The University of Queensland is a large metropolitan research-intensive institution, which predominantly uses face-to-face or blended curriculum delivery. Academic integrity is a high priority, focused on ensuring robust policies, education for students and staff, support for staff in assessment design, and clear processes for detection, investigation, and disciplinary action for breaches.

Academic integrity work was seriously tested in 2020, with the transition to rapid remote delivery (RRD) of teaching and learning, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The shift to online assessment, with minimal time for curriculum change, placed unprecedented pressure on teaching staff. The academic integrity discourse shifted as face-to-face invigilated examinations were now invigilated online or transitioned to non-invigilated assessments. Academic developers in central units and faculties rapidly prepared just-in-time online academic integrity resources, led professional conversations and consultations, and supported central decision-making, while seeking to ground practice in established academic integrity evidence-based principles.

In both formal and informal settings, students communicated they were experiencing higher stress levels related to their study and future uncertainties. Academic integrity research identifies stress as a predictor for student cheating behaviour (McCabe et al. 1999; Brimble 2016; Tindall & Curtis 2020).  Under COVID-19 conditions, we were conscious that more students may be vulnerable to the persuasive marketing messages of online contract cheating services (Rowland et al. 2018), find more opportunities to cheat (Bretag et al. 2018) and/or engage in collusion with other students, previously connected in the face-to-face learning mode.

What have we learned from our COVID-19 academic integrity experience so far?

Overall, academic integrity profiles as a key risk.  Yet, the rapid transition to online assessment did not allow for a risk assessment of academic integrity breaches. Facing these new challenges accelerated the urgency to communicate existing academic integrity messages with students, with academic development staff facilitating outreach messages to students about their academic integrity obligations and the dangers of cheating, particularly through contract cheating sites.

Academic integrity was considered an important principle to maintain in this situation, however, under intense pressure, the balance between organisational practice and educative approaches had the potential to become skewed. Increasing pressures due to COVID-19 and new assessment techniques resulted in unfamiliar situations for both staff and students. Non-invigilated online assessment allowed more scope for cheating, yet more difficult to detect. Notwithstanding, decision makers reported an uplift in the number of hearings to address suspected cases of academic integrity breaches.

We were underprepared to respond to academic misconduct through curriculum development and online assessment design. Many assessment tasks were simply shifted from face-to- face to online, with little or no redesign. Further, our learning management systems are designed for face-to-face learning and a quick transition to online assessment delivery presented various system challenges. Academic integrity, although important, was not the primary focus. Urgent delivery and assessment solutions were required.

Change fatigue motivates a preference to return to our ‘normal’ academic integrity support programs. However, new markets and new expectations will require ongoing redesign of assessment that is authentic, measures learning outcomes and can be completed with assurance of academic integrity.


Bretag, T, Harper, R, Burton, M, Ellis, C, Newton, P, Rozenberg, P, Saddiqui, S & van Haeringen, K (2018) Contract cheating: a survey of Australian university students, Studies in Higher Education. doi: 10.1080/03075079.2018.1462788

Brimble, M (2016) Why Students Cheat: An Exploration of the Motivators of Student Academic Dishonesty in Higher Education In: Bretag T. (ed) Handbook of Academic Integrity (pp. 365-382). Springer, Singapore.

McCabe, D, Trevino, L & Butterfield, K (1999) ‘Academic Integrity in Honor Code and Non-Honor Code Environments A Qualitative Investigation’, The Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 70, No.2, pp. 211-234.

Rowland, S, Slade, C, Wong, K & Whiting, B (2018) ‘‘Just turn to us’: the persuasive features of contract cheating websites,’ Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol. 43, No. 4, pp. 652-665.

Tindall, I & Curtis, G (2020) ‘Negative Emotionality Predicts Attitudes Toward Plagiarism’, Journal of Academic Ethics, Vol. 18, pp.89-102.


Christine Slade (University of Queensland)

Professor Karen Benson (University of Queensland): Her role includes leadership of the academic integrity agenda at UQ and oversight of programs for academic integrity officers. In 2020 she led the implementation of online invigilation, engaging an external provider, in response to COVID-19.