Tips to Reduce the Impact of Cheating in Online Assessment

Student sitting at computer

Preserving the integrity of student learning assessment is as much of a priority for online courses as it is for traditional face-to-face instruction. Although there is concern that academic dishonesty or ‘cheating’ might be more likely to happen in an online setting, studies comparing face-to-face and online settings have yielded mixed results (Grijalva, Nowell, Kerkvliet, 2006; Lanier, 2006; Stuber-McEwen, Wiseley, Hoggatt, 2009). Yet, a perception persists that challenges to preventing cheating are somewhat different in an online setting because faculty and students are physically separated from each other. This remoteness certainly makes it difficult to monitor various types of learning assessment activities.

Watson and Sottile (2010) have reported that cheating online can manifest in a number of ways including students who: (1) submit others’ work as their own, (2) receive/send answers from/to other students (by texting, using instant messaging, talking on a phone) while taking a test or quiz, (3) receive answers from a student who has already taken a test or quiz, (4) copy other students’ work without permission, (5) knowingly plagiarize from an article or book, or (6) use a term paper writing service.

Although it may be difficult to prevent cheating entirely, faculty can implement steps to reduce its impact in the student learning assessment process for online courses. The following are some practical tips to prevent or reduce cheating for two common learning assessment activities, namely testing and homework assignments.

Tips for Testing

    • Purposefully Select Assessment Methods – Use online testing, particularly objective test (i.e., multiple choice, multiple answer, true/false) for lower stakes assessment of student learning. In assessing student mastery of course goals and objectives, objective tests should be only one option considered among a spectrum of methods considered. Each type of assessment method may be designed to measure different indicators of student learning based on course goals and objectives. While an objective test can measure a student’s ability to recall or organize information, other methods can be used to assess higher order/critical thinking skills including understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating (Krathwohl, 2001).


    • Mix Objective and Subjective Questions – While online testing can include objective measures (multiple choice, multiple answer, true/false, fill in the blank, etc.), faculty can also include short answer or essay questions. This type of question is more subjective in nature and may demand a deeper understanding of the subject being tested. While mixing objective and subjective type questions may not discourage or stop sharing of information, it may limit the effect on the student’s final grade (Watson and Sottile, 2010).


    • Use Question Pools – Rather than using a fixed number of items that remain unchanged for each administration of the test, consider creating a question pool. Questions can be grouped by any number of criteria, including topic, subject matter, question type or difficulty of question. A pool will generate an assessment with randomized questions selected by the faculty member. Pools can be created from new questions or questions in existing tests or pools. Pools are most effective when there are large numbers of questions in one group. For example, one might have a pool of true/false questions, another of multiple choice and a third for fill in the blank. The faculty member could then create an assessment drawing a specific number of questions from each of the question-type pools. Faculty can also add new questions to pools each time the course is taught to expand the variability of questions. Conversely, older questions can be removed. Check the Teaching with Blackboard Question Pools web page for more details.


    • Randomize Questions – When creating a test in Blackboard, one test option allows faculty to randomize the selection of test questions as well as the order in which they appear. The result is that students are not likely to get the same questions in the same sequence when taking a test. This strategy can address the issue of students who take a test at the same time in order to share answers. This is also relevant if faculty allow students to repeat the test. Each time this occurs, a test will be made up of questions that are randomly selected and ordered.


    • Limit Feedback – Limit what types of feedback is displayed to students upon completion of a test. Available test options include test ‘Score’, ‘Submitted Answers’, ‘Correct Answers’, and ‘Feedback’. Providing test scores is important feedback that indicates how well students have performed and should be made available. However, through a process of elimination, students may be able to determine the correct answer for each test question if their submitted answers are identified as incorrect, or if the correct answer is provided. Students could lose the incentive to both prepare for testing or to seek out correct answers by reviewing lecture notes, assigned readings, or through group discussion after completing tests. Thus, faculty might reconsider whether to include ‘Submitted Answers’ as an option to be displayed to students. This is especially relevant if faculty have allowed students to repeat tests. Each time a test was taken, students could attempt a different answer for a test question that was previously graded as incorrect. Correct answers to all test questions could eventually be accumulated and passed on to other students, or to students of future classes.


    • Set Timer – Recognizing the fact that students taking an exam that is not proctored are free to use open book/notes, faculty may decide to use the ‘Set Timer’ feature in Blackboard. Students who adequately prepared for a test may be less likely to rely on open book/notes compared with students unprepared for testing. By setting a test with an expected completion time, unprepared students could have the most to lose as they spend time going over material, and risk not having sufficient time to respond to all the test questions.


    • Display Questions One At A Time – If a test has more than 5 questions, do not choose the ‘All at Once’ option for displaying all the questions on the same screen. It is quite easy for students to take a screen capture of the displayed questions and share them with other students. While students can still screen capture pages with single questions, or even type them into a document, it is more time consuming and unwieldy.


Tips for Homework Assignments

    • Create Application Assignments – Create assignments that require students to apply essential course concepts to a relevant problem. This may force students to seek relevant information beyond the assigned readings and lectures, and conduct independent research by identifying credible sources to support the development of their assignments. Students can be required to report their progress on a regular basis through email, or through the Journal feature in Blackboard. This documentation makes it easier for faculty to see the development of a student’s work from inception to completion, and possibly identify unexplained gaps that could occur if students used the work of others and claimed it as their own. Faculty can add input at any point in this process to provide guidance, and perhaps suggest new directions for students. Both documentation of progress through regular status reporting and occasional faculty input can add a greater level of scrutiny to students, making it more difficult to pass off the work of others as their own.


    • Create Group Assignments – Create group assignments that require students to interact with group members regularly. Groups can be made responsible for determining the functional roles for each member, establishing a mechanism for accountability (i.e., submitting weekly progress reports), and sharing drafts of individual progress on a group project. For a project to be truly collaborative, each group member should be familiar with everyone else’s work, and be able to describe how every group members’ contribution supports the whole group assignment. Students who are using the work of others may not be able to adequately describe the significance of their ‘own’ work, or how it integrates with the group’s overall project.


    • Create Assignments that Require Presentations – Faculty with a Blackboard course can use the web conferencing tool, Blackboard Collaborate, to conduct a synchronous online session for class presentations. Students may be asked to submit a progress report or use a Journal to reflect on what they have learned in the past week that supports work toward the presentation. To further scrutinize work on the presentation, students may be asked to include time for questions and answers. Students who have developed the presentation should be comfortable answering a range of topic-related questions. Faculty Developments offers workshops and one-on-one consultations on the use Blackboard Collaborate.


    • Check for Plagiarism using SafeAssignSafeAssign is a plagiarism prevention tool that detects matches between students’ submitted assignments and existing works by others. These works are found on a number of databases including ProQuest ABI/Inform, Institutional document archives, the Global Reference Database, as well as a comprehensive index of documents available for public access on the internet. SafeAssign can also be used to help students identify how to attribute sources properly rather than paraphrase without citing the original source. Thus, the SafeAssign feature is effective as both a deterrent and an educational tool. You can learn more about SafeAssign by visiting the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center’s Teaching with Blackboard SafeAssign Web page. Faculty Development also offers workshop and one-on-one consultations to faculty and staff on using SafeAssign.


    • Use Discussion Assignments – Create a Discussion Board assignment that requires students to demonstrate critical thinking skills by responding to a relevant forum topic. Faculty may also design a rubric that is specific to the Discussion Board assignments, and develop questions that require students to respond to every rubric category. Having assignments that are very specific makes it more difficult for students to use portions of a previous term paper or other sources that may only indirectly touch on the Discussion Board topic.


    • Include Academic Integrity Policy Statement in the Course Syllabus – Faculty should consider including a policy statement regarding academic integrity in their course syllabus. In addition, faculty may want to reiterate academic policies to students taking an online course and clarifying guidelines for completing test and assignments so that students are not confused about what they can and cannot do. While this, in and of itself, may not be sufficient to change behavior, its acknowledged presence in the syllabus recognizes a commitment to honesty in the academic arena and establishes the clear expectation that academic integrity is an important principle to live by. Faculty may also choose to mention this policy using the ‘Announcements’ feature in Blackboard, or while conducting a live web conference session.


Learn More

Preserving academic integrity is an ongoing challenge for traditional face-to-face, blended, and entirely online courses. While a number of expensive technology solutions, such as retinal eye scanners and live video monitoring are being developed to prevent cheating in online courses, the practical suggestions offered above can prevent or reduce the impact of cheating on assessing student performance in online courses. For more information on this topic, readers are invited to view the archived online workshop, “Tips for Assessing Student Learning Using Blackboard.”

In addition, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center offers many Blackboard workshops, including those that touch on assessment. You are invited to visit the Faculty Development Web site that lists upcoming faculty and staff programs. Finally, readers are encouraged to review the following suggested readings and resources.

Suggested Readings and Resources

Grijalva, T., Nowell, C., & Kerkvliet, J. (2006). Academichonesty and online courses. College Student Journal, 40(1), 180-185.

Hi-Tech Cheating: Cell Phones and Cheating in Schools – A National Poll. Common Sense Media. Retrieved from

Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview. In L.W. Anderson & D.R. Krathwohl (Eds.), A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.

Lanier, M. (2006). Academic integrity and distance learning. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 17(2), 244-261.

Luce, A. (2012, Sept. 17). How do I know students aren’t cheating? Instructional Design & Development Blog. Retrieved from

McNett, M. (2002). Curbing academic dishonesty in online courses. Pointers and Clickers: ION’s Technology Tip of the Month. Retrieved from

Olt, M. R., (2002). Ethics and distance education: Strategies for minimizing academic dishonesty in online assessment. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 5(3), Fall 2002.

Redmann, E. (n.d.) How Technology Is Raising the Stakes In Classroom Cheating. Edudemic. Retrieved from

Stuber-McEwen, D., Wiseley, P., & Hoggatt, S. (2009). Point, click, and cheat: Frequency and type of academic dishonesty in the virtual classroom. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(3), 1-10.

Trenholm, S. (2006-2007). A review of cheating in fully asynchronous online courses: A math or fact-based course perspective. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 35(3), 281-300.

Watson, G., & Sottile, J. (2010). Cheating in the digital age: Do students cheat more in online courses? Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. Retrieved from

Tutorials Offering Tips for Getting Started with Blackboard

Will you be teaching with Blackboard this fall for the first time? Or, perhaps you are looking to move to the next level in your use of the features in Blackboard? Here are a few new tutorials below providing tips for getting started with Blackboard.

For more details on teaching with Blackboard at NIU, visit where you will find a listing of upcoming workshops offered by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

This video offers a quick glance at organizing your Blackboard course.

Want to make your Blackboard Learn course look great? A great looking course can encourage students and make their learning experience more engaging. This video will walk you through a few simple things you can do to customize the look and feel of your Blackboard Learn Course.

Your students’ first experience in your Blackboard course welcomes them to the course and a good impression can engage a student and encourage learning. This video will show you a few simple things that you can do to create excitement at the start of your course.

This video will introduce you to some of the communication tools available in Blackboard Learn and help you decide which ones match your teaching style.

Text Messaging with Students While Maintaining Privacy

Short Message Service (SMS), commonly referred to as text messaging, is among one of the most widely available forms of electronic communication today, available for use by any mobile phone user. The ubiquity of mobile phones is certainly a catalyst for the adoption of SMS, with 99.8% of college students reportedly owning a mobile phone (Truong, 2010). Students are taking advantage of the built-in SMS features on feature phones and smart phones alike, as 54% of teens text daily (Lenhart, Ling, Campbell, & Purcell, 2010), with 97% of students reporting that they use SMS as their main form of communication (Truong, 2010).

Faculty and those who work with students likely will want to take advantage of this common communication platform, but valid concerns exist concerning how to do so in a manner that protects the privacy of both the students and the faculty or staff member. Generally, when texting someone else, you must have that individual’s mobile phone number. Yet, there are available free solutions that can be used to send and receive text messages without giving out one’s personal mobile number.

During a recent online faculty development program titled “Text Messaging in Teaching” we discussed in greater detail the dynamics of incorporating SMS into teaching. Technical specifics and free apps for sending/receiving SMS messages with students without giving out one’s personal cell phone number were shared.

Here are a few tips shared during this program for getting started text messaging safely with students:

  • Setup a free Google Voice account. Doing so, you will receive a phone number that you can choose to set to automatically ring your mobile, office, and/or home phone numbers as well as receive text messages from students at. In this way, you can provide an added means for students to contact you if needed. Simply sign-up for a free Google Voice account at using a Google Account. If you don’t have a free Google Account, you can create one here. Your new Google Voice phone number is the phone number that you then can give out to students.
  • If you own a smart phone, you also can install the free Google Voice app so that when you receive a text message at your Google Voice phone number, it shows up in the Google Voice app. On the app you can choose to send a reply back if you wish, again for free directly from the Google Voice app. The image provided is the home screen of an iPhone with the push notification that a new text message has been received in Google Voice. Similar notifications are available on other mobile platforms.
  • Google Voice App notification on iPhone

  • Decide your purpose for texting your students. Before selecting the specific tool or approach for texting your students, clearly outline for yourself the reasons for texting your students. Perhaps you seek to provide reminders to students of upcoming due dates or quick reminders of things to do prior to class. Or, maybe you want to notify students in the event that a class period will be delayed due to weather, etc. Whatever the reason may happen to be, clearly articulating it will guide selecting of a tool as well as focus the messages you send.
  • Select a messaging tool and setup a class group. While it is possible to manually send text messages via email or to send, the process is cumbersome and involves the students giving the instructor their mobile phone number and in some cases also their carrier. The recommended alternative approach is to select a group texting tool and to setup a group for the class in which students can choose to opt-in if they wish to receive messages from the faculty member via sms. An increasing number of such free tools geared for educators are available, including: Remind101, ClassParrot, and Follow My Teacher that offer the faculty member to easily send text messages to all students in a class that opt-in to receive such messages without students needing to give the faculty member their mobile number. Try the available services and see which one you prefer, as each does provide slightly different features.
  • Provide students details for how to opt-in to receive text messages. After selecting a service and setting up a class group, the final step is to provide to students the instructions for how to opt-in to receive texts that you send as the faculty member to the class group. For example, Remind101 provides you with a phone number that students must send a text message to including a group code that is designated for the class group in order to opt-in.

If you have used any of the texting services or approaches mentioned or have other suggestions to share, please leave a comment.


Lenhart, A., Ling, R., Campbell, S., & Purcell, K. (2010, April 20). Teens and mobile phones. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from

Truong, K. (2010, June 17). Student smartphone use doubles; instant messaging loses favor. Wired Campus. Retrieved from

Self and Peer Assessment

Sometimes, students need more than just their professors’ feedback. Students benefit from learning to assess their own work and from evaluating the work of their peers.

There are many benefits to self and peer assessment. The most obvious benefit to self assessment is that it encourages autonomy and independence in students (Boud, 1995). It forces students to think critically about their work rather than relying upon external feedback, which builds the students’ skills in self-monitoring and self-correction (Exemplars, 2004). Both of these are essential skills to have in the workplace (Boud, 1995).

Peer assessment allows students to receive feedback from their peers. However, the greatest benefit comes from the process of assessing their peers. In many cases, students would never see any work but their own. Evaluating others’ work allows students to compare their own work to the work of their peers. The assessment process also requires students to analyze the criteria for excellence more closely, which may also cause them to internalize the criteria (Exemplars, 2004).

There are some challenges to using Self and Peer Assessment in the classroom. Perhaps most importantly, students’ self-assessment skills may not be developed prior to arriving at the university (Boud, 1995). Students may need to be taught the skills necessary for effective critical reflection before requiring them to self-assess. Since self-assessment skills may be subject-specific, it may not be possible to assume that skills taught in other courses are applicable to the current course.

Peer assessment is often viewed as punitive rather than constructive (Boud, 1995). Students may even fear receiving low scores from their peers. Similarly, peer assessment may focus on scores rather than providing constructive feedback. Faculty should take care to design peer assessments to encourage or require feedback and explanations as opposed to only numerical scores.

It can also be challenging to implement self and peer assessment. If the subject of the assessed work is a paper or other written work, it often becomes the faculty member’s responsibility to coordinate the collection of the assignment and the distribution for peer review. The faculty member must determine and track which assesses each assignment and ensure that the evaluations are collected. The Self and Peer Assessment Tool, one of the newest features in the Blackboard Course Management System, may make this process simpler.

The Self and Peer Assessment Tool allows faculty to establish criteria for assessing the assignments and allows faculty to provide examples of model work. While creating the self and peer assessment, faculty can determine submission and evaluation periods, which Blackboard strictly enforces. Faculty can also determine how many peer assessments each student must complete, as well as whether or not a self assessment is required. Students submit their assignments using the tool, and then Blackboard randomly assigns assessment pairs and distributes the files. The faculty member may decide to make the pairs known or anonymous. Once the evaluations are complete, the faculty member may view or download the results, and can send the results to the Grade Center.  To learn more about the Self and Peer Assessment Tool, go to

In short, both self and peer assessment are valuable tools that can increase learning by requiring students to critically evaluate their work and the work of their peers. The Blackboard Self and Peer Assessment Tool can simplify the process.


Boud, D. (1995). Enhancing learning through self assessment. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Exemplars. (2004). The benefits of peer- and self-assessment. Retrieved from

Promoting Student-to-Student and Student-to-Instructor Interaction with Wimba Pronto

Wimba ProntoWimba Pronto is an instant messaging application that allows audio and text conferencing. It is integrated into Blackboard and is automatically populated with a list of courses a user is enrolled in.

Some of the features of Wimba Pronto include:

  • voice conferencing
  • text messaging
  • group chat
  • automatic population of Blackboard courses, instructors, and classmates
  • instant access to campus services
  • instant school-wide notifications
  • universal accessibility

Download Wimba Pronto using the following simple steps:

  1. Log in to Blackboard at NIU (
  2. Click on any of the courses you are teaching or taking.
  3. Click on Tools in the course menu.
  4. Click on Wimba Pronto to setup your account, download, and install software on your computer.

Examples of a few possible applications of Wimba Pronto in an educational environment include:

  • Fostering on-demand, informal communication from student-to-student and student-to-instructor
  • Supporting the 21st-century students who are increasingly relying on instant access to information
  • Using live online communication to provide revision sessions for students needing extra help or optional assessment preparation sessions
  • Offering peer-to-peer “coffee breaks” or optional study sessions for students to network and learn from each other’s experiences
  • Promoting student project collaboration; the ability of students to see who is online from their classes or groups enables instant collaboration by chat or voice conferencing
  • Offering online office hours with voice and text messaging

Learn More

To learn more about Wimba Pronto, please visit the support page at  

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center offers various programs regarding the principles and practices of incorporating collaborative technologies, including Wimba Classroom, in teaching. The current program schedule and online registration information is always available at  

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