Pink and Blue Plasma Ball

Last year, I had the opportunity to teach a section of College Algebra. In a conversation at the end of the semester, a student shared with me that this was the first math class in which she did not feel the need to cheat. I was a bit taken aback by her candid statement. For one thing, I was stunned that she referred to engaging an academic dishonesty so bluntly. For another, I was curious as to the reason that this class was different for her. So, I asked her why she felt that way. Her response was that she discovered that she could do the work and be successful on her own. She didn’t need to cheat because she was learning.  This, for me, was a huge statement. I wondered what had changed for this student and how could this situation be replicated for other students? Somehow, over the course of the semester, her self-efficacy regarding mathematics had increased.  She began to believe that she was in control of her performance in the class and her actions were meaningful.  Her motivation increased and, hence, the impulse to engage in academic dishonesty was lessened.

This interaction gave me much to think about.  We know that there is a connection between motivation and self-determination.  Individuals who are more self-determined are more confident and more motivated.  According to self-determination theory, the degree to which an individual believes that their choices matter in their lives is influenced by the fulfillment of three psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Cherry, 2021).  In the classroom, we can impact all three of these needs.  Hence, we can encourage self-determination, help to increase motivation, and foster academic integrity.

Autonomy involves the ability to make decisions and to feel independent.  We can encourage this sense of control by allowing students the freedom to make choices related to the course.  While many courses may not have the flexibility to allow students to choose the topic of discussion, there are ways to incorporate student choice.  Students can be involved in the creation of a set of class norms.  We can allow them the freedom of choosing their own groups for activities.  We might even allow students the freedom to choose the format of some assignment submissions, e.g., they could submit a written report or a video presentation.   The point is to allow the student the opportunity to make decisions to reduce feeling that they have no control.

Providing small opportunities for success early in the semester can serve to increase a students’ sense of competence or their belief that they possess the necessary skills to be successful.  These opportunities could be in the form of low-stakes assessments, small group activities, or even chances to answer questions in class. I like to use the Turning Technologies polling tool for in-class questions. I find that students get very excited when they get the correct answer.  As the old proverb states: success begets success. Doing well on an in-class question can go a long way in showing the student that they are able to do the work.  Students might also be allowed multiple assignment attempts or the ability to replace a low exam score with the score from the final exam.  Policies like this will likely reduce stress and anxiety but will also encourage students to spend more time on the course material and to develop the necessary skills.

Finally, relatedness refers to the psychological need to feel connected with others.  We can encourage connections with our students through our classroom behavior.  Getting to class a few minutes early to chat or making sure to use a student’s name in class are good ways to show students that you are available and approachable.  We can be proactive in contacting students who may be struggling in the class to show that we care.  We can also encourage connections between students by providing opportunities for group activities, class discussions, and even online discussions.

By making small changes in our classes to nurture these three basic psychological needs, we can make a difference in the lives of our students.   While it may not be a complete solution to the problem, we can reduce the likelihood of academic dishonesty by boosting self-determination, confidence, and motivation.


Cherry, K. (2021, March 15). How Does Self-Determination Theory Explain Motivation? Retrieved from Verywell Mind:,connection%2C%20and%20autonomy%20are%20fulfilled.