Ideas for Maintaining Academic Integrity in High School with Distance Learning

Whether teaching face-to-face or remotely, upholding academic integrity in high school takes a consistent and multi-pronged approach. Polls show that more than 50 percent of high school students take unethical academic shortcuts at least once in high school, and some do it much more frequently. The International Center for Academic Integrity says on its website:

McCabe’s surveys of over 70,000 high school students at over 24 high schools in the United States demonstrated that 64 percent of students admitted to cheating on a test, 58 percent admitted to plagiarism, and 95 percent said they participated in some form of cheating, whether it was on a test, plagiarism or copying homework.

Plagiarism and cheating undermine the assessments’ value. Even copying homework has negative consequences. Students taking shortcuts often do not bother to learn foundational material and then struggle with subsequent concepts. Finally, cheating is unfair to the students who earn their grades.

Students cheat when three criteria are met. 1) The students do not consider it only mildly ethically problematic. 2) The rewards outweigh the risks. 3) Cheating is easier than doing the work.

The first two conditions do not change with remote versus face-to-face learning. The inherent difficulty of monitoring students during distance learning makes maintaining academic integrity even more challenging. When students learn remotely, you want to address all three conditions to help them stay academically honest.

Encourage Academically Ethical Behavior

Cheating has become so normalized that even students who consider themselves honest admit to cheating without the act affecting their opinion of their overall integrity. Many teachers find that directly addressing the ethics of cheating reduces the rate. You can implement the following ideas remotely or in person:

    1. Set the expectation that most students are academically honest and explain that you will put in safeguards to encourage that behavior.
    2. Explicitly explain what constitutes cheating and how to avoid it.
    3. Discuss academic integrity in class and ask students to say how they feel when they hear about their classmates cheating. High school students are sensitive to peer pressure and therefore are less likely to cheat when they think their friends will judge them negatively.
    4. Ask students to sign an honor code. Honor codes are simple and surprisingly effective. Signing their name to a promise makes it harder for students to see themselves as honest if they breach it.

Change the Risk Versus Reward Ratio

High school students are often under immense pressure to get high grades. Good grades open opportunities for scholarships and more prestigious colleges. Such high stakes of getting a high GPA change high school’s goal for many students (and their parents). Instead of working for the purpose of learning, they work to get an A or B.

It is tempting to cheat if they can still get an A or B without spending hours studying. A poll at Fordham University found cheaters boast a 3.41 GPA, while non-cheaters average 2.85. Making the risk of getting caught not worth the reward of getting a better grade deters academic dishonesty. Try the following few strategies to increase the risk of getting caught and decrease any particular test’s or assignment’s value:

    1. Lower the stakes of tests by doing frequent assessments. Computer-based assessments such as those from Castle Learning and eDoctrina make creating and grading assessments easier.
    2. Break large projects and essays into smaller pieces with interim due dates. This practice guides students with pacing and helps them build a solid foundation. Grading each component also dilutes the value of the final grade to reduce the benefit of copying.
    3. Post the repercussions for academic dishonesty.
    4. Emphasize learning and cooperation over competition and grades.
    5. Report any suspicion of academic misconduct to your administrator to investigate.
    6. Monitor students closely during tests. If you are teaching remotely, you can monitor by asking them to keep their cameras on and using a Chromebook monitoring software.

Make Cheating Harder than Doing the Work Honestly

Sometimes students cheat because they want good grades without taking the time and effort to study. However, if it’s easier to learn than cheat, that motivation disappears. Then they must choose between doing the work or getting a sub-par grade. Hopefully, they decide to study, but either way, they are staying academically honest.

    1. Use a large bank of questions and then randomize them so different students get different questions. Collecting a large bank of questions is much easier if you are using Castle Learning or eDoctrina. These platforms allow you to share test questions with other teachers and provide questions for many standards.
    2. Allow a specific window of time for taking the test so students can’t take the test and then tell their friends the answers. Use the settings on computer-based assessment platforms to allow specific access windows for students taking the test remotely.
    3. Do not let anyone see what questions they got wrong until the window for taking the exam closes.
    4. If possible, lockdown student browsers when they take tests.
    5. Use remote proctoring software. Be sure to do a trial run before the actual test.
    6. Use some open-ended questions with higher-order thinking skills, not just factual recall.
    7. Assign paper topics that would be hard to buy from a commercial paper mill, such as
    8. Use a plagiarism checker.
    9. Allow “open book” tests and ask questions that require personal reflection and applying knowledge.
    10. Use clear rubrics and guidelines for the course, so everyone knows what to expect and how to study.
    11. Help students prepare by providing study guides, vocabulary handouts, and copies of old exams or sample essays.
    12. Show students how to cite sources and give credit to original ideas.
    13. Before any significant test, make time for answering questions and giving extra help. If you are teaching remotely, you can do this by setting up virtual office hours.

Following these tips will help students develop good habits and support academic honesty whether they are learning remotely or in person. Castle Learning and eDoctrina from Harris Education Solutions make giving computer-based assessments easier and help encourage student integrity.

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