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Academic Integrity

Administrators and teachers new to virtual school programs often ask, In an online course, how do you know the student is the one doing the work? It’s an important question in any academic environment, and there are no easy or fool-proof solutions. Although devices exist that identify computer users by fingerprint or even retina scans, policies should emphasize human and not technological approaches.

In a face-to-face class, teachers address academic integrity issues by knowing a student’s style and caliber of work. When an assignment is submitted that doesn’t fit, they generally do a little research of their own or question the student, then proceed as necessary. This process should work the same way for online courses. Just as they do in face-to-face classes, teachers will get to know a student’s work and recognize when something is amiss.

Many schools already have an academic integrity or plagiarism policy in place, and in many cases, those policies will not require major revisions to function in the online environment. Whether you are crafting a new policy or revising an existing one, consider the following:

  • How will you define academic dishonesty and plagiarism, and how does that definition apply to the grade levels you are serving?
  • From the first suspicion to final disciplinary action, if required, what process will you use for the investigation, and how will that process be documented?
  • What role, if any, will face time, oral exams via telephone, or video conferencing play in your efforts to ensure students are doing their own work and genuinely learning the material?
  • Under what circumstances, if any, will your policy require teachers to use a plagiarism checker such as turnitin.com?
  • What will be the consequences of one or more violations of your policy? After an offense that does not result in expulsion, will there be a probation period when offenders are monitored more closely?

Just as in face-to-face classes, the question is one of when and not if you’ll have an incident of cheating or plagiarism. Carefully designed and clearly communicated policies will help all students know you’re serious about your program’s academic integrity.