#bestpracticemonday – Encouraging Academic Integrity in Your Online Course

Academic Integrity - Photo of Student CheatingOne of the biggest challenges facing distance learning today is ensuring academic integrity. There are swaths of blog posts, scholarly articles and stories in the Chronicle covering this topic. Let’s clear the air now and let you know that their is no absolute sure-fire way to eliminate cheating in your online courses, just as there is no way to do it in your face-to-face courses. There are however, strategies you can adopt and methods you can employ that will assist in making it extremely difficult to do so. We will cover 5 ways to encourage academic integrity:

  • Get Students on the Record
  • Original Discussion Posts
  • Pool Your Resources
  • Multiple Measuring Sticks
  • Use the Tools Available


The president has the Oath of Office, doctors have the Hippocratic Oath. We all have oaths or agreements that we sign our name to that guaranty a certain behavior on our part. One underutilized best practice in your online courses is to have your students go on record stating that they will maintain academic integrity while taking part in your class.

Whether you use a Mark Review Status, a discussion forum for a publicly stated pledge or an assessment where they put into words their commitment, having students go on record stating that they will have academic honesty is a good idea. This activity assists with your course expectations and helps to make crystal clear the academic integrity policy in your course and for the University.

Note: You can also make access to your course content contingent upon them “signing off” on the academic integrity agreement.

Discussion Forums GraphicOne of the best communication tools used in online, hybrid and face-to-face courses is the discussion forum. The benefits of forum use are widely published in academic circles. Some examples of these benefits are:

  • allowing the student to reflect and respond thoughtfully to a discussion question
  • allow them to apply that same kind of critical thinking to a peer’s posting
  • enables students who might not otherwise responds in a live classroom environment to have a “voice”

As envelopes are pushed in the distance education arena, we are discovering some things that need to be addressed. Having taken a few online courses for my Master’s degree and in working with faculty in their courses, I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to some student postings in what are supposed to be well reasoned, interactive back-and-forth discussions.

Copy Paste GraphicStudents are waiting to see what their colleagues post and then creatively copy-pasting their own discussion board posts. Instead of doing the leg work of coming up with their own thoughts about whatever it is they are supposed to be posting, they are rehashing their colleague’s posts. There are thoughts as to why this may be happening, but that is subject for a different day.

The challenge then becomes one of encouraging the interaction and critical thinking you want in a discussion board while maintaining the academic integrity of original thought. Blackboard now offers a check box when setting up Discussion Forums that ensures that discussion Participants must create a thread in order to view other threads in this forum.

By checking this box, you force the students to make their posts, completing the first part of the discussion assignment (the part when you want them to reply with their original thoughts) without being able to view the posts of fellow students. This solution does not have to be utilized on every discussion forum in your course, but can be leveraged for when you want to ensure the student’s thoughts are original.


Question Mark for Pools GraphicQuestion Pools are a longstanding best practice when it comes to ensuring academic integrity in your online courses. Question pools are inventories of questions that you may use across all of your assessments. The ability to select questions from a pool or pools in your online assessments gives you the flexibility you need to ensure a fair assessment. Over time you create a large amount of questions for you assessments. Imagine storing all of those questions together so you can draw from them whenever you want for your assessments.

In Blackboard, question pools allow for Random Blocks of questions and Question Sets.

Random blocks are groups of questions that can be presented in a random fashion determined by an instructor. You create random blocks by:

  • Finding and selecting questions
  • Deciding on the number of points per question
  • Determining the number of questions to display to the user

A question set is a collection of questions retrieved from selected tests and pools. From this set, you specify how many questions to display. The specific questions displayed are randomly chosen each time the test is taken.

For each question set, you can specify:

  • The pools and tests that it will draw from.
  • The type of questions to draw from.
  • The number of questions to draw from.


Measuring Sticks GraphicAfter reading the mountain of anecdotal evidence on the Internet about students cheating in online courses, you might be tempted to just throw your hands up and stop before you start! Measuring student success is not something that is done just by looking at scores on objective tests. You should use multiple measure sticks to gain 360 degree view of your students.

Change the percentage that tests a worth in your overall grading schema. Look at their participation in group activity, discussions, papers and other activities to determine how they are doing. Get a feel for your student’s “voice” by looking at their work over more than 1 assignment. If you are concerned question the student over the phone or via video chat in Collaborate to determine the real extent of their knowledge.


Toolbelt GraphicBlackboard has/partners with tools that can help you work to foster academic integrity in your course(s). Using a combination of these tools will assist you in throwing up road blocks to cheating and get your students in the routine of making good decisions when it comes to “playing it straight”. Let your students know up front (via your syllabus and/or an expectations document) what tools you will employ to encourage them to contribute honestly in your course.

Examples of these tools:

  • Respondus Lockdown Browser
  • ProctorU (live remote proctoring service – additional fee involved – payable by your students)
  • Question Pools
  • Randomized Questions and Answers
  • Tegrity Remote Proctoring (Records student’s screen + web cam)
  • Turnitin Assignments (check for plagiarism)

#bestpracticemonday Encouraging & Tracking Participation

Tracking and Encouraging ParticipationIt can be challenging to get students to participate in their own learning, even in face-to-face courses. Online courses can add their own sets of obstacles to getting “all hands on deck” in your course. The good news is that you can work to ensure your students are participating actively on their learning journey. Once they are engaged in your course how you track their participation is important. Tracking participation can also act as a catalyst for increasing participation.

Use the following 6 methods to help encourage and track participation:

  1. Use the Tools
  2. Team Ownership
  3. Encourage Interaction
  4. Grade Quantity & Quality
  5. Statistically Speaking
  6. Reaching Out


Use the ToolsLearning a foreign language would be awfully difficult if you rarely spoke it. Many of us took a few hours of a foreign language as part of our degree plan, but can’t remember much beyond “please” and “thank you.” In the same way it is difficult to participate in an online course if you are not actively using the tools within the course environment. If your students use their online course rarely their participation in their own learning starts to drop.

Having students submit assignments in the course environment rather than e-mail, Work on a project collaboratively with a wiki rather than their own or participating in a threaded discussion rather than an e-mail exchange will foster more participation in your online course.

Here are some examples of tools that encourage class participation:

  • Discussion Forums
  • Peer Assessment
  • Group Pages
  • Wikis
  • Blogs
  • Due Dates (Course Notifications)
  • Assignment Tool
  • Surveys & Exams


There’s a great saying in education circles about how teaching has evolved. College professors have gone from being the “Sage on the Stage” to being a “Guide on the Side“. After hearing it so often at educational conferences and teaching symposiums it may start to become trite, but it still holds true. Part of being a Guide on the Side is involving your students actively in their learning journey. Fortunately most Learning Management systems have plenty of tools that encourage students to take ownership of the their learning process.

Students will participate more if they believe they have “skin in the game” when it comes to your course. Giving them responsibility besides just reading and regurgitating can help get them engaged in the learning process. Let’s look at two Blackboard tool areas that can help in this regard.

Discussion Forum Roles
You can assign specific roles to student in any of your Blackboard discussion forums. The roles are as follows:

Role Permissions
Manager The Manager has full control over the forum and can change the forum settings moderate posts, and assign grades.
Users with a course role of Instructor of Teaching Assistant are granted this role by default.
Builder The Builder can change the forum’s settings and delete threads.
Moderator The Moderator can delete, edit, and lock all posts in any forum, even if the forum does not use the Moderation Queue.
If a Moderation Queue is used, the Moderator may approve or reject posts in the queue before they are made available to all users.
Grader Grader can read and reply to posts. Grader can review posts and enter grades. Users with a course role of Grader are granted this forum role by default. They have some access to Grade Center. Graders may not view their own work.
Participant Participant can read and reply to posts.
Users with a course role of “Student” are granted this role by default.
Reader Reader can read the contents of a forum, but cannot post responses of add threads.
Blocked user A blocked user cannot access the forum.

By making your students Graders, Builders, Moderators or managers you equip them help facilitate an actiity and take an active part in their learning.

Blackboard Group Pages
The Blackboard Group Pages tool is another great way for students to become content creators in your course. Whether they participate in group discussions, chat, use the file exchange or work collaboratively in group wikis or blogs, students have an outlet to create from scratch or from your guidelines their own content.


InteractionsHave you ever felt left out of a discussion? When you are contributing to an effort, how does it feel to not be recognized for that contribution? Recognizing the contributions of the students in your online classes is key to increasing their participation. Here are some strategies for success:

  • Reply to a handful of discussion posts for each forum picking different students each time
  • Give Kudos and Challenges (recognize the contributions and offer challenges to encourage your students to reach beyond)
  • For larger classes do one summary post for each discussion mentioning students by name

If students believe you are actually reading their contributions they will work harder to ensure quality and quantity of their efforts.


One easy way to foster contributions to asynchronous discussions in your online courses is to grade on the number of posts made. Quality is vitally important and should always be the main metric when ensuring that your students grasp the subject matter, but assigning a grade for quantity will ensure that you have more of a back and forth dialog in your online discussions.

When assigning point values for discussion forums, split the points over the original response and replies. For example a discussion forum with a grade value of 15 points me be split across 10 points for the original post and 5 points for the replies. When writing your discussion instructions be sure to let the students know that they must create their original post as well as reply to 2 or three of their colleagues.

Note: Make this part of your Syllabus as well and part of the Syllabus Quiz for extra emphasis.


StatisticsHaving Statistics on student activity in your course is a powerful weapon for tracking participation. Knowing how much time a student spent in a particular unit or how long it has been since they have logged into your course provides important information.

Blackboard offers multiple ways to track student activity in your online course(s). You can designate areas of your course that you want to pay particular attention to by the Track Number of Views option when you add content to your course. You can also run Course Reports via the Evaluation section of your Control Panel that can show statistics across the entire class or just for one person or group.

One of the best tools for tracking course participation and activity is the Performance Dashboard. The Performance Dashboard tool provides a window into all types of user activity in a course or organization. All users enrolled in the course are listed, with pertinent information about that user’s progress and activity in the course.

The Dashboard allows you to see the date/time since last login for your students as well as Items the student has marked as reviewed (using the Review Status option on the Syllabus for example). It also has a view of their grades for a 360 degree view of the student.


Reaching OutAn important strategy that falls in line with tracking and encouraging participation is reaching out to those students who appear to be behind or are performing poorly. An e-mail query to show that you are concerned is always a good idea. Retention is one of those buzz words around online education and this strategy can assist in your efforts to retain students.

Here is where you can work with the tools within the LMS to understand why the student is having a hard time. Using a combination of grade center scores, performance dashboard and student statistics can assist you in determining where the pain points for the student might be. Paying attention to discussion posts, time on task and objective scoring can help you work with your student on focusing their efforts. You can also create Retention Center rules that can help you identify and reach out to these students before the problems become insurmountable.

#bestpracticemonday – Be Scripted When Recording Multimedia

Script GraphicUsing a script is one of the most underrated best practices when it comes to speaking to your students via a recording. You may be very comfortable talking to your students in a live classroom environment, but may not be as accustomed to just you and a video camera. Try writing up a script or at least an outline of what you want to say.

Graphic of Verbal DebrisIt can be more than a little embarrassing to have yourself repeating the verbal debris “um” over and over in a video you are planning to use in classes. A script minimizes the chances that you will forget the point you were trying to get across to your students.

If you do your recording in the SHSU Online studio, you will have access to a teleprompter right in the camera. That way the students don’t know you are reading your script while you look straight at them. Don’t want to record on campus, but want the benefit of a teleprompter? There are also great teleprompter apps for your iOS or Android device.

At the very least just writing yourself something up in word or on a note-card can go along way toward smoothing out your presentation.