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Academic Dishonesty and Online Education (Part 3): UMUC’s Approach to Digital Academic Dishonesty

The EvoLLLution | Academic Dishonesty and Online Education (Part 3): UMUC’s Approach to Digital Academic Dishonesty
In order to adequately address academic dishonesty online, it’s critical to employ a multi-pronged approach that brings education, effective course and assessment design, and deterrence to the forefront.

This is the third and final installment in Bishop and Cini’s series on academic dishonesty in online education. In the second installment, they discussed some broad strategies that could help online education leaders minimize the prevalence of digital academic dishonesty. In this series, they share the specific approach UMUC has taken.

As an online provider, UMUC closely follows the regulations, requirements, and approaches to the topic of academic dishonesty. First, UMUC policies define “academic integrity” and dictate that students may not perform work for other students. We make this clear and educate students about this violation. All courses include the following standard statement:

As a member of the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) academic community that honors integrity and respect for others you are expected to maintain a high level of personal integrity in your academic work at all times. Your work should be original and must not be reused in other courses.

Academic integrity is emphasized throughout the curriculum in a variety of ways. Some academic programs include graded assignments that ask students to describe their understanding of the UMUC plagiarism policy and how they will abide by it. Other courses include modules such as Academic Integrity in Using Sources and When and How to Cite that specifically teach concepts. Other modules such as The Importance of Research Writing for Today’s Student emphasize systematic reading and note taking. Provided instructional resources scaffold good researching behaviors by helping students organize citations, quotes, paraphrases, summaries, and reflections on sources. Other online instructional resources are made available through the library and the Effective Writing Center.

Second, the general design of the curriculum and the way we assess students makes academic dishonesty very difficult in the ways discussed above. Courses are designed around an experiential learning model that immerses students in real situations that require authentic, project-based assessments, short papers, and other deliverables that relate to students’ lives. Faculty provide frequent feedback on multiple drafts of projects and papers that allows them to serve in more of a mentoring capacity. Students work toward mastery instead of being tempted to cheat on one “high-stakes” assessment.

Third, UMUC takes the concern about identity authentication in online courses seriously. We provide a secure user ID and pass code, which students must use each time they log on to our systems. If there is no activity for a period, the session is automatically timed out. We also stay on top of the latest technologies and approaches that address these potential issues, in compliance with the Department of Education and Middle States requirements. UMUC has piloted types of each of the identity authentication technologies described above, including challenge questions from public databases, mouse-based signature software, live proctoring via webcam tools, and a keystroke authentication product. In some cases, the technology has to be installed by the student user, and the installation failed for some significant number. In other cases, students would have been adversely impacted by the costs. In yet other cases the privacy issues related to pulling information from public databases led to a failed pilot. So, while the Department of Education through regional accreditors requires that universities stay abreast of identity authentication technologies in the field and consider adopting one when it can be widely utilized by the student population, to date we have not found a solution that would uniformly serve our student population. However, when a technology is developed that meets the threshold of being both low-cost, private, and easy to implement, we will likely implement it. Student privacy and cost are key considerations for our student population.

Fourth, we are continually assessing and reassessing our world-wide approach to supporting our students’ academic honesty. An “Academic Integrity Working Group” has recently been charged to evaluate and explore ways UMUC can take an even more comprehensive approach to educating students. And to ensure the ongoing review of new and emerging technologies for student identity authentication, UMUC’s President Javier Miyares has also directed a “Student Authentication Working Group” of faculty and program directors to meet regularly to review and consider how emerging technologies might impact students, faculty and staff.


Clearly, addressing academic dishonesty is not simple and there is no one “silver bullet” solution. Students cheat in various ways, for different reasons, and at various points in their college career. What is becoming clear is that academic dishonesty is not just about the instructional delivery mode but rather about the root causes for why people cheat, and these reasons are varied. Sometimes students cheat because they honestly don’t know they have done so, sometimes it’s because they’re desperate, sometimes they’re unable to grasp a concept, and sometimes they’re trying to “buy” their degree. Addressing academic dishonesty, therefore, requires a multi-pronged approach that includes education, effective course and assessment design, and deterrence for any mode of delivery.

This is the final installment of a three-part series by Bishop and Cini discussing academic dishonesty in online education.

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