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The Honor Code and academic integrity in online learning

At Stanford University, academic integrity policy is strongly influenced by the Honor Code. It articulates the university’s expectations of students and faculty in establishing and maintaining the highest standards in academic work.

The first part of the code states that students “will not give or receive aid [with regard to] any work that is to be used by the instructor as the basis of grading.” (“Honor Code | Office of Community Standards” n.d.) 

The second part of the Honor Code states that Faculty will “[refrain] from proctoring examinations and from taking unusual and unreasonable precautions to prevent... dishonesty” and “avoid… academic procedures that create temptations to violate the Honor Code.” (n.d.)

Finally, the third part of the Honor Code states that “students and faculty will work together to establish optimal conditions for honorable academic work.” (n.d.)

In the first part of the Honor Code, students are expected to take an active role in upholding the spirit of the Honor Code. A common concern around online learning is that students are more likely to cheat in online courses than in face-to-face ones. However, research on this issue suggests that students are no more likely to behave dishonestly in an online course than they are face-to-face (Beck 2014). Strategies that build trust, human presence, and a sense of community, are key to establish a class culture of integrity regardless of the online modality. Remind students of their responsibility and include the Honor Code in the course syllabus or Canvas content. 

The second part of the Honor Code precludes the use of virtual proctoring and other enforcement approaches. Therefore Faculty are encouraged to instead focus on ways to minimize “temptations to violate” the Honor Code. There are four conditions that can tempt students to be dishonest: 1) the stakes are high, 2) the task is based on one-time performance, 3) the task is perceived by the student to be beyond their ability, 4) the consequences impact the student’s broader goals. 

One common strategy to lower the stakes and the pressure of a one-time performance is to have multiple assessments rather than one big final exam or project. Faculty might allow students to retake an exam and keep their best score, or make all their online exams open-book. Faculty can support students’ sense of self-efficacy by regularly encouraging them to connect to various learning programs on campus, such as academic coaching, tutors, and writing coaches. To mitigate student concerns about the consequences of poor performance, remind students of helpful policies about taking an incomplete or withdrawal. 

The third part of the Honor Code explicitly states that both parties must cooperate to establish optimal conditions. Trust between students and faculty is key. Talk with your students about the Honor Code and work with them to adjust your assessments, rubrics, and grading policies over time. 

The Office of Community Standards has shared useful best practices for upholding the Honor Code during remote teaching.

The Teach Anywhere site has also posted information about remote exams and the Honor Code.

Beck, Victoria. 2014. “Testing a Model to Predict Online Cheating—Much Ado about Nothing.” Active Learning in Higher Education 15 (1): 65–75.

“Honor Code | Office of Community Standards.” n.d. Accessed June 9, 2020.


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