Dealing with Academic Dishonesty in Online Learning

Educational institutions have a fear that their students will engage in academic dishonesty. This fear seems to increase when they consider distance education and online classes. However, research shows that academic dishonesty occurs at similar rates in both face-to-face and online learning environments. In other words, students are not more likely to cheat because they are in engaged in distance learning (Lange & Towey Schulz, 2014).

Nonetheless, academic dishonesty does exist, and educators are always seeking ways to detect and discourage the behavior. There are several strategies being used by educational institutions to spot plagiarism and authenticity of work, such as proctored exams, retinal scans, typing pattern indicators and plagiarism detection software. However, if truth be told, these tools are not full-proof, can be cumbersome, and in most cases, do not deter those students who don’t know or understand what cheating really is, or what is considered cheating in that particular environment (Palloff and Pratt, 2010).

So, what should educators do to avoid cheating and plagiarism from their students? A good way to encourage academic integrity by students is to give them information about what constitutes plagiarism and cheating and to clearly explain the expectations for your specific institution. Giving learners clear direction at the beginning of class sets the bar for the duration of the course ensuring that they understand the rules (Farisi, 2013).

Another important strategy is to design authentic assignments and assessments that require research and application of the covered content like case study analysis, practical application projects, investigations, etc. These tools are much more efficient at keeping students honest and are also useful for evaluating their capacity to apply what they have learned (Palloff and Pratt, 2010).

Although a myriad of technology tools exists to help educators detect cheating, and can be useful to a certain point (i.e., detecting plagiarism of full texts) nothing works as well as giving students meaningful assessments that showcase their level of performance and require personal application examples.


Farisi, M. (2013). Academic Dishonesty in distance higher education: Challenges and models for moral education in the digital era. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 14(4), 176-195. Retrieved from:

Lange, T. & Towey Schulz, M. (2014). Higher education’s role in academic integrity as it relates to technology. In T. Bastiaens (Ed.), Proceedings of E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2014 (pp. 1084-1089). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved from:

Palloff, R. M. and Pratt, C. (2010). Laureate Education (Producer). Plagiarism and cheating [Video file].

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