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Academic misconduct has become more common and expensive, reputationally and financially

Dr Ashley Norris, Chief Academic Officer and Chief Compliance Officer, Meazure Learning
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Five Tips for Colleges to Increase Academic Integrity Without Spending More Money 

Colleges can, should, and probably have to invest more in deterring and dealing with academic misconduct.

For example, Institutions can more strongly encourage faculty to update their teaching and testing materials.

They can increase the hours and services at student learning and support centers.

They can invest in unmistakable marketing and education efforts because research shows that even just talking about misconduct and acknowledging that it exists, deters it. 

But these efforts can cost serious money, burdening staff and honest students alike. All are reasonable efforts but, given the financial resources involved, may be difficult to engage at some institutions that have other important things to spend money on – like teaching, for one.

As someone who spends every day working with, even obsessing over academic misconduct and seeing faculty and institutions pull their hair out trying to stop it, I realize that while more money might be helpful, it is not the only answer. 

Here then, are five free – or pretty inexpensive – things institutions can do to reduce cheating.

None will be entirely effective on its own. None will be especially fast, either. But they will work. And coupled with the increasingly necessary, increasingly expensive investments of time and resources, represent a strong, united front in the efforts to preserve academic integrity and honesty. 

1. Validate Honor Codes After Exams

The first inexpensive and effective cheating prevention tactic is to require that students verify and acknowledge academic integrity policies and honor codes after they take their test or submit their assignments – not before. 

Research shows that this simple tactic – like signing their name below a letter – is far more effective at triggering self-regulation than the check-the-box honor code agreements students have to approve on the way to their test. Beforehand feels like a mere formality. Using language such as “I certify that the above represents my honest and original work, that I have not used outside or unapproved resources” and so on –  after the assessment – works.  

If a school or instructor can include the specific rules related to that specific assessment in the post-test declaration, that’s even better. Not only do assessment-specific declarations increase the sense of awareness and that the instructor and school are paying attention, they also make it more difficult for dishonest actors to claim confusion or ignorance later. 

2. Publicize Enforcement – en Masse

Another important part of prevention is public enforcement. Educators may know it as vicarious learning.  

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Research shows that for most students, engaging in academic dishonesty is a calculation, a consideration of risk versus reward. Institutions can raise the risk denominator simply by making the actual incidents public. Public does not mean naming students, which is unnecessary and a violation of privacy. But it is possible to publicize incidents with specifics. When a student sees that 25 students in Statistics 201 were caught using EasyAnswer.com and that 20 of them failed and 11 were suspended, the risk calculation changes quickly. They learn by watching others learn what not to do. 

Moreover, students who didn’t cheat typically become incensed that others did. Seeing that misconduct is caught and consequences enforced will not only reassure them but support students in exerting peer pressure, normative behavior, within their classes.  

3. Disclose the Number of Incidents

Another tactic is even more simple – disclose the overall incidents of reported misconduct. 

This is similar to vicarious learning but slightly different. Adopting a tone and culture of openness around academic misconduct makes it less taboo, less secretive. This may seem counterintuitive but being open about what’s happening school or systemwide will encourage staff and faculty to be more vigilant. It also sends a clear message to potential cheaters that the school is not afraid of the topic – that cheating won’t be hush-hush but is, instead, as much a priority as keeping students safe walking home from the library at night. 

4. Encourage Information-Sharing Among Faculty

Finally, school leaders should strongly encourage instructors to share what integrity challenges they are dealing with in their classes. Even if they don’t choose to make formal reports or referrals, as some professors may rightly decide, they and the institution will benefit by sharing anyway. By sharing information, even informally, administrators can spot patterns and threats and then marshall resources. 

While doing so, Deans and other school leaders can also help by being very clear that academic misconduct is not a reflection on the instructor. Students make bad decisions even in classes with amazing teachers. Reducing judgment will help everyone address the real challenges. 

5. Be Aggressive With Cheating Providers

The other step institutions can take without needing any new investment is to be more aggressive with the big cheating providers. While there are seemingly unlimited fly-by-night websites that sell dishonesty, a manageable handful of large, well-known providers dominate and they have the resources to fund aggressive marketing campaigns designed to trick students. 

These large companies – some of them publicly traded – need to be specifically named in integrity policies circulated to students. Tell the students which sites are not allowed. As with other tactics, this sends the message that the institution knows what’s happening, which can ease future inquiries into misconduct.

Institutions can also ask their IT departments to blacklist the cheating companies on campus servers and on networks. They can use free, on-the-market technology tools like bots to generate takedown requests to remove recycled academic materials. I realize it’s impossible to get them all, but you don’t need to; limiting access to just a half dozen sites can make a big difference. 

None of these approaches requires much in terms of financial investment. No new tools. No new staff. Most simply change a protocol or make different use of existing information. 

Again, these steps won’t solve this problem. But they help. And they are steps any college, every college, can take, regardless of budget. 

Dr. Ashley Norris has spent nearly 15 years in higher education as a faculty member and administrator across major institutions including the University of Alabama and Samford University. Most recently, she served as the dean of programmatic accreditation and regulatory affairs at the University of Phoenix. Currently, Dr. Norris is the chief academic officer and chief compliance officer at Meazure Learning, the parent company of ProctorU

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