Supporting Academic Integrity in an Online School
How do teachers in an online school know students are doing their own work? How do they discourage students from sharing test or homework answers? What role do parents and Learning Coaches play in keeping their online students honest?
As more students take online courses in traditional schools or enroll full-time in online or blended learning schools, such questions are becoming increasingly common and important. At Connections Academy®–supported schools, parents had the opportunity to learn about the role they can play in academic integrity during an online session hosted by Debbie Vickers, vice president of curriculum development. Here are a few tips and insights from the discussion.
Understanding Academic Integrity in a Digital World
Today, it’s easier than ever for both online and traditional students to go astray when it comes to academic honesty. Homework answers get shared on social media. Test or assessment content is routinely posted on popular websites. Essays on everything from The Great Gatsby to robotics can be downloaded from online “paper mills.”
In an environment where “sharing” is commonplace, students often don’t realize they’ve wandered into a gray area or outright academic dishonesty. So, students and parents alike need to understand the purpose and practical meaning of academic integrity or honesty in an increasingly connected online world.
Put simply, the purpose of academic integrity is to ensure that students are career- and college-ready when they graduate. They can’t “get there” if they’re not doing their own work. A school can’t help them “get there” if their assessments don’t honestly reflect what they do or don’t know.
Debbie says that together as parents, Learning Coaches, and educators, we need to ensure our students know that academic integrity means:
- Working to the best of your ability
- Submitting your own original work and properly citing other sources
- Taking personal responsibility for your work
- Following your school’s honor code
On the flip side, students also have to be aware that academic dishonesty includes:
- Giving your classmates answers
- Copying information from websites or other sources without crediting those sources
- Asking others for answers to assessments or assignments
- Posting assignments or assessment questions online
- Completing assessments with assistance from others
While collaboration is appropriate in group projects, it’s simply dishonest when it comes to assessments or certain individual assignments.
How Online Schools Promote Academic Integrity
Of course, online school leaders have given a great deal of thought to the issue of integrity in the online environment, developing systems and individualized instructional approaches that support students’ better instincts.
At the systems level, Connections Academy’s Connexus® education management system includes features that discourage copying:
- Randomized assessments in middle and high school language arts and math courses vary the multiple choice questions used within a class to prevent answer-sharing.
- Timed assessments discourage students from researching answers during high school science and social studies unit tests.
- Built-in tools prevent students from copying assessment content to share with others or using the Google Translate function during foreign language assessments.
- The CheckMyWork tool enables students to check the originality of their own work before submitting it.
- Pre-assessment honor code reminders put integrity at the forefront before each test.
Through individualized attention, online teachers carefully monitor students’ comprehension and progress to ensure they don’t become so desperate that they feel driven to cheat. During LiveLesson® discussions, teachers ask questions to identify any gaps in students’ understanding of the material, later following up individually or modifying instruction to bridge those gaps. Teachers also talk frequently with students via phone, online chat sessions, or email to provide additional instruction and answer questions. They also try to reduce students’ test-taking anxieties by providing multiple opportunities to practice taking assessments.
In short, online systems can help minimize the opportunities to stray down the wrong path, and personal attention from teachers can reduce students’ “need” or desire to consider that path.
How Parents and Learning Coaches Nurture Academic Integrity
Beyond supportive systems and teachers, parents and Learning Coaches also play a major role in supporting academic integrity, Debbie says. While every family does online school a bit differently, she suggests that parents and Learning Coaches consider the following recommendations:
- Periodically review their school’s honor code with their students.
- Discuss the meaning and value of academic integrity and honesty.
- Probe the thought process behind students’ work to ensure the work is their own.
- Ask leading questions about assignments.
- Review study objectives to ensure students are well prepared for assessments.
- Connect academic honesty to real-life situations, asking for example how students feel when someone takes credit for something they’ve done.
- Have realistic goals for their students’ learning, and reaching out to teachers and counselors when those goals need adjustment.
Joining the Discussion
Whether your student attends a bricks-and-mortar school or enrolls full-time in an online school, we hope you’ll use these insights to spark more thoughtful conversation about academic honesty, integrity, and digital citizenship. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. After all, in an increasingly connected world, we’re all in this together.