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Academic integrity: thinking beyond the assessment task

Assessment design plays a key role in academic integrity, but to be effective it needs to work in tandem with a broader set of strategies. One strategy is to be transparent with students about what academic integrity is, and to provide information around the key issues. The Australian Government’s Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, TEQSA, has provided 22 good practice examples to draw upon.

A large-scale research project that surveyed 14,086 students and 1,147 staff across eight Australian universities (the basis for this TEQSA infographic on academic integrity) found that dissatisfaction with the teaching and learning environment was one of the prominent factors associated with cheating behaviour. This finding aligns with student motives for plagiarism in a widely cited article by Park (2003), and was significant for 1) heavily weighted assessment tasks, 2) those with a short turnaround time and 3) series of small graded tasks.

This suggests one strategic approach to dealing with student cheating: think beyond the assessment task itself. There are two specific considerations that jump out at me: the assessment experience and the learning environment and community.

The assessment experience

An effective assessment experience will have a well-thought-out approach to the role of feedback and feedback for learning that is integrated across the course and builds each assessment task to the next. High-stakes assessment or a series of small tasks that are part of a series (i.e. not explicitly connected) are more likely to see students engage in cheating. However, nested assessment tasks are perceived as less likely by students to be outsourced (Bretag 2019). Some suggestions are below:

  • Tweak a series of weekly quizzes: still require students to complete them all and give them feedback, but ask them to choose their best 1 every 3 weeks for grading, with the final including a reflective statement about how they used the feedback from these to improve their learning.
  • Partition a high-stakes assessment into a draft submission for a small weighted grading and feedforward, then a final submission (now with lower grade weight) and a reflective statement articulating how they have used your feedback to improve.

The learning environment and community

While the factors leading to cheating behaviours are multifarious, we can do something about it by centering the student experience in supportive discourse and practices about academic integrity.

If you need help to put some of your ideas into action, the Education Design team at CLT works with academics and education support teams across ANU to enhance teaching practices and student learning experiences. Online support resources are available through the Teaching at ANU site or we can be contacted for a consultation via email eddesign@anu.edu.au.

September 2021


Dr Joseph Hughes is Manager of the Education Design Team, in the ANU Centre for Learning and Teaching, who provide course design help and can be contacted at eddesign@anu.edu.au.

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