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Academic Integrity in the Online Classroom

By Jacob A. Bane / July 2019

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Academic integrity continues to be a central topic in the world of education—even more so in the distance education arena. In conversations across campus at The Ohio State University, one of the most frequent reasons heard from departments who are hesitant to move courses and programs online is that academic integrity is a major concern. Since the beginning of distance education, it has been an instructor’s fear that rampant academic dishonesty would occur when students are not taught and assessed in a physical classroom. To combat academic dishonesty, best practices in teaching and tools can be deployed to help promote academic integrity. Ohio State knew the fear of academic dishonesty in online courses was a barrier that could be removed. An academic integrity framework needed to be developed, best practices for teaching needed to be distributed and a technology-based proctoring solution needed to be adopted so that academic integrity was no longer a barrier, but a strength.

Academic integrity is a law enforced mandate. The Higher Education Reauthorization Act of 2008 requires institutions to verify a student’s identity through: a secure login and pass code, proctored examinations; and new or other identification technologies that are effective in verifying student identification (602.17, 2009). It also states that institutions “…must use processes that protect student privacy and notify students of any projected additional charges associated with the verification of student identity at the time of registration or enrollment” (602.17, 2009).

The world of education has sought a variety of methods to abide by these standpoints and the law enforced mandate. There are three general methods. The first of these methods is to not move credit bearing courses online. These universities rely heavily on their in-person offerings. The second general rule of thought is to offer credit bearing courses online with the caveat that all assessments must be administered in a face-to-face setting. These universities generally offer an on-campus option as well as a national or worldwide testing center partnership where students can go to take assessments at a cost. The third option is the one that the legislation is addressing; to offer credit bearing courses online with the assistance of technology to ensure academic integrity.

Technology has made great strides toward protecting academic integrity in recent years. In today’s market place, there are two main types of technologies. First, there is the technology that must be scheduled and remotely connects a certified test proctor to a student’s computer. The proctor utilizes a student’s webcam and microphone to remotely monitor an assessment in real time while the student conducts their assessment. The second is technology that is generally available on-demand and is computer-algorithm based. Once again, a student’s webcam and microphone are used to monitor the testing environment, but in this case the computer algorithm is looking for potential misconduct by spotting typical misconduct related behavior, such as consistent eye movement to a set of notes, talking with another individual, or usage of a second screen to look up answers. Companies also offer a blend of these two main categories, such as recording a testing session live and then having a live proctor review the recording, having a computer algorithm record the session and then having a live proctor review the recording, or utilizing a computer algorithm but requiring a brief remote connection at the start of an assessment session between a proctor and student to verify the identity of the test taker.

From this technology landscape and the law enforced mandate, the Academic Integrity Initiative at Ohio State was born, led by the Ohio State Office of Distance Education and eLearning’s (ODEE) Distance Education team.

Before the initiative began, Ohio State had in place a secure login and passcode for each student as well as processes to notify students of additional charges for courses, but technology was not in place to help proctor examinations. A solution was needed that ensured the integrity of degrees, promoted sustainable growth, and would eventually became one tool in a toolkit of options for instructors to promote academic honesty in their courses while also supporting the work toward transparency in student costs at the time of course registration as outlined in the legislation.  

When ODEE started scoping the initiative, the existing academic integrity technology landscape at Ohio State was scattered. A variety of proctoring solutions were being used by multiple colleges. It was not just fully online courses seeking a new technology option either, some face-to-face courses were holding exams in lecture halls with space limitations. Instructors for these courses were looking to give students a remote testing option.

In addition to looking for and implementing a new tool, ODEE wanted to promote academic integrity in such a way that best practices and authentic assessments were front and center. ODEE did not want to roll out a tool as a magic bullet and a one-size-fits-all solution. ODEE’s goal was to present it in a way that the technology solution was one option in an array of options to promote academic integrity.

Selecting a Tool

Early informal conversations with instructors and administrators across campus showed that they wanted a proctoring tool without scheduling, this meant an automatic algorithm-based tool was desired. Beyond the on-demand abilities of an automatic algorithm-based tool, it was also desired because many voiced privacy concerns over connecting proctors live with students in their places of residence.  A request for proposal (RFP) to locate a vendor to partner with and pilot an online proctoring solution was conducted and completed.

During the pilot, 310 students and seven exams were involved. Feedback from instructors as well as students was very positive citing the on-demand ability of the automatic algorithm-based tool, its seamless integration within the learning management system, and the detailed and flexible reports that were available to instructors immediately following the completion of a student assessment. Upon completion of the pilot, an extensive accessibility and security review was conducted, and a recommendation was made to move forward with the piloted online proctoring solution.

This recommendation helped ODEE identify the tool to be used, but it didn’t answer a paramount question that had been lingering throughout the entire project.  What should be the deployment scope? ODEE funding is derived from online degree and certificate programs, therefore the unit was in a position to launch a tool only for online courses associated with those programs. An enterprise deployment was outside of ODEE’s scope and budget. However, an enterprise deployment would alleviate confusion amongst students and instructors. Deploying a tool to a subset of students could cause confusion and bring into question supplemental fees for students and departments as well as security concerns for payment processing. A campus-wide enterprise deployment would alleviate this confusion.

At Ohio State a one-hundred-dollar distance learning fee is applied to all students who are enrolled in at least one online course on a semesterly basis. Although this fee does not fund ODEE, the office was able to successfully petition the university for use of these funds, making an enterprise deployment possible.

Throughout the process, ODEE ensured that the university community was involved. More than 46 individuals from across campus were involved in the pilots, discussions, and feedback of the tool through in-person and group conversations and surveys. These individuals were students, faculty, staff, and administrators from across departments and colleges. ODEE wanted to ensure the campus community had a voice in the selection process. Beyond campus stakeholders, eight institutions from across the country were consulted on their academic integrity efforts and tools.

The Second Half

Choosing a tool was only the beginning. The larger task was to present this tool in such a way that promoted academic integrity, best practices, and authentic assessments.

Because ODEE’s Distance Education team primarily supports Ohio State online programs they already had examples of courses and entire programs that used engaging authentic assessment to reference. For example:

  • Utilizing web-conferencing for final presentations. Students were given the option of three times to synchronously meet online. All sessions were recorded so students could see the presentations that they missed. Students posted their reports on the discussion board to allow for peer feedback.
  • Using conference-style tracks to deliver content. Students were able to choose the discipline they were interested in (clinic, small hospital, or large hospital) and were given targeted assignments based on their choice. Additionally, students were given a few assignments throughout the semester in the other two disciplines.
  • Having students create a product to educate the community on some aspect of health. The prompt was intentionally broad to allow for creativity and to allow students to create a product that played to their strengths. Submissions ranged from videos and posters to the text for airplane-based advertisements.

Taking all of this into account, a 90-minute workshop titled, “Academic Integrity: Best Practices and Tools,” was created with the intention of putting academic integrity front and center. The goal was not to offer a tool session, it was to present the tool surrounded by best practices. The workshop had four parts: an introduction of academic integrity best practices, authentic assessments, research to frame the discussion, followed by tools available at Ohio State that can help promote best practices.

Rollout and Timeline

The message was crucial in the rollout. First and foremost, academic integrity had to be at the center of all communication. Authentic assessments were promoted and the online proctoring tool was presented as one tool in a toolkit to help promote academic integrity. ODEE promoted the idea that the online proctoring tool was not ideal for every quiz and that it may not be for everyone. Not everyone would be comfortable with online proctoring technology, so ODEE ensured students had alternatives. If a student does not want to use the online proctoring tool, instructors are expected to give them another option. This expectation was outlined in the recommended syllabus language distributed during the rollout.

ODEE created a set of recommended proctoring solutions including an on-campus testing center, testing centers at our regional campus and extension offices, and a network of testing centers worldwide through the Consortium of College Testing Centers. Ultimately, it is up to the instructor to choose suitable proctoring alternatives.

The enterprise license for the online proctoring tool began a few weeks before spring 2018 finals. Not wanting to interfere with finals, ODEE waited to formally roll out the tool until summer 2018. In the meantime, webpages and resource guides were deployed and messaging to involved stakeholders began, including conversations with technology leaders. The Committee on Academic Misconduct (COAM) was involved to ensure awareness of the tool, possible implications, and the types of cases that could be seen moving forward. ODEE and COAM outlined an escalation process for if and when questions arose about the tool.

Summer 2018 is when broad messaging and rollout occurred, including university-wide announcements and the deployment of the “Academic Integrity: Best Practices and Tools” workshop. The workshop was offered three times throughout the summer, twice face-to-face and once virtually. This deployment and messaging continued through the autumn 2018 semester, when the wider university community was back on campus.


The Academic Integrity Initiative has brought a new enterprise tool to Ohio State, infused best practices in conversations and workshops, and helped bridge the gap and overcome obstacles surrounding academic integrity when programs are considering moving online. This was made possible by the initiative’s wide scope. ODEE did not want to bring an online proctoring tool to campus without context. ODEE wanted to infuse the idea that technology can present one solution, but best practices and authentic assessment can be valuable assets in the push to ensure academic integrity.

One of the reasons the initiative has been successful thus far is the variety of voices involved. This initiative was not rolled out from a corner of the university with no outside involvement. A new tool was not suddenly available on campus. Feedback was gathered throughout and the campus community had a voice. The conversation changes when the university community has a vested interest.

The goal now for this initiative is to ensure continued momentum. The lessons learned and conversations cannot fade. Academic integrity needs to remain a part of conversations and the tool cannot become the only option to promote academic honesty. This will be done through a concerted effort to ensure the message continues and through informal conversations that occur on campus every day. ODEE is thrilled with our progress, but the work continues.

Key Takeaways

  • Technology
    • A technology-based proctoring solution is needed on campuses, especially for online exams involving licensure and to overcome obstacles where academic misconduct fears are paramount, but it should be deployed as one tool in a toolkit of options.
    • There are several products in the technology-based proctoring solution marketplace, and the needs and environment of individual schools need to be taken into account when choosing a vendor.
    • No technology-based proctoring solution fits every need, therefore it is imperative to have a set of alternative options established.
  • Policy
    • Establish recommended syllabus language for a technology-based proctoring solution to add clarity for instructors as well as students.
    • Establish recommended usage guidelines for instructors for a technology-based proctoring solution to add clarity for instructors.
  • Culture
    • To change the conversation of academic integrity across campus, a technology-based solution must:
      • Be identified and deployed in partnership with the campus community; they must have a voice in the decision-making process for new technology and policies.
      • Be presented alongside best practices and authentic assessments and not as the single solution to ensure academic integrity.
      • Be presented and recommended to instructors as one option, along with best practices and authentic assessments, to help ensure academic integrity.
  • Funding
    • Establish a funding model that allows for an enterprise deployment of a technology-based proctoring solution to ensure usage clarity for instructors as well as students.

About the Author

Jacob Bane is a distance education relationship strategist at The Ohio State University in the Office of Distance Education and eLearning (ODEE). He coordinates Distance Education stakeholders, both internally and externally, to gather feedback, lead initiatives, share updates and streamline processes. He brings external feedback back to the Distance Education Team and participates in strategic planning based upon this feedback to ensure continued forward progression. Prior to his current position, he served as a Senior Instructional Designer and Outreach Coordinator with ODEE and has served in an Instructional Design role for The Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, Coastal Carolina University, and the University of Akron. Education has always been a part of his life. Prior to his time at the University of Akron he taught seventh-grade language arts in Montgomery County Kentucky.

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  • Fri, 04 Oct 2019
    Post by nikhil

    Great content ..keep writing!! Thanks for sharing Dailyblitzs