The global Higher Education sector has seen a significant rise in online resources which facilitate academic misconduct, most notably the ‘essay mill’ and other file sharing sites which offer 'homework help' and other academic services to students. It’s important to start from the position that we trust our students until they give us a reason to believe otherwise (QAA, 2020), however there are also ways to plan the curriculum to enhance student engagement, reduce the fixation on punitive measures (Harrison, 2020), and mitigate the temptation to cheat.

Below are a number of suggestions for combatting this issue that might be adopted in your teaching right now. This list is not exhaustive, and not all will necessarily apply to your own context.

In teaching

Set expectations:

  • Model good practice to foster a culture of referencing and individual responses to material. Give full references for material and show how to use it to develop your points to demonstrate critical thinking skills with attribution in action.
  • Flag up how essay mill sites target students and cite cases where students have been caught.
  • Make it clear when collaboration is expected or when students should work independently.

Support understanding:

  • Make time for learning consolidation to avoid students having gaps and being at risk of falling behind.
  • Use wellbeing checks mid-unit/course and around deadlines to reduce anxiety about study and assessment.
  • Remind students directly before assessments about academic integrity and the penalties for cheating.

Utilise available resources

  • Embed Skills for Study, Cite Them Right, and videos from the Library or the Skills for Study video library, into your core course and unit pages on Moodle.
  • Signpost students to study skills sessions via module Moodle pages and embed Skills Centre and Library Skills videos ahead of assessments to reduce the fears around using material.
  • Use a Moodle discussion forum for questions on referencing and plagiarism.

In assessment

Assessment design choices can support academic integrity. These may be linked to the type of assessment itself (e.g. closed/open book), changing the format of existing assessments (e.g. the number of questions), or by providing additional guidance (e.g. a word length for answers).

  • For some exam types, the ability to randomise questions by drawing them from a larger base, or shuffling the sequence, can be beneficial. See the Writing Effective Multiple Choice Questions page for further details.
  • Can the assessment be used to apply skills rather than a knowledge test? It’s more difficult to buy an answer online within the 24hr window.   
  • Using specific case studies will reduce the chances of an essay mill being able to provide a stock answer. 
  • Making the question authentic:  
    1. Asking questions linked to a specific element of a course or promoting higher order thinking skills will require students to apply their knowledge, demonstrate their critical thinking, and synthesis new ideas. E.g. ‘Using the materials and your notes from weeks 6-9, evaluate the importance of....’ 
    2. Is there a way of asking students to design their own question? You could provide the topic and method which assesses the intended learning outcomes whilst they use their own case-studies to navigate it.
    3. Could the assessment include reflective moments? E.g. Analyse the nature relation to your own practice.

Further information

Student undertaking an online assessment.

Academic Integrity

Information and guidance on the University's approach to academic integrity and the support available for staff and students.

Read more
Designing effective open book exams

Designing effective open book exam questions

Top tips and examples for writing effective online open book questions that meet your course intended learning outcomes.

Read more
person using a tablet and laptop.

Ourginal Overview

Ouriginal is an online text-matching service that checks electronic, text-based submissions.

Read more

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Upcoming events

Find out about upcoming events and workshops related to key assessment and feedback themes:

Assessment for Learning

Assessing and giving feedback to learners (UKPSF A3)

Updated on: 01 October 2022