In this post, we continue our discussion of academic dishonesty in higher education and how it can best be prevented. Part 1 of this series looked at the evidence for dishonest behavior by students and explored some of the factors that can either promote or inhibit such behavior. We turn now to actions that you, as a faculty member or instructor, can take to reduce the likelihood of academic dishonesty in your course. Our focus here will be on small steps that require relatively little time and effort to implement, beginning with steps that are fundamentally reactive, then moving in the latter part of the post to more proactive steps. The next installment, “Towards a Pedagogy of Academic Integrity,” will address broader pedagogical considerations that you can use as a guide when rethinking your existing courses or teaching new courses.

If you need any assistance with applying these steps in your course, please come to our Office Hours for additional support.

Make Your Canvas Course More Secure

There are a number of straightforward ways in which you can reduce the likelihood of dishonest behavior in your Canvas course site. These fall into four broad categories corresponding to different content types in Canvas: Files, Modules, Assignments, and Quizzes.

Secure Your Files

By default, the Files tab is hidden from students when a new Canvas course site is created. While you, as the instructor, can access Files freely, students cannot. This is a security measure designed to ensure that students do not view course files of a sensitive nature, such as answer keys.

As an effective pedagogical practice, we recommend leaving the Files tab disabled and giving students access to your files through the Modules tab. This allows you to organize your content according to your preferred method (by week, by topic, etc.) and makes it easy for your students to find the materials they need. If, however, you decide to enable Files for your students, you should make sure to restrict access to sensitive files, for example by unpublishing them so that students cannot view them. For a detailed discussion of options for protecting your Canvas files, please see: How do I restrict files and folders to students in Canvas?

Lock Modules

You can lock a Module in Canvas and then set a date and time at which it will automatically unlock. This is a useful way to prevent your students from viewing information in upcoming Modules ahead of time. For a step-by-step guide, please see: How do I lock a module?

(For more on Files and Modules, you can also see our blog post Preventing Cheating in Canvas, Part 1: Files and Modules.)

Set Availability Dates for Your Assignments

In addition to setting a due date, Canvas allows you to set availability dates for your Assignments. These dates determine when your students are able to view a particular Assignment. By default, an Assignment is available as soon as it is published.

Availability date option in Canvas

If you do not want students to view an Assignment too far in advance, you can set the Available from availability date to a time shortly before the Assignment is due. You can also set the Until availability date to coincide with the assignment due date if you do not wish students to be able to submit late work.

Randomize Your Canvas Quizzes

There are several randomization options available to you within Canvas Quizzes. Using these options can make it more difficult for students to share answer keys with one another.

  • Randomize multiple choice answers. If you select the Randomize answer choices option when creating your quiz, the order of answers for multiple choice questions will be randomized. (Be sure, however, not to use this option if your answer choices include options such as “both A and B” or “All of the above”.)
  • Randomize variables in mathematical equations. For quiz questions of the type “Formula Question,” you can randomize variables within specified ranges. Individual students will then see different numerical values when they complete the quiz.
  • Randomize questions using Question Groups. You can create a group of related questions in Canvas and then draw questions from the group at random. (Be sure that the questions in a group are of comparable difficulty; otherwise, one student’s quiz may be more difficult than another’s.)

For more on Quizzes, please see our blog post Preventing Cheating in Canvas, Part 2: Quizzes.

Sidebar: A Note on Proctoring Software

As we saw in Part 1, the demands of the pandemic, which forced many institutions to adopt remote instruction as an emergency measure, led to rapid growth in the use of online proctoring software, ranging from simple lockdown browsers to more invasive technologies that observe test-takers through their own webcams. The University of Chicago reached an agreement with one such online proctoring service, Proctorio, and it is available to use for a charge of $5 per student per exam.

If you are giving a high-stakes exam online, you may be thinking about using proctoring software to make the exam more secure. Before you make a decision, however, there are some caveats that you should take into account. We summarize these below:

  • Test anxiety. While research on this topic is still emerging, there is evidence to suggest that proctoring software may exacerbate the natural anxiety students feel when taking high-stakes exams. This has led to such extreme behavior as students’ vomiting into a trash can to avoid leaving the room and “triggering” the software (Eaton and Turner 2020).
  • “False positives.” The algorithms used by proctoring software are designed to detect “suspicious” behavior, but the wide net they cast sometimes flags entirely innocuous behavior, such as turning one’s head or glancing away from the screen, as “suspicious”. For students with disabilities that cause involuntary muscle movements, or for neurodivergent students who rely on self-stimulation (“stimming”), this problem is particularly acute (Swauger 2020).
  • Privacy. Even as the use of proctoring software has ramped up during the pandemic, so has resistance from students concerned about their loss of privacy (Flaherty 2020). While some proctoring companies have responded vigorously – ProctorU, for example, introduced a “Student Bill of Rights” to explain how it handles the data it collects (ibid.) – concerns remain about the ethics of putting students under digital surveillance.
  • Time investment. Proctoring software requires considerable time to set up and implement. You will need to train your students on how to use the software, and, if possible, to do a test run before using the software for the first time. In addition, you will need to review any incidents the software flags as suspicious, which can be a very time-consuming task.

If you have adequate time to invest, rethinking and redesigning your assessments to make them “cheating-resistant” may be a better solution than online proctoring. We will treat this topic in detail in part 3 of this series.

From Reactive to Proactive: Attack the Root Causes of Academic Dishonesty

Thus far we have focused on a reactive approach to academic dishonesty – one that assumes students have already decided to cheat and then considers how to thwart them. But if we are to create a classroom environment that revolves around academic integrity, reactive steps can only be part of the story. In the remainder of this installment, and throughout future installments, we will take as our guiding principle a remark that academic integrity expert David Rettinger (University of Mary Washington) made during a February 2021 podcast from Inside Higher Ed: “Academic integrity is not the absence of cheating…the opposite of cheating is authentic learning.” There are numerous steps, both small and large, that you can take to promote authentic learning in your course; and in doing so, you will help to keep your students engaged, motivated, and supported, so that they are less likely to consider behaving dishonestly.

Enhance Your Syllabus

We begin with the foundational document of any course: the syllabus. A few simple additions to your syllabus can help to set boundaries, clarify expectations, and guide your students in their pursuit of authentic learning.

  • Add links to resources. When you paste your syllabus into the Syllabus tab on Canvas, the Rich Content Editor (RCE) makes it easy to add hyperlinks. Consider adding links to resources such as the University of Chicago Writing Program or tutoring services offered by your department or division. You might also add links to programs for traditionally underserved populations, such as the FLI (First-Generation, Low-Income, Immigrant) Network. This may seem like a very minor thing, but when your students have one-click access to valuable resources, they are more likely to avail themselves of those resources early on in your course, which in turn leads to greater success down the road.
  • Outline the course learning objectives. As we saw in Part 1, students are more motivated – and less likely to behave dishonestly – when they feel that the work they are doing has pedagogical value. By making clear what the course objectives are and how individual assessments promote those objectives, you can help keep your students on track, and they are likely to invest more time and energy in completing their work, rather than resorting to dishonest shortcuts such as copying and pasting from the Internet.
  • Lay down guidelines for collaboration. While students have no difficulty recognizing behavior such as cheating on exams as being dishonest, unauthorized collaboration is a much murkier and more problematic area. One longitudinal study found that this particular form of dishonesty increased sharply over the decades (McCabe and Trevino 1996), and recent research has confirmed that today’s students often do not consider unauthorized collaboration to be unethical (Manly, Leonard, and Riemenschneider 2015; Ezarik 2021). You can help combat this problem by spelling out explicitly when collaborative work is or is not permitted on the assessments in your course, as well as the consequences that should be expected for unauthorized collaboration.

Organize Your Modules

Canvas Modules are a powerful tool for organizing your course content. We recommend that you organize Modules in your Canvas site so as to mirror your syllabus as closely as possible. For example, you might create a Module for each week of the quarter, and then use Canvas text headers to explain to students which readings, assignments, etc. are due on a particular day. In addition to being simply good pedagogical practice, this method of organization helps guide your students through your material and reduces the risk that they will become lost and fall behind – which is important, since students who feel desperate and believe they cannot possibly make up lost ground may resort to dishonest behavior.

Use the Canvas Gradebook for Early Intervention

In Canvas, you can message students directly from the Gradebook. This function permits you to email students who have not yet submitted a particular assignment; students whose assignment has not been graded; students who scored less than a particular point value; or students who scored more than a particular point value.

Messaging options in Canvas Gradebook

You might consider using the Gradebook messaging tool for early intervention. If students perform poorly on assessments early in your course, or if they are not submitting work, you can reach out to them and remind them of the resources available to them, such as faculty office hours or tutoring services. In addition to pointing them in the right direction, such interventions can also help students to feel that you are genuinely invested in their success, which (as we discussed in Part 1) increases their sense of belonging to a meaningful community and decreases the chances that alienation will drive them to dishonest behavior.

We hope these tips will be helpful to you. We invite you to stay tuned for the next installment to learn about farther-reaching pedagogical strategies for promoting academic integrity.

Works Cited

Eaton, Sarah Elaine, and Kristal Louise Turner. “Exploring academic integrity and mental health during COVID-19: Rapid review.” Journal of Contemporary Education Theory & Research vol. 4 no. 1 (2020), pp. 35-41.

Ezarik, Melissa. “Shades of Gray on Student Cheating.” Inside Higher Ed, Dec. 7, 2021.

Flaherty, Colleen. “Big Proctor.” Inside Higher Ed, May 11, 2020.

Manly, Tracy S., Lori N.K. Leonard, and Cynthia K. Riemenschneider. “Academic Integrity in the Information Age: Virtues of Respect and Responsibility.” Journal of Business Ethics vol. 127 no. 3 (March 2015), pp. 579-590.

McCabe, Donald L., and Linda Klebe Trevino. “What We Know about Cheating in College: Longitudinal Trends and Recent Developments.” Change vol. 28 no. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 1996), pp. 28-33.

Swauger, Shea. “Our Bodies Encoded: Algorithmic Test Proctoring in Higher Education.” Hybrid Pedagogy, April 2, 2020.

(Splash image by Tama66 on Pixabay)