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Academic integrity methods
The following paper was written by Thomas Tobin (Center for Teaching, Learning, and Mentoring) and identifies three paths toward ensuring academic integrity in your courses: trust, verification, and observation. During instruction, consider these options as you weigh your student exam solutions.
The least intrusive method of ensuring academic integrity is trust. The professor trusts that the student will act honestly in creating content or taking assessments. There are three levels of trust, on a continuum from least to most interactive:
Honor codes are statements of expected behavior, and are typically housed in a non-course-specific location, such as the institution’s general website (cf. Georgia Tech University, 2016). Honor codes, by themselves, are passive: learners need only read them, and professors do not have a way to tell who has and has not read (or, more importantly, agreed to) the honor code.
More interactive are sanction statements (cf. DeVry University, 2009), which outline not only the behaviors expected of learners but also the penalties for transgression. Sanction statements are most often placed at the point of need, such as in the directions for a test, where learners are most likely to be tempted toward dishonesty.
The most interactive trust method is a signed honor code (cf. Meyer, 2010). Whether the learner signs the code on paper or e-signs, the act of signing one’s name in order to agree to the tenets of the honor code provides psychological weight to the honor code’s provisions, and having a signature helps faculty members to hold to a stricter zero-tolerance stance when dishonesty is detected. The best practices for trust-based methods include:
- placing the honor/sanction statement in both a generally-accessible location and at the “point of temptation” within the learning environment;
- crafting honor/sanction statements that are clear, easy to understand, and brief; and
- matching the level of trust to the relative importance of the assignment (e.g., asking for signatures only for mid-term and final exams).
In order best to implement trust methods, publicize them to learners early and often (cf. Sutherland-Smith, 2010). Remind learners that they are held to the standards outlined in the honor/sanction statements, and provide the statements to learners via multiple channels, such as in-course announcements, e-mail messages, and directions for assignments and assessments.
More intrusive than trust is verification. Verification methods actively check learners’ work against some measurable criterion, such as a collection of existing work, an identity database, or the amount of time spent on a given task. The professor uses verification tools in order to get a sense of which learners are statistical outliers, and then uses the outputs from the tools in order to make decisions about how to respond to those learners. Verification methods are among the most common ways to ensure academic integrity today. Here are five, in descending order from most to least commonly used.
The big subscription databases, such as TurnItIn and SafeAssign (cf TurnItIn, 2016 and SafeAssign, 2016), compare learner submissions against large databases of previously submitted content, Internet sources, and library-database sources. These tools produce “originality” reports, whose score indicates the amount of content in the submission that matches or is similar to existing content. Professors use the reports to verify the degree to which learners are creating original content (which is problematic outside of the humanities, as discussed above).
Often called the “poor man’s TurnItIn” is the practice of “Google fishing,” in which a professor copies a suspect passage from a learner’s work and pastes it into a search engine to check for an exact match. This method relies on the professor’s ability to detect shifts in tone or linguistic ability in order to spot material copied from sources dissimilar to the writing style and complexity of the learner.
The most intrusive verification method, restriction, prevents learners from using outside resources when taking an assessment. In face-to-face classes, the restriction is accomplished by asking learners to remove potential aids from the assessment area. For online assessments, tools such as the LockDown browser from Respondus (cf. Respondus, 2016) prevent learners from opening other programs, creating new Internet windows, or copying text from the screen. Professors also restrict online assessments by setting date/time parameters, passwords, and even IP address restrictions.
Less common verification methods are statistical verification (measuring time on task or activity duration) and identity validation (granting access via fingerprint scanner [cf. Digital Persona, 2012] or only after answering identify-confirmation challenge questions).
For all verification methods, the best practice is to tell learners ahead of time that the methods will be employed. For some methods, such as fingerprint scanning, this is a must, but for others, such as large database services, it is possible to use verification methods surreptitiously. Doing so undermines learner confidence and trust. In fact, many of the most common verification methods allow learners to take part in the verification. For example, students can submit their work to TurnItIn themselves, and see their originality reports ahead of the professor, allowing them to review and revise.
To implement verification methods, follow the setup process outlined by the tool vendor; in the case of search-engine verification and statistical verification, include a statement in the syllabus or another frequently-visited document about how and when the professor will use the verification method. Also, be consistent in using the verification method; avoid being a “hammer” early and then not checking learner submissions afterward.
The most intrusive academic integrity method is observation. Being able to see the learner as he or she completes the assignment or assessment is the best guarantee of academic integrity, going back to the days of proctored face-to-face tests. If the professor can see the learners, this minimizes the chance of academic dishonesty. In this category fall such things as face-to-face assessments, proctored tests (both in one place, and “distributed proctoring” at libraries and cooperating educational institutions), and online monitoring. Online monitoring is an emerging area of observation; companies now offer video-camera monitoring services for online assessments (Kryterion Online Services, 2016), as well as keystroke recording. Because of the synchronous nature of observation, long-term assignments are not typically suited to this method.
The best practices for observation are to be the least intrusive and the most flexible, especially for assessments where the learner is not located in the same place as the observer. The flexibility of scheduling allows learners to set up observations where and when they are best able to take assessments under the specified conditions; many schools, public libraries, and universities will proctor individual assessments as a courtesy. Observation methods often cause anxiety among assessment-takers, so methods that are the least obtrusive are deemed the most effective. For example, video-camera observations work best when the learner does not know when the camera is on or off, and when there is no indicator or video link showing the observer during the assessment.
To implement observation methods, prior notification is key, and, depending on stage guidelines, permission to observe learners remotely may be required. The range of implementation possibilities includes requiring learners to come to one location, obtain trustworthy proctoring services, or use e-monitoring tools.