Syllabus strategies that support academic integrity

Whether on a semester or trimester schedule, many faculty are refining course materials and syllabi at this time of year. I’m reminded of an earlier blog post Syllabus design with integrity in mind (August 2020) by Courtney Cullen offering food for thought embedding integrity in course specific ways. The course syllabus is the guiding document that sets the tone for how a course will run. With so many changes over the past few years, a reset and refresh are a welcome update for many courses.

While many institutions mandate an academic integrity or honesty statement, actively embedding academic integrity throughout the course syllabus is a helpful way to increase trust and support student success. Using the fundamental values of academic integrity, best practices by member institutions, and guidance from academic integrity leaders and scholars, here are some additional considerations when updating syllabi.

Start with structure

The overall structure of your course and its individual components set the tone for the classroom experience. Academic integrity core concepts, namely honesty, trust, fairness, and responsibility compel faculty to clearly structure courses and course guidance in a way that is transparent, systematic, and scaffolded.

When reviewing the syllabus,

  • Is there an easily understood, logical progression from one topic to the next?
  • Are there any concepts or skills that require proficiency before moving on?
  • How should the structure respond to changes in course modality or assignment structure?

Syllabus styles have their own advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to choose the right one (or combination thereof) for your course when embedding academic integrity concepts. Here are a few examples.

  • Chronological: A chronological syllabus lists the topics in order. This can be helpful for students who like to know what will be coming up next and when. It can also help with planning assignments and tests. Here, principles of academic integrity might be embedded, increasing in depth and complexity as the course unfolds.
  • Topical: A topical syllabus lists the topics by theme or category. This can be helpful for students who want to see all the topics at one time. It can also help group together related topics. Academic integrity may warrant its own module, set of modules, or remain embedded throughout.
  • Weekly: A weekly syllabus lists the topics by week. This can be helpful for students who want to see what is due each week. It can also help with time management. Linking to principles of academic integrity, or expectations governing specific assignments and learning outcomes are well suited here.

No matter which style, it is important to be clear and concise in organization. Students should be able to easily find the information they need and understand expectations. A well organized and consistent syllabus signals trust, care, and thoughtfulness. While questions will remain, a syllabus that is outlined and well introduced make it easy to revisit content.


Consider the unique communication preferences of students in syllabus design is important, for example:  

  • Does the syllabus include elements that appeal to students who benefit from diagrams, charts, or video?
  • Are explanations available in multiple locations?
  • Is there a low stakes opportunity to gauge understanding of the content of the syllabus?

The University of California, San Diego, offers actionable guidance on the importance of communicating institutional and personalized information on academic integrity, including a syllabus checklist!

Students who see language that speaks to them individually may be more likely to value independent learning. For example, a syllabus that explicitly lists independent assignments vs group work. Getting to know students and understanding how their identifies show up in the classroom is also necessary in building academic integrity. Personalization does not require invasive disclosure but offers students the opportunity to share their goals and needs, while offering faculty and instructional staff the opportunity to see how students make sense of material through independent work, learning preferences, class experience, and connection to real life events. Self-reflection as related to integrity and identity are one of the ways students may see the importance of academic integrity as a cornerstone of the coursework. Increasing communication through reflection is a benefit for faculty as well.

Including current events, diversifying texts, and perspectives, and offering opportunities to incorporate personally meaningful connections are curricular decisions that students value. Acknowledging these within the syllabus allow students to see the values of the class, department, and institution in a direct way, such as those featured in a Programming syllabus by Gary Miranda, a professor in the Computer Science department at University of California San Diego.

  • Who may be uncomfortable with course content and how can the syllabus address this?
  • What supports in the syllabus exist for students needing additional assistance?

Goals and Expectations

Often, faculty assume academic integrity is a goal and expectation in college. They must be explicit in the syllabus. In some countries, standards of academic integrity are set by governing or accrediting bodies. Amanda McKenzie offers an overview of quality assurance guidance and how they can be used to strengthen academic integrity in the classroom and within institutions.   Others rely on institutional or departmental policy language to offers a legally supported frame in setting expectations. Examples and rationale that are unique to course content, discipline, peer support, or future goals are meaningful supplements. For example, including the code of ethics associated with related professional standards as suggested by the University of California, San Diego. In addition, the rapidly changing nature of online resources and collaboration may be address in institutional policy. Specifying what you have seen and acknowledging that there may be other risks to academic integrity strengthen the goals and expectations set for the course. Examples, like those included in the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Teaching and Learning resource provide declarative statements addressing misconduct in the online environment, as well as promoting academic integrity.

  • More broadly, students who can quickly articulate how the course fits into their plans and needs are more likely to see the value of the independent learning necessary for success. Understanding this value bolsters the idea of academic integrity as a shared responsibility for all students.
  • As an academic community, consider co-creating community standards, or a classroom code of ethics as a part of the syllabus.

Assessment Alignment

Consider thinking of the syllabus as a summation of how expectations are communicated and assessed. Much is debated about the types of assessment that occur in the classroom. Many students often wonder how their professors will determine demonstrated success. Assessments can help students understand their strengths and weaknesses to help them improve. With clear assessment, students will be able to identify the areas they need to work on and be motivated to do so. Assessment may seem intuitive in course design, but syllabus language aids in bridging understanding of curriculum design and student understanding. The University of Toronto offers specific language examples for assignment, tests, and general academic work.

The pressure of assessment as a high stakes event in a course can shift a learning environment. Overwhelm is often a common threat to preserving academic. Furthermore, some students may feel anxious about being assessed in a way that feels uncomfortable. For example, a student who prefers to explain things may struggle with an exam that is entirely multiple choice. Similarly, a student who prefers to demonstrate learning in an active manner may find it difficult to answer essay questions that requires sitting still for extended periods of time. There is no way to satisfy everyone all the time, but by including information on assessment in the syllabus, there is a proactive effort to letting students know what to expect. In addition to strengthening trust with assessment description, a well-designed syllabus includes transparent assessment guidelines, including a description of proctoring and grading guidance.


A well-designed syllabus sets the stage for a course that can exemplify the fundamental values of academic integrity. A well-structured, clear, and personalized syllabus aids in communication and allows students to feel supported. When done well, the syllabus helps students affirm their membership within the academic community through acknowledgement and clear expectations. As seen in the examples above, the right tools and practices set the foundation for a culture of integrity and academic success.