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Teaching strategies to support the Honor Code and student learning

Many strategies that help students abide by the Honor Code also directly support their learning. This is because many of the reasons a student might cheat are also very likely to hinder their learning.

For the purposes of this article, assessments refer to any assignment, homework, problem set, quiz, test, exam, paper, project, etc. that measures student understanding or progress towards the learning goals for your course. Some circumstances under which a student might cheat include when they:

  • are unsure about or unaware of what constitutes an Honor Code violation (e.g., what counts as plagiarism, a proper citation, collaboration, or an allowable resource)
  • think an assessment is too “high-stakes” to risk a wrong answer, or feel overwhelmed in the moment and makes a poor decision
  • believe the assessment is unfair (e.g., the questions seem worded in a way that is meant to trick students)
  • hear or believe that many students are cheating

While no one policy or practice can eliminate the possibility of cheating or plagiarism, there are a number of actions that could support student learning and address the common reasons for Honor Code violations. To help address some of the reasons listed above, consider the following suggestions:

1. Review the Honor Code as it applies to your course with your students

Instructors, courses, disciplines, and countries can have different conventions and expectations about practices, such as how and when to use citations, what qualifies as acceptable collaboration, and what is considered unpermitted aid. As our students are coming from various backgrounds, help them to understand their Honor Code responsibilities in your course. Consider some of the following: 

  • Outline your expectations in your syllabus.
  • Review these expectations on the first day of class and before each assignment and assessment. Remind students that course content is not allowed to be posted on external websites such as Chegg, CourseHero, and Reddit. See the copyright notice at the end of this document for helpful language.
  • Create a low-stakes true/false quiz that provides students with various scenarios that they are likely to encounter in your course and ask them to determine whether or not each scenario is a violation of the Honor Code or not. Consider letting students retake this quiz as many times as they need to until they answer all of the questions correctly. An example scenario: “While working on a problem set, one of your classmates tells you that they are already finished because they found and used an answer key from the prior year that was posted online. You decide not to use the answer key, but you also don't take any action regarding it. This is a violation of the Honor Code. True or False?” 
  • Discuss examples and consequences of academic dishonesty in your field (e.g., falsified data, plagiarism, compromised research or learning).

2. Be explicit about your expectations

To help provide students with a sense of purpose and fairness in grading, it can often be motivating for students to understand the purpose behind the design of the assessment and what you expect to see. For example, you might explain that students should expect to see many problem-solving questions that require students to explain their reasoning (see #9) because it is more important to you that students understand the approach to the problem rather than just being able to deliver an answer. If possible, provide students with the rubric you will use to grade their work and examples of what you would consider good and bad work. Additionally, if your course includes a big project or paper, provide opportunities for students to get feedback multiple times before it is due, giving them a chance to calibrate to your expectations and to understand where they need to improve.

3. Administer frequent and low-stakes assessments

Compared to courses where a student’s grade is determined by two or three exams, administering multiple low-stakes assessments reduces the overall weight and stress students associate with each assessment. Students may feel less pressure to take extreme measures to get every answer correct because an incorrect answer will not impact their grade as much.

Additionally, more frequent assessments provide students with increased opportunities to practice and get feedback on their performance. This may allow students to better learn content and be more prepared for any summative assessments. For example, instructors might consider short weekly quizzes and problem sets or writing assignments with two or three slightly longer midterms that synthesize several weeks’ content. 

4. Reframe assessments as part of the learning process 

Often, students can view tests and exams as methods to evaluate how well they can perform under pressure or a means to rank them for grades, not as learning opportunities. If assessments in your course are designed to support students learning [e.g. it involves frequent, low-stakes testing (see #2) and provides students opportunities to learn from their mistakes (see #4)], you can explain that the purpose of your assessments is to identify where you may have failed to explain something well and where they might need more support. Therefore, it is crucial that students try their best and be honest when they do not know the answer. This strategy requires that the teaching team provide students with formative feedback throughout the course to support their learning from these assessments

5. Consider instituting exam or assignment resubmissions

Consider allowing students to earn points back on questions that they missed. (This can be particularly important if you must include an assessment in your course that is worth a large percentage of a student’s grade, but is helpful in any type of assessment to encourage reflection and growth in student learning). Return student assessments graded but with minimal feedback. Then have students submit a written explanation of why their answers were wrong, attempt the problems again, and re-submit their answers for partial credit. This practice not only incentivizes students to learn from their mistakes and fill in their gaps in understanding, but it also reduces the stress associated with the assessment. This technique places value on student learning rather than student performance, as students are being rewarded for improvement.

6. Provide flexibility in final grade components

If an instructor offers a greater number of assessments during the quarter, more flexibility can be given to calculating a student’s final grade. Flexibility can be automatically built into a grading scheme for all students at the start of the quarter by allowing students to drop a certain number or percentage of assessments, for example count their best 6 out of 8 quizzes. Such flexibility also can assist students who face unexpected difficulties during the quarter without requiring them to disclose details to instructors.

7. Build on students’ intrinsic motivation to learn

By connecting to student interests and sharing your own passion for the subject, students can become more intrinsically motivated to learn for the sake of learning, rather than learning for the sake of a grade (i.e., to perform on a test). This resource on promoting intrinsic motivation has strategies to help you.

8. Ask students to explain their answers

Rather than just ask for an answer to a question, ask students to explain how they arrived at that answer. This will not only give you more information to help students identify where their gaps in understanding are, but it also requires a more unique response from each student.

9. Ask your TAs/CAs or a colleague to take your assessment before you administer it to students

Sometimes what might read as a very clear and straightforward question to you can be very confusing to a student who lacks your expertise. Asking someone to complete your assessment before showing it to students can help you to identify any questions that might be interpreted as “tricky” or ambiguous, creating added stress for your students. 

10. Consider short and synchronous assessments

Reducing the overall length of an assessment makes it less feasible for students to receive unpermitted help from websites such as Chegg and CourseHero. Synchronous assessments also remove the temptation or pressure for students to share assessment content with students completing the assessment at a later time.

Note that students with poor internet connection will be concerned with the limit and whether or not they will be able to upload their answers before the deadline. Consider providing a way for students to notify a member of the teaching team that they have completed the assessment but cannot upload their file (e.g. on a smartphone via text message, email, or Canvas).

11. Consider non-traditional forms of assessment, such as two-stage exams

Are there other methods you can use to assess student learning that do not look like a typical midterm or final exam? Two-stage exams consist of students first working on an exam independently, then working on (a subset of) the questions with a group immediately after completing the individual portion. Students receive immediate peer feedback on their answers and an opportunity to increase their individual scores. This technique promotes student collaboration and reduces the stress that students might feel to get all of the answers correct during the individual portion. Also, the need to explain their answers to their group members during the second portion reduces the temptation to find an answer online. Scroll to two-stage “exam” on this webpage for guidelines on how to administer this assessment online.

Other considerations for AY 20-21:

  • Exams given remotely must be open-book and open-resource. However, sites that provide tutoring, online translation, and paper-writing services are considered forms of unpermitted aid. 
  • Canvas includes features that allow you to shuffle questions on quizzes and tests or ask a random subset of questions from a question group
  • All coursework should be due no later than the last day of class in a quarter.
  • Instructors may add this Copyright notice to course materials as a reminder that course materials should not be shared beyond the Stanford community, including posting to external websites: Copyright © 2020 The Board of Trustees of The Leland Stanford Junior University. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction or publication in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited.

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