Academic Integrity in the Online Environment

When considering online teaching, often the primary concern among faculty is how to manage tests and other assessments, and especially how, if at all, to prevent cheating on online exams and plagiarizing content for assignments and test essays.  Maintaining academic integrity in an online course may seem an impossible task given students are unproctored and working from a remote location. This potentially allows them to associate with classmates, have access to books, notes and the internet, and use more than one device such as phones and other mobile devices.  However, there are practices and strategies that an instructor can implement into their pedagogy as well as tools available, both outside and built into Blackboard, that make cheating difficult and working in combination almost impossible.

One thing to consider is that compared to in-person cheating, there are very few tools available for preventing cheating in the classroom other than adopting various manual strategies such as distributing different versions of tests, collecting cell phones, and strict vigilance.  In many ways there are more effective tools nowadays for preventing cheating online than in the classroom.

The first step is to instruct students to familiarize with the CUNY and Hostos policies on Academic Integrity, Netiquette, and what constitutes cheating and plagiarism in general, and that it also applies to the online environment. You can find these policies and best practices in the Policies and Best Practices page.

Here are some strategies and tip to help deter cheating in the online setting:

  • Give instruction to students on improving their paraphrasing skills, proper quotation, and citation, and how to avoid accidental plagiarizing.  Point students to the Writing Center.
  • You might consider beginning each exam with your expectations regarding academic integrity, and include a pre-question about it on the test, non-credit.
  • Open a Discussion forum to discuss Academic Integrity, in which you present you values and encourage dialogue on the topic with your students.  This should be done before the first test.
  • Emphasize the draft function available in the Assignment and SafeAssign tool and encourage students to not submit until they’ve developed and worked out their ideas in the draft, and are using  the proper paraphrasing  and quotations.
  • Have a large share of the grade depend on students being able to draw from and synthesize ideas from the lecture notes, rather than from knowing a list of facts easily Googled.  Writing and note-taking should be more strongly emphasized.  Move in to Bloom’s Taxonomy higher-level questions (Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, Creating) to allow students to come up with original, creative solutions.
  • By emphasizing writing an instructor can vary the types of assessments in the course. The final grade can be based on a combination of exams, quizzes, written assignments, oral presentations, video submissions, Portfolios and group projects.  All assessments should have at least some questions.
  • Use collaborative work to have students solve complex problems. Blackboard has many tools for conducting Project-based and problem-based assignments that allow students to work collaboratively online on their own without the instructor present, including the Blog, Wiki, groups, Discussion Board, Collaborate Ultra and Panopto.
  • Approach an online course the same as your in-class course.  Apply the same rigor, consistency, objectives, resources, and expectations in an online course as in a face-to-face course.


2020.  Balancing Academic Integrity during final exams with student privacy, access and equity in spring 2020.  Baruch College Center for Teaching and Learning.

Michael, Timothy B. and Williams, Melissa A. 2013. Student equity: discouraging cheating in online courses.  Administrative Issues Journal.   Retrieved May 1, 2020.

Neil C. 2004.Cheating in online student assessment: beyond plagiarism.  Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume VII, Number II.  Retrieved May 1, 2020.

Wa-Mbaleka, S. 2013. Cheating reduction strategies. In Chen, B., deNoyelles, A., & Thompson, K. (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning. Retrieved May 1, 2020.

  • For written assignments, using SafeAssign and Turnitin.  Use the anti-plagiarism tools to check submitted assignments.Familiarize your students with plagiarism, the anti-plagiarism tools and Similarity reports.  Instruct them how to avoid accidental plagiarism and correct use of quotes and citations.
  • Give practice quizzes before finally administering a quiz or test that counts towards the final grade.  Require all students to take the practice quizzes. This will help you diagnose which students might have problems with taking a test online.  Problems may include trying to take a test with a mobile device, poor internet access, or not being able to navigate to the quiz.
  • Use a short Availability date and time range for the Assessment.  In Blackboard you can set an Availability date and time range when the link to the test is available for a student to enter and take the this.  This is different than setting a timer for when the student is actually taking the test.  You can have the test available for the student for any length of time, but once started require a certain time, such as an hour,  to complete the test. One strategy should be that the Availability range be small, maybe as short as the time of a classroom time for taking the test.  For instance, if a classroom test is scheduled for a certain date, and the class runs for 1 hour fifteen minutes, then the online test availability should be set the same way, on a certain date, for one hour fifteen minutes.
  • Force Completion and Prevent Backtracking.  In Test Options when deploying a test you can set the test so that they must complete it in one sitting.  This is called Force Completion.  Another option is Prevent Backtracking.  This works when you set the question presentation to be one at a time.  With Prevent Backtracking activated the students cannot go back to previous questions.
  • Make the questions challenging. Vary the question types on a test.  Include  essay questions and questions requiring deeper understanding, critical thinking, synthesizing ideas from lecture notes and readings, and calling on student creative skills rather than multiple choice questions that can be quickly answered from information easily found through Google and Wikipedia.
  • Set the timer and don’t give them too much time on tests and quizzes.  The more time they have on quizzes, the more time they have to search other sources online or their notes for answers.  In your choice of questions you can include some basic multiple choice questions that should be answered instantaneously if they know the material, which can then give them enough time to do the more challenging essay, short answer, fill-in and more difficult multiple choice questions.
  • Randomize question order and the choices in multiple choice questions.  In Blackboard when creating questions in the Test Canvas you can specify that the Multiple Choice question choices be randomized. You can also specify that the questions be presented randomly in the Test Options page when deploying the test.
  • Have questions drawn randomly from pools.  In Blackboard you can create question pools and have tests draw the questions randomly from the pool, so that students can receive different sets of questions on their tests.  Some instructors object to this, stating that students will complain that they got different questions from other students, that they drew the more difficult questions, and so forth.  There are a couple of ways around this.  First, you can make the Pool fairly consistent in its questions, have a few different questions covering each topic increasing the chance that all students get exposed to questions covering all the topics.  Second, if your using a pool not all the questions from the test have to draw from the pool.  You can have a set of pool questions and a set of questions that are on everyone’s test, maybe covering the most important topics.
  • Have Group Tests.  It is possible in Blackboard to have different versions of tests given to different groups of students using Adaptive Release.  You can also randomize the membership of the groups and keep the students from knowing which group they belong to for a test lessening the likelihood that 2 or more students will get together and take the same test together.
  • Use other forms of assessment in addition to assignments, quizzes and tests.  These can include different kinds of collaborative work, group projects, problem-based learning assignments, ePortfolios, oral presentations and video or PowerPoint submissions. Blackboard has many tools for collaborative projects, including blogs, wikis, Discussion Board, Peer review, Collaborate Ultra and Panopto.


Cabrera, Dan.  Tips to reduce the impact of cheating in online assessment.  Best Practices, Newsletter.  Faculty Development and Design Center, Southern Illinois University.

Farrell, Matt.  2015. Want to stop cheating on quizzes?…..Let them cheat! The OLC Blog, March 18, 2015. Online Learning Consortium.

Strategies to Reduce Cheating in online courses.  Strategies to Reduce Cheating in online courses. How Students Cheat: – Plagiarism. – Conspire with others to obtain exam questions/answers in advance.  University of Regina.

  • Invest in creating a large pools of test questions so you can choose questions by topics and have them randomly distributed to students
  • Take advantage of textbook test banks from the publisher.
  • Use Blackboard to create questions blocks that randomly distribute questions to students. All students will receive a different version of the test, but be assessed on the same topics.
  • Combine various methods of assessment.  Besides tests, include written responses, discussion boards, presentations and group projects.
  • Combine various types of questions in your exam.  Do not use only multiple choice questions.
  • Randomize the answer choices for each question in addition to randomizing the questions
  • Display one question at a time and prohibit backtracking.
  • Set a time limit for the test. If students must know material at the time of the test, instead of looking up the answers, limit the overall time frame.
  • Set an appropriate time frame for the test. Do not allow students to complete the test over multiple hours or days in order to prevent the sharing of test questions prior to the test.
  • Use “Force Completion” to ensure students complete the exam in one sitting.

Frequently Asked Questions
from: Giving tests in Blackboard: Best Practices. Faculty Knowledge Base.  University of Pittsburgh Center for Teaching and Learning.

  • Why give tests and quizzes using Blackboard?  The most time-saving feature of using the Tests course tool is that all objective questions are scored automatically. When you set up your test, you tell the system what the correct answers are, how many points to assign (partial credit and negative points can be applied at your discretion), and what feedback, if any, you want to give your students for each question. The Tests tool also features the ability to randomize questions, create random blocks of questions using a test item pool, and to reuse questions from previous tests, or other courses.
  • If my students can take their test from anywhere they want, won’t they cheat?  This is the biggest point of hesitance that many instructors have, with good reason. Giving tests via Blackboard is often best suited for low-stakes formative assessments, homeworks, take-home tests, and tests where the nature of the questions makes cheating much less likely, if not impossible. There is no ability within Blackboard to “lock down” the student’s computer or browser to prevent them from going to other web pages. There are, however, steps you can take to make cheating either more difficult or more inconvenient for your students. These will be covered below in Best Practices.
  • How can I turn my paper-and-pencil test into a Blackboard test? Unfortunately, you can’t just load your Word document into Blackboard and call it a day. You may see an “Import” button inside the Blackboard Test tool, but the ability to import is limited to files formatted as Blackboard tests (or pools). However, there are tools available to help you turn a text file into something that Blackboard can parse and turn into a functioning Blackboard test. Please see our article Creating Tests in Blackboard Using Word or Text Documents for more information on these tools and their use.
  • Is this all going to be a big hassle? That depends. We highly recommend investigating the tools discussed above for turning a text file into a Blackboard test. For many question types, it’s probably not as difficult as you’re imagining. If you are considering creating a test in Blackboard from scratch, it will take longer than typing it into a word processor, so consider whether the various advantages of using Blackboard outweigh the time it will take you to create these resources.
  • What if I have technical problems?  When it comes to creating your tests, EdTech is available to consult with you via , phone, or in person. We can help get you started with using the tool and discuss any concerns or questions you may have.

Best Practices

  • Don’t assume your students are technically savvy
    It is a common assumption that today’s college students are “digital natives,” adept at using computers under a variety of circumstances. In reality, young adults may use computers in a different way than we used them 10 or 20 years ago, but they are not any more savvy about what to do when something goes wrong than anyone else. Any time you use technology in your teaching, it’s important to guide your students in its use.
  • Give your students explicit instructions for how to prevent errors and what to do if something goes wrong
    The most common problems encountered by students taking tests stem from using an unsupported web browser (Chrome and Firefox are the most stable browsers with Blackboard support), or taking the test on a wireless internet connection (wifi or mobile). For this reason, you should tell your students to take the test on a wired internet connection, and to use either Firefox or Chrome web browsers. You should also explicitly tell your students what to do if an error occurs–who they should contact first, how and when they should contact you, and what information they should give you.We recommend putting the following information (or something similar) into your test’s Instructions field:
    “It is highly recommended that you take this test using Firefox or Chrome, on a wired internet connection. If you experience an error or unexpected behavior while taking this test, please contact the CSSD Help Desk at 412-624-HELP. If a technology problem prevents you from taking or completing this test, please contact your instructor as soon as possible and provide information about exactly when the error occurred, where you were located, what web browser you were using and what happened.” Some instructors also tell their students to take a screen-shot (or even a picture of the screen using their mobile phone camera) if there’s an error, and sending that as an email attachment to the instructor with the report of the error.
  • Think about how you will handle any problems that might arise
    Many instructors are caught off guard by technical problems arising from giving a test in Blackboard. These errors are not common, but they do crop up and are often due to student error (see above) or a problem originating with Blackboard’s servers. Most often, what you’ll see is that a student has made a test attempt, but either there are no answers recorded, or only part of the test is complete. There are any number of reasons for this—and we’re happy to consult with you about individual cases—but generally these are due to honest mistakes. When such cases arise, we recommend taking the following steps:-Check the test access log: Each test attempt includes some more detailed information about when and how the test was taken. Sometimes this information makes it clear what went wrong, but sometimes it doesn’t.
    – Clear the test attempt: If you have your test set up to accept only a single attempt, a student who needs to re-take a test due to an error will not be able to. You may clear the attempt, which will delete it and allow the student to take the test again.
    -Use test availability exceptions: Every test given in Blackboard has the ability to be slightly tailored to individual students (this is also important for students with disability accommodations). A student who experienced an error while taking the test may need to have exceptions applied to her so that she can re-take it after the availability window has closed or to allow her multiple test attempts rather than a single attempt.
  • Understand Test Option Settings to minimize both technical problems and cheatingThe Test Option Settings are what you set when you deploy the test (put it some place in your course that is accessible to students). They dictate how students take the test, during what timeframe, and with what test-taking parameters. You can always edit these settings even after you deploy a test, by opening the context menu for the test and selecting Edit the Test Options.There are a few test option settings you should know more about when deciding how you want to deploy your test for best results.
    • Force Completion: This is the root cause of a large number of test errors. Force completion means that students must take the test in a single browser session–if they close the window or the tab, they cannot re-enter the test. This sounds like a good way to prevent cheating, but it’s also a good way to introduce errors–both user errors and connectivity errors. There are other ways to minimize cheating that don’t introduce instability into the process.
    • Timer: Using the timer and setting it to a fairly strict estimate of how long students should need to take the test can be used to deter cheating, because looking up the answers takes extra time. Choose either “Auto-Submit ON” so that students cannot continue the test after the time is up,  or “Auto-Submit OFF” which will allow students to continue the test, but will flag their test attempt for you so that you know they went overtime.
    • Password: Some instructors choose to proctor their own Blackboard tests by giving them in class (students are required to bring their own laptop, which may not be appropriate in all courses, so use your judgement) and password-protecting the test. At the beginning of the class, the instructor writes the password on the board, ensuring that no one who isn’t in the room can take the test.
    • Randomize Questions: All students will receive the same set of questions, but in random order. Paired with a one-question-at-a-time presentation, this reduces the ability of students to do the test together.
  • Using Test Item Pools
    In addition to the Test tool, Blackboard also supports the creation of Test Item Pools. Loading questions into Pools greatly enhances your ability to prevent cheating by giving you the ability to create tests composed entirely of randomly-selected questions from a larger Pool. If you have a Pool of 50 questions, you can set up a test that draws 10 different questions entirely at random from the Pool, for every student. You can have multiple Pools, and draw from multiple Pools in a single test, so you may wish to categorize your questions into Pools, then draw a set number of random questions from each. This ensures that all students receive an equal number of questions from each category, but the exact set of questions each student receives will be unique. Pools can be exported and shared with colleagues, or copied to other courses. We recommend their use, particularly as a long-term project to continually collect and curate a set of high quality test items that can be deployed easily on tests.

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