In a previous post, we shared some of Joseph Yeo’s top tips for getting students to do pre-class activities. Another area of concern for academics that he advises on is assessment, and the perennial problem of cheating. What can be done to reduce the chances of academic dishonesty? And how can assessments be structured to both scaffold students’ learning and to maintain assessment integrity?

Here are a few of Joseph’s recommendations:

The problem of online quizzes

While online quizzes have the benefit of lightening the marking load, it seems like cheating is always a major concern when it comes to this mode of assessment. Unfortunately we can only try to minimise the problem as the small number of students who are determined to cheat will always try to game the system.

One solution is to redesign the assessments in your subject to cover the same content without increasing your marking load. For example, in place of an online quiz, have students present their answers to a set of questions, and more importantly the steps taken to arrive at an answer, in class. This could work in many disciplines, especially those in which the analysis of data is involved, as it foregrounds the thinking processes involved in solving a problem.

It’s perhaps best not to attribute too much weight to online quizzes and instead use them as formative assessment or revision activities.

Contract cheating

Academic integrity, and specifically contract cheating, has dominated many discussions on assessments during LX Transformation meetings. It’s a very real problem, and one that’s not going away. According to TEQSA’s Good Practice Note: Addressing contract cheating to address academic integrity (2017), about 6% of students engage in one or more contract cheating behaviours (p. 4). This can be due to reasons including misunderstandings about academic integrity, pressure to achieve and a lack of interest in learning content (p. 6). Although no assessment types can eliminate the occurrence of contract cheating entirely, some changes to assessment tasks could mitigate the problem, with the added benefit of reducing the time required to investigate cheating later on.

Three suggestions to combat contract cheating

  1. Include a low stakes writing assessment early in the session.
    This could be an in-class task that’s worth, for example, 5% of the final mark. It should be short and easy to mark while giving you a good idea of a student’s writing style and language abilities. The benefit for students is that they can receive feedback on where they are at in terms of their academic writing, and on what they should do to improve their written work. The benefit for academics and tutors is that this assessment can act as a baseline response for later comparison with submitted assessments if necessary.
  2. Ask students to create an assignment-draft portfolio.
    Each week, set aside some class time for working on assessments. Students are then required to submit a number of drafts leading up to their final submission. These drafts may not carry any marks, but this process ensures that students are given the time and space to work on the assessments progressively, possibly improving it over time with feedback from their peers and tutors. You will be able to see students’ progress in their drafts and identify if the final submission differs greatly from the drafts preceding it. Importantly, only the final submission has to be graded so there’s no extra marking time incurred.
  3. Divide a written assessment into a multi-part task.
    In this scaffolded approach, the assessment is submitted in stages. A research report could be submitted in the following order, for instance: introduction, methodology, results, and discussion with references. For each step, devote some time to unpacking the task by providing a framework and a suggested structure, and build in a way to quickly address students’ concerns – perhaps allowing them to post their questions anonymously online. This staged approach is more formative as students are receiving regular feedback, could make marking easier and quicker, and allows you to monitor your students’ progress over the session, increasing your chances of identifying instances of contract cheating.

Share your insights

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter. What about trying out one of Joseph’s suggestions and letting us know how you get on? Have you tried any other strategies for reducing the chances of academic dishonesty? Use the comment box below to share your insights.

Image ‘Honesty box’ by walkinguphills is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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