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Utilize alternative assessments

If you are used to giving in-class exams when teaching in person, resist the urge to do the same when teaching online (see section that follows). Instead, give students other ways to demonstrate what they have learned.

Possible alternative assessments (drawn in part from UWT Digital Learning) include:

  • Series of quizzes: offer a low-stakes opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery of material, and give you ongoing information about student understanding. Frequent quizzing has also been shown to reinforce student understanding.
  • Student-developed quiz questions: writing quiz questions both builds and demonstrates students’ understanding of the material. This assignment can be structured as a collaborative group activity.
  • Open-book, open-notes exams: These exams typically involve more conceptual or applied questions that students cannot quickly look up in a textbook. They ask students to practice the kind of skills students need throughout their college careers and as professionals: research, accurate and judicious note-taking, determination of what’s significant, ability to use resources efficiently.
  • A writing assignment that asks students to demonstrate that they learned what you wanted them to learn. Discuss the criteria (tied to your learning objectives) you’ll use to assess the assignment.
  • A live or prerecorded oral presentation, narrated video, website, drawing, song, or 3D model that demonstrates mastery of a concept and highlights tools available to students. Non-traditional or creative assignments work best when they have some “real-world” relevance and offer students choice in delivery format (see Authentic Assessment, below). As with the writing assignment, discuss in advance the criteria you’ll use for assessing students’ learning.
  • Peer- and self-review activities: These allow for personal reflection on learning and peer-to-peer instruction, both of which reinforce and deepen understanding. Students will need instruction in the task of providing constructive feedback. Targeted rubrics laying out expectations for student work are very helpful.
  • Group Projects: These projects require students to demonstrate mastery of subject matter and develop their ability to communicate and work collaboratively. It is crucial to make your assessment criteria and grading scheme clear, and to ensure that there are clear, explicit expectations for each team member.
  • Ungraded and uncollected work allows students to practice working with the problems and ideas of the course without having to worry about what their thinking looks like to others.

Make use of authentic assessment when possible. Authentic assessment, or assessment that focuses on demonstrating competencies as they take place in — or in an environment emulating — the real-world is both sound pedagogy and naturally protects assessment integrity.

Authentic assessment comes in a multitude of forms and often crosses disciplines. Some examples include:

  • Building a design portfolio
  • Participating in a virtual stock market
  • Solving real-world problems posed by, and in collaboration with, external partners
  • Scripting, creating, and editing short films and documentaries
  • Evaluating news stories for validity and bias
  • Writing applications, programs and documentation for real-world clients
  • Community engaged learning / service learning

High-stakes exams don’t transfer well to remote learning

When teaching traditional in-person classes, instructors often place a significant portion of the final grade — anywhere from 25% to 60% — on mid-quarter and final exams. Such high-stakes exams do not necessarily transfer well to a remote learning environment for the following reasons:

  • The higher the stakes, the more people are inclined to cheat. Lower the stakes to lower the incidence of cheating.
  • People follow norms, not rules. If students think other students in the course are cheating, they are more likely to cheat. Lower-stakes assessments change student perspectives about norms and reduce the risk of cheating.
  • Anxiety is naturally higher in a new, unfamiliar situation. It also impairs students’ abilities to demonstrate what they know. Given the additional reasons students have for anxiety — health, safety, income & food security, child care, elder care — it’s a good idea to assess student learning in evidence-based effective ways that also reflect current realities.

Academic integrity

Why students cheat

  • Norms. People follow norms, not rules. If students think others in the course are cheating, they’ll cheat.
  • High stakes. The higher the stakes, the more likely students are to cheat. Making: an assignment worth 40% of the final grade will encourage cheating. So will needing a final grade of X to get a good job or get into med school.
  • Overwhelm. If students believe they can’t get all their work done in all their courses, they’re more likely to cheat. This is especially true for students in majors with a lot of required courses: they may decide that courses they take outside their major don’t matter as much, and may cheat in those. In addition, students who have responsibilities beyond schoolwork — as most do — have less time for schoolwork and feel more pressure.
  • Source of motivation. Students motivated primarily through rewards, grades, or external approval — parents, instructors, admissions committees — are more likely to cheat.
  • Situational ethics. If students see that CEOs, politicians, and celebrities are rewarded for cheating, they’ll conclude that ethics differ depending on context, and thus it’s okay to cheat in classes.
  • Perceived anonymity. Students who feel unknown and unseen are more likely to cheat.
  • Lack of understanding as to what constitutes cheating. It’s not always simple. Students may not understand what they need to cite and what constitutes “common knowledge”? They may not know that it’s not typically acceptable to submit a paper they wrote for another class.


  • Callahan, David. The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead. San Diego: Harcourt, 2004.
  • Harris, L., Harrison, D., McNally, D. et al. Academic Integrity in an Online Culture: Do McCabe’s Findings Hold True for Online, Adult Learners?. J Acad Ethics (2019).
  • McCabe D. (2016) Cheating and Honor: Lessons from a Long-Term Research Project. In: Bretag T. (eds) Handbook of Academic Integrity. Springer, Singapore

Cheating and technology

Despite widespread assumptions that cheating is pervasive in online courses, there is no conclusive evidence that online learners cheat more than learners in traditional courses. However, learners in both online and traditional courses increasingly rely upon technology and the internet to cheat.

Learners in both types of courses use technology to:

  • Cut and paste the work of another into their own work, without acknowledgment
  • Purchase someone else’s work
  • Copy a peer’s work or share work with a peer
  • Contract someone to perform the work

Learn how to proctor an online exam using Proctorio, a browser extension that can monitor students’ desktops and webcams and during an online quiz, as well as flag suspicious behavior and record data for later review.

Evidence-based ways to reduce cheating

  • Co-create a class honor code, esp. if there’s a department- or college-wide honor code.
  • Reduce how much an assignment “counts.”
  • Articulate and discuss with students why academic integrity matters in your discipline.
  • Connect with students and tell them you care that they learn. They cheat less if they feel seen and known.
  • Give students opportunities to practice.
  • Keep your promises if you can. Students cheat less if you do. EX: if you say you’ll return the tests Tuesday, and don’t return them for another two weeks, students are more likely to cheat.
  • Explain how and why cheating isn’t the norm in your class.

Additional suggestions to discourage online cheating and plagiarism
(courtesy of UW Tacoma’s iTech Refresher course) :

  • Communicate expectations – Inform students about the university’s policy as well as your policy related to academic integrity. Provide this information in your syllabus and, periodically, discuss these expectations with students.
  • Course design – Design your course to ensure a variety of activities and assessments are included. Tell students how activities promote their learning (not just getting a grade). If you have to have high-stakes assignments, scaffold them by giving students practice before the assignment’s due.
  • Time limits – Consider what time limit you’ll set for the quiz or test. If you do not want students to access their notes, text book, or internet, state this explicitly. Time limits help reduce the use of supplemental resources. However, they also fail to accommodate tech glitches, including unreliable wifi, while increasing student anxiety. Whatever you decide, alter the time limits for students with an extended time accommodation.
  • Randomize questions – Canvas allows you to create a pool or group of questions for each quiz or test. When students access the assessment, Canvas will randomly select test questions from the pool you created. For example, maybe you placed fifty questions in the question group but only assign students twenty-five. Canvas will randomly select twenty-five questions from the question pool when the student attempts the assessment. This ensures students don’t get the same exact exam. For more information on this feature, visit: Canvas’ How do I create a quiz with a question group to randomize quiz questions?
  • Discussion forums – Concerned that students copy ideas from others while reading discussion forums? Utilize the “users must post first” option when creating the discussion forum in Canvas. Students will only be able to read entries in the discussion forum after they submit a post.
  • SimCheck – Any time students submit a written product, you can enable SimCheck in Canvas. SimCheck will report content that matches an article, website, or another student’s work. Please note the risks and limitations of using SimCheck. See: About SimCheck plagiarism detection.

Grading practices for online learning

When planning assessment activities for students who are learning remotely, consider these ways decrease the stakes of any one assessment:

  • Increase the frequency of graded assessments, rather than giving one or two high-stakes exams.
    • Use Canvas quizzes to offer regular quizzes or exams worth no more than 10% of the final grade. Consider these recommendations for accommodating variations in internet service during online quizzes and exams.
    • Let students drop the lowest grade if you give 4-10 quizzes/exams. This approach:
      • reduces the temptation to cheat by lowering anxiety,
      • gives students practice at demonstrating what they’ve learned, and
      • accommodates students who might be sick the day the quiz is given or have connection issues, without requiring instructors to create make-up exams or quizzes.
  • Give students alternative ways to demonstrate what they have learned, like those mentioned above.
  • Also consider these best practices for setting up and communicating grading practices.