Culture of Honesty: Assessment Edition

woman smiling and holding a pencil
Published: Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Creating a culture of honesty with your assessments just takes a little extra planning and can have a huge impact on your students.

We have all been in a class where we are pretty sure there may have been something less than honest happening with a student’s assessment. There are a multitude of reasons students may cheat, from a lack of time to prepare to the general sense of invincibility that some of them feel in their courses. Fortunately, there are some instructional design-based approaches to assessment design that you can do instead of online proctoring that can help reduce cheating and make it a less appealing option. Below are eight things you can do right now to establish a culture of honesty in your online, hybrid or face-to-face course. 

Set expectations and define your culture of honesty.

At the start of your course, talk about what the culture of honesty means in your course. What constitutes cheating? Discuss some examples of what is and is not acceptable such as referencing someone else’s homework from last year, asking a classmate questions about the test, and more obvious ways of cheating. Then, be sure to include a statement about your expectations for a Culture of Honesty in your course syllabus and in the “Start Here” folder of your course. 

Give reminders of expectations frequently.

Remind your students of your expectations for each quiz, test and assignment. It may seem obvious that you don’t want students to use their notes and books on a midterm or that they should cite their sources on their paper, but it may not be so clear to them. Having students “sign” or agree to a statement on the Culture of Honesty before each assessment also works well as a deterrent.

One example of giving students a reminder of expectations is by listing them in the description for your assessments:

Example Quiz Description Text for Culture of Honesty.

This is a multiple choice midterm.  You will have 60 minutes to complete the exam and will have three attempts.  Your highest score will be kept in the gradebook.  This test covers everything we have discussed to date and the video games research readings we had this week.

Here are the expectations for this midterm:

  • You may not use your notes, handouts, book, readings, or PowerPoint slides during this test.
  • You may not share your questions, answers, outlines, scratch paper, or exam wrappers with other students (past, current, future or potential).
  • You will complete this test to the best of your current knowledge
  • You will complete all attempts of the test prior to the exam due date.

By clicking on the above link to access your exam, you agree to adhere to the test expectations, university Academic Honesty policies, and the Course Culture of Honesty Statement.

Ask subjective, application, and complex questions.

Consider offering a few short-answer or essay questions that demand a deeper understanding of the content being tested. Asking students to connect the concepts to more complex aspects of the topic, such as how a covered topic can relate to a different application or how students would approach solving a complex problem using concepts and principles learned in class, give students the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the content that isn’t easily gleaned from a book or notes. Written responses also make it easier to catch cheating and copying as each student has a unique writing style and answer.

Create question banks and randomize questions.

Use the tools that exist in D2L to create as much of a unique experience for each student as possible. Instead of creating one test with one set of answers, focus some energy on creating banks of questions that can assess the same knowledge in a multitude of ways. Then, pull one or two questions from the bank for each student. Building up question banks will also allow you to create unique cumulative exams. Be sure to randomize the questions for students to ensure that each student gets a unique order to the test.

Assess frequently and in low-stakes environments.

Taking some of the anxiety and mystery out of testing by offering low-stakes assessments or self-quizzing opportunities is another way to lower the prevalence of cheating. Building sample questions with robust feedback helps students determine if they are prepared for the test and can help them identify areas where they may need to apply more attention. This approach, paired with large question pools, can help your students focus on mastery instead of rote memorization of facts.

Avoid grading schemes that overemphasize one test.

Putting a large amount of grading emphasis on one assessment attaches a large amount of anxiety to that one test and makes it a prime target for cheating behaviors as students may not have a clear idea of how assessments work in your course or their own ability to meet the assessment objectives. Consider integrating low-stakes assessments and practice assessments so students may get comfortable with your testing approaches and can practice and master the concepts prior to their final assessment.

Rotate tests from semester to semester.

Many faculty use the same tests every semester as their questions have been created, refined and vetted over the years. This practice, however, can make your tests a tempting resource for one student to share with another. This becomes especially problematic if you haven’t emphasized that sharing is a violation of your culture of honesty. To avoid the sharing of your tests, rotate tests from semester to semester. If you pair this approach with question banks and randomized questions, you won’t have to reinvent your tests as frequently.

Use an alternative assessment model.

There are several alternative assessment models that can help you move your students away from cheating behaviors and situations. Some alternative suggestions include having students present based on the concepts covered in that unit or class, having students write extended subjective essays that link the content to real world applications, or taking a staged exam approach, where students answer multiple choice questions in one exam, then turn in an essay explaining some concepts, and finally do a presentation for the class.

Guest Author(s):
Krys Ziska Strange
Assistant Director, Innovation & Technology, Digital Learning