By many metrics and studies, plagiarism and cheating is a real issue in American college classrooms- online and off.

“Studies of student behavior and attitudes show that a majority of students violate standards of academic integrity to some degree, and that high achievers are just as likely to do it as others. Moreover, there is evidence that the problem has worsened over the last few decades.”
-Perez-Pena, “Studies Find More Students Cheating, With High Achievers No Exception” – NY Times, 9/7/12

There are many illicit services nowadays to facilitate cheating, from so-called “paper mills” services that sell essays on demand, to archived exam answer banks to stand-ins being paid to pass themselves off as a student in class.


There is no one magic bullet – tech tool or otherwise that will make your course 100% airtight, plagiarism proof. BUT– a multi-pronged strategy can reduce the motivation & make it much harder to cheat:

  1. Education and Straight Talk
    The first line of defense is knowledge & transparency. Taking part of your 1st class to have a frank discussion on it can get this issue out there:
    What plagiarism is and is not?
    (Some students may not know they have been unwittingly plagiarizing)

    Motivations for cheating?
    (What class structure/policies can help address these?)

    Short-Term Costs & consequences of cheating both as at the class policy level and the college Student Code of Conduct level?
    Long-Term Costs of Cheating as Real-World Professional?
    Support & reinforce this starting point with timely reminders and resources throughout the rest of the term. If nothing else, facilitating a discussion on this Day 1 will send a tacit message you are aware and looking out for attempts at cheating.
  2. Replace High Stakes Exams with Unique Projects
    [Also a Teaching Best Practice]
    Particularly vulnerable to plagiarism are widely circulated, national “canned” textbook publisher multiple choice test banks. Migrating your Assessment strategy away from emphasizing high stakes, multiple choice exams as the summative capstone in favor of unique Application projects will greatly reduce plagiarism vulnerabilities in your class.  Multiple choice assessment is great for formative, low stakes, self or class concept checks. But, an effectively designed student project not only is much more resistant to cheating, but also offers much richer opportunities for demonstration of higher order, summative mastery in Bloom’s taxonomy. Based on their research, the Buck Institute for Education has developed “Best Practice” essential elements for creating an effective learning project:
    BICPBL essentials
  3. Make Projects Local & Real World
    [Also a Teaching Best Practice]
    Finding some way to work in unique local elements to your project can further eliminate the likelihood of making plagiarism profitable. Requiring the use of some form of local data [sites, interviews, works, places, case studies etc. etc.] are possibilities to incorporate a very hard to plagiarize element. Likewise, this so-called “Place-Based Education” can open the door to powerful modern teaching strategies of Creating Authentic Assessment projects [PDF] and or Service Learning to engage & motivate students with real world application and use of their coursework beyond the walls of the ivory tower. This could even lead to career networking and or contributing resources to the community.
  4. Have Students Show Their Work via Checkpoints
    [Also a Teaching Best Practice]
    For the larger high stakes projects, have students not just submit the final finished work, but also have regular, deliverable checkpoints throughout the course of the project. This will limit the value and practicality of being able to pass off a one-shot, off the black market finished work product. Also, it will allow you to see the evolution of student’s thinking, see their level of application of material, ongoing effort and offer opportunities for remedial intervention where needed before a subpar high stakes final product is turned in.  This will also foster Faculty-Student Interaction and offer Prompt Feedback (2 of the 7 Success Best Practices) to allow you to further engage and motivate the students.
  5. Make Minor Tweaks Each Year
    Adding minor wrinkles and tweaks to your projects and assessments year to year can prevent a reliable “cheatbook” or projects for sale market being circulated for your class. For instance, adding an additional requirement or an add on reflection question to the project. Or likewise removing one element or source requirement. These can offer tell-tale “markers” to help you quickly spot any recycled work from a previous term.


Start with taking a long hard look at your Assessment strategy. Then identify the “low hanging fruit” of 1 exam or high stakes assessment to start with transitioning. Then develop a unique, authentic, local project that could be broken up into multiple checkpoint deliverables.

You are not on your own – feel free to contact us in the eLi department – 419.755.4706 or dl@ncstatecollege.edu to setup a consult and use our experience and expertise to help.

While it is unfortunate that the world we live in forces us to think of ways to ‘secure’ our courses against cheating, we can view this as an opportunity to incorporate several Success best practices. As such, in the long run, this “plumbing” work will be an investment that pays multiple dividends.


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