Designing Assessments for Academic Integrity

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Academic integrity is integral to the teaching and learning process, research, and the values of the University of North Texas. Upholding standards of academic integrity also helps to ensure that UNT graduates have the knowledge and skills to be successful in their careers (Hill et al., 2021; Ullah 2020).  

Some attempts at academic dishonesty can be detected with the use of software such as Turnitin. However, contract cheating, or receiving an inappropriate amount of help with academic work, can be undetectable because work is produced originally for the student (Amigud & Lancaster, 2019; Hill et al., 2021; Ullah, 2020). Therefore, it is important to design courses to promote academic integrity.

The current literature points us to three key strategies for preventing academic dishonesty: assessment design, relationship building, and awareness raising.  

Assessment design  

Course assessments tend to bear the most weight and can be the catalyst for academic misconduct. Because of this, intentional assessment design can help promote academic integrity. 

In addition to stress caused from general academic pressure, students can be more likely to commit dishonesty on assessments that require critical thinking and cognitive skills that are not practiced throughout the semester (Baran & Jonason, 2020; Clinciu et al., 2021; Khan et al., 2021).  This can lead to a gap in the skills required to complete assessments. Faculty can prevent this by designing courses with achievable course outcomes (Jankowski, 2020).  All activities, assignments, and assessments can then be designed to align to these course-level outcomes. This process helps to ensure that the knowledge and skills that students will be assessed on are scaffolded throughout the semester (Baran, & Jonason, 2020).

Another reason why students may pursue misconduct is when work or family obligations conflict with academic work (Amigud & Lancaster, 2019). Since this was the case for many students during the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities turned to alternative assessments (Jankowski, 2020). Alternative assessments vary depending on academic discipline, course size, modality, and teaching style. Some examples include chemistry labs, dance performances, uploaded videos, online simulations, online portfolios, and exams observed synchronously through video conferencing (Gamage et al., 2020). The variety of alternative assessments used by universities nationwide illustrates the importance of intentional and flexible assessment design.

We have compiled current evidence-based strategies to discourage academic misconduct and encourage academic integrity when assessing during a pandemic. 

  • Allow learning outcomes to steer learning and assessment design (Jankowski, 2020).  
  • Create rehearsal assignments so students can test technology before live exams (Dicks et al., 2020). 
  • Write test questions that employ higher cognitive skills instead of memorization (Dicks et al., 2020; Nguyen et al., 2020). 
  • Assess within a flexible timeline to accommodate varying access to technology and students with disabilities (Daniels et al., 2021; Gamage et al., 2020; Jankowski, 2020).  
  • Design assignments and assessments to be flexible and low bandwidth (Jankowski, 2020). 
  • Scaffold answers to build on knowledge throughout the assessment (Nguyen et al., 2020).
  • Send students personal messages about their progress in the course (Means et al., 2020). 
  • Incorporate student reflection on learning (Means et al., 2020). 
  • Give students choice in assessments and activities (Daniels et al., 2021). 
  • Explain the connection between assessment outcomes and careers (Daniels et al., 2021). 
  • Embed humor in assessments (Means et al., 2020; Nguyen et al., 2020).
  • Design frequent, ungraded assessments (Farland & Childs-Kean, 2021).
  • When necessary, exams may be proctored on Zoom (Linden & Gonzalez, 2021).

Effective with large-enrollment classes 

The following strategies have been found to be especially effective in large-enrollment classes.

  • Break learning into smaller chunks by giving shorter, frequent assessments (Farland & Childs-Kean, 2021; Means et al., 2020; Nguyen et al., 2020). 
  • Find ways to include humor in m/c test and quiz questions (Nguyen et al., 2020).
  • Create frequent, auto-graded tests which give feedback with encouraging statements (Jaramillo-Morillo et al., 2020; Means et al, 2020).
  • Randomize question pools on multiple-choice exams (Jaramillo-Morillo et al., 2020).

Relationship building 

Studies show that when students feel as though faculty care about them, they are less likely to commit academic dishonesty (Dicks et al., 2020; Harper et al., 2019). The simple act of genuinely asking “How are you?” and then intently listening when students answer, communicates that they are cared about (Felten & Lambert, 2020). 

Another strategy is through grading feedback. In a study by Dicks et al. (2020), positive remarks such as “I hope this helps!” provided by TAs helped maintain a positive testing environment and discouraged academic misconduct. The audio and video feedback features in Canvas offer a time-saving way to leave personalized feedback.  

Raising awareness about academic integrity  

The first step in educating students about academic integrity is through the syllabus. The DSI CLEAR Syllabus Template includes standard syllabus language about academic integrity. However, since students are used to seeing these sections in syllabi and tend to overlook them, consider adding your own voice or a quiz to the policy. If you use a quiz, you can use UNT’s academic integrity policies as a guide. You can also use  this activity guide, which includes sample questions and activities for assessing student understanding of academic integrity that you can incorporate into your course design. 

The use of examples and scenarios is important when educating students about academic misconduct. Often students don’t realize that what they’re doing is plagiarism. However, raising awareness about academic integrity has been found to be more effective when embedded in a course rather than standalone instruction and is also most effective when used in combination with course design (Stephens et al., 2021).

Ryan et al. (2020) assigned a video lesson on academic integrity to a 1400-student cohort which included exam instructions and examples of academic misconduct. After watching the video, students completed a multiple-choice quiz that applied concepts to realistic scenarios. The data from the 1466 quiz attempts indicates that students do not always apply what they learn about academic integrity to new contexts (Ryan et al., 2020). Therefore, additional measures such as course design and relationship building are needed to promote academic integrity.


Amigud, A., & Lancaster, T. (2019). 246 reasons to cheat: An analysis of students’ reasons for seeking to outsource academic work. Computers & Education, 134, 98-107. 

Baran, L., & Jonason, P.K. (2020). Academic dishonesty among university students: The roles of psychopathy, motivation, and self-efficacy. PLOS ONE, 15(8), e0238141. 

Clinciu, A. I., Cazan, A.-M., & Ives, B. (2021). Academic dishonesty and academic adjustment among the students at university level: An exploratory study. SAGE Open11(2), 21582440211021840.

Daniels, L. M., Goegan, L. D., & Parker, P. C. (2021). The impact of COVID-19 triggered changes to instruction and assessment on university students’ self-reported motivation, engagement and perceptions. Social Psychology of Education24(1), 299–318. 

Dicks, A. P., Morra, B., & Quinlan, K. B. (2020). Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Crisis: Adjusting Assessment Approaches within Introductory Organic Courses. Journal of Chemical Education97(9), 3406–3412.

Farland, M. Z., & Childs-Kean, L. M. (2021). Stop tempting your students to cheat. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning13(6), 588–590.

Felten, P., and Lambert, L.M. (2020). Relationship-rich education : How human connections drive success in college, Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Gamage, K.A.A., Silva, E.K. de, & Gunawardhana, N. (2020). Online delivery and assessment during COVID-19: Safeguarding academic integrity. Education Sciences, 10(11), 301. 

Harper, R., Bretag, T., Ellis, C., Newton, P., Rozenberg, P., Saddiqui, S., & van Haeringen, K. (2019). Contract cheating: A survey of Australian university staff. Studies in Higher Education44(11), 1857–1873. 

Hill, G. Mason, J. & Dunn, A. (2021). Contract cheating: an increasing challenge for global academic community arising from COVID-19. RPTEL 16, 24 

Jankowski, N.A. (2020). Assessment during a crisis: Responding to a global pandemic. National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. 

Jaramillo-Morillo, D., Ruipérez-Valiente, J., Sarasty, M. F., & Ramírez-Gonzalez, G. (2020). Identifying and characterizing students suspected of academic dishonesty in SPOCs for credit through learning analytics. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education17(1), 45.

Khan, Z. R., Sivasubramaniam, S., Anand, P., & Hysaj, A. (2021). ‘e’-thinking teaching and assessment to uphold academic integrity: Lessons learned from emergency distance learning. International Journal for Educational Integrity17(1), 17. 

Linden, K., & Gonzalez, P. (2021). Zoom invigilated exams: A protocol for rapid adoption to remote examinations. British Journal of Educational Technology52(4), 1323–1337.

Means, B., Neisler, J., & Langer Research Associates. (2020). Suddenly online: A national survey of undergraduates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital Promise. 

Nguyen, J. G., Keuseman, K. J., & Humston, J. J. (2020). Minimize online cheating for online assessments during COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Chemical Education97(9), 3429–3435.

Ryan, A., Hokin, K., Judd, T., & Elliot, S. (2020). Supporting student academic integrity in remote examination settings. Medical Education, 54(11), 1075-1076. 

Stephens, J. M., Watson, P. W. S. J., Alansari, M., Lee, G., & Turnbull, S. M. (2021). Can online academic integrity instruction affect university students’ perceptions of and engagement in academic dishonesty? Results from a natural experiment in New Zealand. Frontiers in Psychology12, 366.

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