May 2021

COIN (Consortium for Online Integrity) is seeking members who have a specific interest in online academic integrity. COIN is a new regional group within the International Center for Academic Integrity.   The group’s mission is to build a community of accredited institutions engaged in online education, who are focused on promoting academic integrity in order to protect every student and the value of each degree, certification, license, and/or credential, and support the mission of the ICAI.

Membership in COIN represents your institution’s commitment to contribute to our mission and participate in our activities. In turn, membership entitles you to share in our resources, knowledge, and community of practice.

Eligibility for membership is limited to current ICAI member institutions.

If you are interested in your institution becoming a member of COIN, please complete the COIN MEMBERSHIP APPLICATION, and our Membership Coordinator will follow up with you.   We expect to hold a meet & great in the summer to get ideas for collaboration in the next year.

For any questions or concerns please contact: Maureen O’Brien, Membership Coordinator, at or 801-428-5906.

Understanding that cheating is not worth the risk, may be a more effective means to deter many students from cheating than solely appealing to their morality or their need to abide by university regulations. This video discusses 5 common academic cheating methods and their short- and long-term consequences. It provides real-life examples of the negative outcomes of engaging in such behavior. With students increasingly being aggressively targeted directly by contract cheating firms, the video takes the approach that it is better to forewarn students than to hope they will not encounter such solicitations. The video, created by two university professors, is available on youtube, is commercial free, and uses an animated character to walk students through real-life news clips and research studies to show the risks involved. Video link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niMb2ZyVkmc 

Motivating students to engage in college writing and understand principles of academic integrity can be challenging. Doing so when the language of instruction is a foreign one can be even more challenging. And doing all that during a pandemic is – tough. Following curfews, lockdowns, and a move to online classes, motivation has waned, frustration has soared. Yet, this year of Covid-induced struggles has shown that some techniques can help promote academic integrity and discourage contract cheating.

Existing techniques to discourage and address breaches of integrity such as plagiarism and collusion remain effective, but less so when it comes to ghost-writing. Academic dishonesty can be curbed by helping students feel they do not need to, and should not, cheat because their professor is acquainted with their work, through assignment scaffolding with consistent activities in and outside the classroom, plus regular feedback. The use of plagiarism detection software such as Turnitin as a learning tool can serve to explain ethical academic practices. And when a breach does happen, it can be identified. Turnitin is the perfect informant (why a student, knowing submissions will be discussed in class, submits plagiarized material eludes me!). What is now more difficult is handling ghost-written material. In face-to-face classes, professors are familiar with students’ writing styles and like other educators, I have begun reading an essay, initially smiling happily because the student had done so well, but then frowning despairingly because the essay was clearly not the product of the authorial voice I had witnessed in class.  A year ago, I would arrange a face-to-face meeting, and students usually, albeit grudgingly, accepted responsibility. With online classes, however, detecting and proving ghost-written material is sometimes impossible, given that you may have never met or spoken with the student, have never witnessed the drafting of even one sentence; and should you suspect, virtual meetings to discuss the incident may prove futile, with the student sometimes not even turning on their camera. What I have come to realize is the need for recursive demonstration that academic integrity a) matters to me b) should matter to them c) can be achieved d) is something desirable.

Some techniques I found worked to achieve this: 

  • Repeated class discussions on reasons for cheating and practical consequences. As students have told me:
  • They hear, especially now without a physical classroom, that others are struggling just as much as they are with topics, assignments, language. This sense of shared difficulty has served as a deterrent against asking for outside assistance. 
  • They realize long-term negative consequences of plagiarism for the social whole, through questions such as whether they would trust a doctor for performing heart surgery or a lawyer for handling a murder charge, knowing these individuals had cheated their way through university.  
  • They understand the value of learning, not just getting grades and a degree.
  • They view academic integrity as something positive to strive for, not something associated with penalties. 
  • Random selection of respondents, through an online dice roller (shared screen), instead of waiting for the usual two-three students to raise their hand. 
  • Surprisingly, students enjoy it, develop deeper understanding of material, and ultimately, feel sufficiently confident to not need outside assistance. 
  • I get the opportunity to become familiar with students’ way of expressing themselves, which may facilitate the detection of ghost-written material.
  • Submission of an integrity pledge that also states they are proud of their work and time invested, alongside each formal assignment. This serves as a recurrent opportunity to get students to assume ownership of their work and gradually, even if somewhat artificially, associate pride with their efforts, not just with a good grade. 
  • Additional evaluation of assignments (incorporated in the participation grade), to reduce potential involvement of a ghost-writer, on:  
  • Use of only assigned and annotated sources or, if own research was conducted, approved and annotated sources.
  • Inclusion of a complete Works Cited, of material actually used.
  • Attendance at an individual conference to discuss first drafts.
  • Extent of feedback consideration. 

When unethical practices are common in entertainment, business, politics, it is no wonder many young minds may feel that cheating in college is, comparatively, not that tragic. And, at a time when a pandemic is depriving them of their freedoms and possibly their loved ones, to be asked to care so much about a college-essay may be annoying and seem excessive. We, as educators, however, have the responsibility – and the privilege – to find ways to make integrity both achievable and desirable, for both that annoying college-essay and post-college life.

Since 1992, the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) has worked with academic communities around the globe to promote a culture of academic integrity and discourage academic misconduct.  Since ICAI’s founding, contract cheating, defined below, has emerged as a world-wide concern. 

“The term contract cheating describes the form of academic dishonesty where students get academic work completed on their behalf, which they then submit for academic credit as if they had created it themselves.” (contractcheating.com)

Members and leaders of ICAI work on the front lines with students, instructors, and educational institutions to uphold the integrity of the degrees and certificates their institutions confer.  

In the past, contract cheating was often accomplished student-to-student. Now, in addition to this avenue, we (the members and leaders of ICAI) are seeing students turn to online companies advertising to “help” a student, when in fact, they undermine teaching and learning. Here are a few examples of this: 

  • Students look to internet sites for the exact question/problem/scenario given to them from their instructors.
  • If the student is unable to find the question/problem/scenario, they post the exact (or very similar) question(s) online for someone to answer.
  • Students copy the provided answer directly from the online source without spending time to understand it or check it for errors.
  • Students attempt to hide their online activities from institutional authorities by not making their name visible or by logging into “help” sites in a way that cannot be tied to their educational institution ID.

While the behavior of students is concerning, the behaviors exhibited by the so-called “helping” or “tutoring” websites are more concerning still.  The following are examples of such behaviors:

  • Allowing students to register with a non-institutional identifying email – in essence allowing them to hide or make it more difficult for educational institutions to know who has viewed or posted information.
  • Creating hurdles for educational administrators and instructors who are trying to get information about the posts and/or remove posts of copyrighted materials.
  • Requiring educational administrators and instructors to buy an account to monitor the illegal posting of copyrighted or otherwise-prohibited materials, to check if academic assignments and tests have been shared, and to determine who shared these materials and who has accessed them, both of which are academic offenses. 
  • Blackmailing students by threatening to notify their educational institutions that the student has been accessing unauthorized materials or assistance.

Especially on this day, the International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating, ICAI is taking a stand to say that these behaviors are wrong and do not create the culture of academic integrity that we as an association and our members strive for. 

We ask our members and other educational providers worldwide to take a stand as well.  This can be seen in a variety of ways:

  1. Blocking various internet sites that claim to “help” students but that promote academic misconduct and fraud
  2. Creating strong syllabus statements telling students to avoid these sites and let students know that even looking at them for course help could be an academic offense.
  3. Talking to students about the difference between looking at an answer online and understanding the thought process necessary to generate the answer, which is the goal of learning.
  4. Creating and/or promoting a wide variety of resources (i.e., writing workshops, tutoring centers, counseling services etc.) for students to support their academic success and maintain academic integrity.
  5. Developing course assignments and examinations that are resistant to cheating of any kind.

We also ask online companies to change their behavior, too, by:

  1. Ensure that all users are registered through their institutional email.
  2. Require all users to sign a pledge acknowledging they will uphold the values of academic integrity.
  3. Provide an easy method for challenging copyright and other infringements.

Unfortunately, contract cheating and the market for dishonest online “support” appears to be growing, particularly during the current pandemic. Far from being a benign problem, contract cheating has implications for the credibility of academic degrees, institutional accreditation, and for society as a whole, as the students who engage in contract cheating graduate, enter the workforce, and move into leadership positions. 

As an organization dedicated to enhancing academic integrity,  ICAI specifically denounces companies that profit from helping students cheat. Moreover, we call upon educational institutions, the corporate world, accrediting bodies, and governments to act to promote academic integrity by setting high expectations for themselves and those around them.

#integritymatters, #excelwithintegrity #myownwork

At the International Center for Academic Integrity Conference 2021, I delivered a presentation entitled “Developing an Academic Integrity Research Module for Undergraduate Students”. This detailed my experiences developing and delivering a new academic integrity module for students at Imperial College London.

I’ve advocated for a long time that we need to think of students as our academic integrity partners, not just as people we lecture to about what is right and wrong and how to avoid plagiarism. So, to me, encouraging students to not just champion academic integrity but also to actively conduct research, seems like a natural progression.

The new module I developed ran in its pilot form in Autumn (Fall) 2020. For the first year, it was open only to students on a small number of courses. Next year, it will be available as a credit bearing option across almost all courses at Imperial College London.

Developing a new module of this type is not without its challenges. Putting aside those caused by online delivery and the pandemic, one area I hadn’t fully planned for would be the wide range of academic disciplines, student backgrounds and engagement levels involved. Some students had previously studied ethics and thought this might be an advanced version of their previous subject specific module. None of the students had really looked at research methods before. In general, the students had only considered academic integrity as being the set of rules they had to follow during their academic careers, but had never had the discussion that academic integrity extends much more widely across the educational community (and beyond).

The diverse range of student backgrounds also proved to be a strength, meaning that we could bring in different perspectives and have engaging class discussions. I encouraged students to become reflective practitioners and think about how the ideas we considered applied to their own context. I also made sure we were operating within an environment that was not judgemental.

One thing I discovered is that there is a lot of academic integrity research out there. Even as a researcher in this field, there was more research than I ever expected, with hundreds of papers that had never been cited. It was a useful experience for me to put findings into context and to make sense of everything. I tried to use an examples and case study led approach wherever possible. But there is so much interesting material that this just wouldn’t all fit within a single academic integrity research module.

I was fortunate in that I was able to bring in Dr Irene Glendinning from Coventry University for a guest session, where Irene talked about her own career as an academic integrity researcher and the wider lessons she’d discovered. I had also previously generated internal funding from StudentShapers and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme, so I had been able to partner with students to develop academic integrity research examples. The panel with existing student researchers turned out to be one of the highlights of the module and helped to inspire the new groups to conduct their own research.

In the end, I was very impressed with the research studies produced by the student groups. The students really engaged with the materials. I saw a difference in their views and reflection as the module went on. We ended the module with a group of students seemingly much more willing to act with courage when addressing academic integrity challenges. I also saw my views develop as well. I already know our students are capable of being active members of our community, but I now know they can be valued research partners as well.

I’m already looking forward to delivering this module next year. I have some material updates planned, some more content I’d like to include and the difficult question to consider, what do I take out? I encourage other academics and educational institutions to consider developing an academic integrity research module in partnership with their students.