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Creating a culture of academic integrity

Why do students cheat?

Research studies point to a number of key factors that motivate students to cheat. Students are more likely to cheat or plagiarize when they:

  • Believe that others are getting away with cheating
  • Believe that the stakes are too high to fail
  • Find no intrinsic motivation for learning
  • See grading criteria as arbitrary or don’t understand how they are being assessed
  • Don’t understand that what they are doing is cheating (e.g., they are unfamiliar with citation practices).

How to create a culture of academic integrity

While no strategy is guaranteed to eliminate cheating completely, there are a number of ways to discourage and prevent cheating. Here are some basic steps you can take as you design your course, craft your syllabus, or think about the first day of class:

  • Clearly define what constitutes cheating. Students may not know that certain practices and forms of collaboration qualify as cheating.
  • Explain the importance of academic integrity to the class, to your discipline, and to students’ learning. Help students understand the short- and long-term consequences that come with cheating or plagiarizing.
  • Replace high-stakes exams/assignments with a series of lower-stakes assessments. Provide students opportunities to practice, learn from mistakes, and try again.
  • Explain the relevance of your course content. Cheating may be a sign that a student doesn’t understand the value of taking time to learn the information and skills associated with the course topic.
  • Share your grading criteria in advance (e.g., through a rubric) to help students understand your expectations and approach to grading.
  • Create plagiarism-proof assignments, for example, by asking them to incorporate something that relates to their experiences or requiring them to apply their learning to a situation.
  • Add reflective components to your assignments. Prompt students to explain or justify their responses to exam questions. A quick scan of these reflections can indicate whether a student is thinking for themselves.
  • Allow students to work together. Eliminate the lure of copying, but having student collaborate to develop answers.

In the video below, Jim Pfaendtner, Professor and Chair of Chemical Engineering, shares how he talks about cheating with his students.

Responding to academic misconduct

In the video below, Elizabeth Lewis, director of UW Seattle’s Community Standards and Student Conduct Office, provides guidance on what to do if you suspect a student of cheating. While the video primarily addresses new TAs, Lewis’s suggestions are relevant to all UW instructors. (Skip to 2:15 to hear Lewis’ perspectives on what to do if you suspect a student has cheated or plagiarized.)

Some instructors fear that reporting a student will lead to expulsion, but the Student Conduct offices at UW are committed to taking an educational approach to academic misconduct – their first goal is to help students understand why academic misconduct is such a serious offense, and what resources and alternatives they can turn to in the future (e.g. tutoring centers).

Reporting students who have cheated has several benefits:

  • It connects the student to academic professionals who have expertise in handling cases of academic misconduct
  • If the student has been reported before, the student conduct office can work with the student accordingly.
  • It helps the university track whether cheating on our campuses is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same.

UW resources