (2002) Ethics and Distance Education: Strategies for Minimizing Academic Dishonesty in Online Assessment. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume V, Number III available at:

Roig, M., & DeTommaso, L. (1995). Are college cheating and plagiarism related to academic procrastination? Psychological Reports, 77, 691-698. doi: 10.2466/pr0.1995.77.2.691


This tip is based on teaching strategy submitted by Christopher Price, Ph.D., Director, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), The College at Brockport, State University of New York ( to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.

4/1/2015 ecr