Deterring Academic Integrity Violations With Classroom Practices That Support Student Success

Cindy Blackwell

Cindy Blackwell, Ph.D.
Cindy Blackwell is an ACUE Academic Director and earned her ACUE Certificate in Effective College Instruction in 2017 at The University of Southern Mississippi.


Having been involved in formal academic integrity processes for more than a decade spanning two universities, I understand the frustrations faculty feel when they suspect or find a student has cheated in their course. For many faculty, a student cheating can feel personal, even though it is not.

Reflecting in The Chronicle of Higher Education on what he learned from his own academic integrity journey, James Lang (2007) wrote that “the last thing on the student’s mind, when he made the poor decision to plagiarize, was his personal relationship with you. He did it because he was lazy, or he was rushed for time, or he felt overwhelmed by the assignment. He did not do it to send any message to you about your worth as a teacher, or to test your integrity, or to make your life miserable. He did it for his own reasons and did not expect to be caught, and hence thought little, or not at all, about how his actions would affect you.”

While cheating is not a personal affront to the faculty member, it is also not learning for the student. We teach because we want students to learn.  As Donald McCabe (2005) wrote in Liberal Education, “Our goal should not simply be to reduce cheating; rather, our goal should be to find innovative and creative ways to use academic integrity as a building block in our efforts to develop more responsible students and, ultimately, more responsible citizens.” This is, after all, the ethos of most university missions.

As Lang notes, students cheat for myriad reasons with the most prominent reasons being not understanding the assignment and not managing time well. As faculty there are many ways we can deter cheating that also assist students with broader growth and development, including motivating and preparing students through structured and guided assignments that are clear, relevant and offer checkpoints and timely and meaningful feedback.

Help Students Self-Motivate

To begin, help students develop intrinsic motivation by making the connection between increased effort and improved performance, as noted in the ACUE Module, ‘Helping Students Persist in their Studies.’ Providing the tools students need to complete a difficult assignment such as rubrics, checklists, exemplars, checkpoints and specific, timely and actionable feedback offers students the structure and confidence to work through complex tasks and helps them better understand an assignment and manage the workload. When students move through an assignment with multiple checkpoints, it greatly decreases their temptation and ability to cheat on the assignment. For example, it is more difficult and less tempting for a student to purchase a research paper at the last minute when she has already submitted and received actionable feedback on a thesis topic, annotated bibliography and an outline or first draft.

Provide Clear Purpose and Goal

In addition, strengthen students’ motivation by making the purpose and expectations of the assignment or assessment clear. Using a Structured Assignment format (offered in ‘Developing Self Directed Learners’) that lays out an assignment’s purpose, goal, tone and skills to be developed and style expectations among other criteria can make the assignment more relevant to the course and the learning outcomes. Further this by making a connection to the students’ future careers. This is important even and especially for GEC courses that students often question why they are required to take. Explaining that you may never use algebra again, but you will use algebraic thinking often can help students stay motivated and persist through difficult tasks while increasing confidence and reducing temptation to cheat on the next exam.

Clearly Define Directions and Expectations

Finally, provide clear directions and explanations that let students know what is and is not cheating for your assignments. If you do not want students to collaborate, be sure they know that. Be sure they also understand your definition of collaboration. Through working with faculty on academic integrity issues, I find that we, as teachers, often send students mixed messages. For example, some faculty encourage students to cite verbatim from the textbook on a homework assignment, while other faculty would consider directly copying from the text a plagiarism violation, even if the assignment never specifically stated to put the definition in your own words. Review your assignments to be sure you are not making assumptions that the answers to are only found in the hidden curriculum.

We teach because we want students to learn and because we care about their development. Cheating for most students is a mismanaged call for help. Show students you care about their learning and character development by offering them a supportive and structured experience that offers them the motivation they need to learn. As McCabe wrote, it is our responsibility to “develop more responsible students and, ultimately, more responsible citizens.”


Lang, J. (2007, October 23) It’s not you. Chronicle of Higher Education.

McCabe, D. (2005). It takes a village: Academic dishonesty and educational opportunity. Liberal Education, 91(3).

California State University Innovates Instruction in Response to Disruption

Despite the massive disruption in higher education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation’s largest four-year public university has renewed its commitment to support student success by pursuing innovative ways to provide high-quality, affordable education and reduce equity gaps.

Through the coordination of campus efforts, system support and focused leadership, the California State University (CSU) was on track to meet its Graduation Initiative 2025 goals when the tidal wave of COVID-19 hit, necessitating the change from in-person to virtual instruction to keep students on course. Then in May, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White announced that the majority of fall classes would remain online—the first major university system to make this decision.

Emily Magruder quote“I announced…that we would proceed into the fall with the idea of trying to deliver as much of the curriculum as we possibly could in the virtual space, and that we were going to be planning in that direction…being driven by the health and safety of our students, but also of our faculty and staff, and the communities in which our 23 campuses are embedded in,” White said during a conversation on the podcast The Key with Inside Higher Ed.

The CSU’s early decision for largely virtual instruction this fall has allowed its faculty and staff to prepare throughout the summer, taking action to remain a few steps ahead of disruption and charting a new path to promote student success.

“The campus faculty development and academic technology directors have redoubled their efforts to support an unprecedented number of faculty with professional learning,” said Emily Magruder, Ph.D., director of the CSU Institute for Teaching & Learning. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’ll continue to work on advancing the quality of teaching and learning throughout the system.”

Partnering to Scale Faculty Support 

While CSU campuses have already been supporting their faculty development, leadership saw the opportunity to provide additional access to professional learning—boosting efforts to deliver quality online instruction to its more than 400,000 students who would begin their school year virtually.

The result: 450 faculty across 10 CSU campuses are participating in the Association of College and University Educators’ (ACUE) microcredential course, Promoting Active Learning Online, focusing on evidence-based teaching practices to engage students in the online learning environment. CSU faculty who teach first-year courses were encouraged to enroll. Those who complete the eight-week course will earn the microcredential which meets partial requirements for ACUE’s Certificate in Effective College Instruction, awarded in collaboration with the American Council on Education (ACE).

This effort is in addition to the 540 faculty across eight CSU campuses who will soon start ACUE’s 25-week program in Effective Online Teaching Practices. This work is supported by the National Association of System Heads’ (NASH) “Scaling Instructional Excellence for Student Success” initiative, a grant to enroll faculty in ACUE’s faculty development programs in evidence-based teaching practices proven to increase student achievement and close equity gaps. The grant supported 300 faculty at four campuses with the CSU investing additional funds to expand its impact.

Since 2015, ACUE has prepared and credentialed hundreds of faculty across the CSU through institutional partnerships—with great success. Cal State LA, for instance, has realized significant improvements in closing the completion and equity gaps of its first-year mathematics courses since partnering with ACUE.

Tricia Russ, executive director of partnerships at ACUE, believes this proven track record is one reason why the CSU looked to ACUE for additional support in its systemwide transition to virtual instruction.

“Our team is inspired by the CSU’s relentless commitment to student success, even during a time of major disruption,” said Russ. “Together with faculty and leaders across the CSU’s campuses, we’ve been able to demonstrate that supporting faculty with evidence-based teaching practices makes a real difference in eliminating achievement gaps and preparing students to persist to graduation.”

Learn more about how the CSU is continuing to enhance virtual instruction.