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Reimagining Assessment: Tips for Preserving Academic Integrity in the Online World Languages Classroom

By Kate Grovergrys, Spanish Professor, Madison College


The rise in online language learning has led to increased challenges with academic integrity.

Given that our online students have constant access to textbooks, notes, answer keys, online translators, native speaker friends, etc., they are adept at finding shortcuts which prevent them from completing their course work honestly.

What can we do to motivate and encourage our students to do honest work? How can we design our online language courses to be resistant to academic dishonesty? 

I believe that the answer to these questions is less about surveilling our students while they complete assessments, and more about changing the way we assess.

Reimagine Assessment

The key is to reimagine the nature of our formative and summative assessments. Traditional written exams that test students on their knowledge of discrete information are ideally suited to be formative assessments in the online learning environment.

While it may be possible for students to look up some of the answers, we can tightly time these tests to ensure that students don’t have time to do so.

Also, as formative assessments, they serve to improve future performance and are worth only a small percentage of the overall grade. 

When it comes to summative assessments, it’s helpful to identify authentic tasks or projects that can serve as more open-ended assessments of student learning.

For example, we might ask students to record a phone message or write an email in the target language.

These types of authentic online assessments are more resistant to academic dishonesty because they test students’ ability to creatively apply what they have learned.  

Redefine Cheating 

With open-ended authentic assessments, students can’t easily look up the answers, but we may be concerned that students will plagiarize, use online translators, or ask their native-speaker friends to help them.

Fortunately, there is an easy two-step process for preventing this type of academic dishonesty.  

Step 1 – Anticipate how students will cheat

Taking into account the specific nature of our summative assessments, we can explain in detail how students might be tempted to cheat.

We can also take this opportunity to encourage them to trust their ability to communicate in the target language.

Anticipate how students will cheat

Step 2 – Show them how you will know if they cheated

Before the first summative assessment, I create an activity with three writing samples:  one where I use an online translator, one that is written by a native speaker, and one that is written as a student without assistance.

When my students are easily able to tell which sample was produced by an online translator and which one was written by a native speaker, they readily conclude that I will certainly be able to tell if they cheat. 

Rethink online academic integrity

It’s important to remember that at the heart of academic integrity is the expectation that students demonstrate honesty in their course work.

Rather than focusing entirely on monitoring our students for dishonest behavior, we might be better served to take preventative action.

By designing online assessments that align with the limitations and benefits of the online learning environment, we can motivate our students to uphold high standards of academic integrity.  


Read also: Fostering More Meaningful Connections with Online Students

The new Assessment Builder brings all of our assessment editing tools together to save you time with assessment preparation and give you a little more peace of mind.

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