The following article appeared in the Educational Media Journal, 1997, Vol. 35, No. 3, pp 186-188..

Maintaining Academic Integrity in Web-Based Instruction

Web-based instruction stands to fundamentally change the face of higher education. Historically perceived as dispenser of "knowledge," higher education is being forced to readjust to changing consumer expectations: Information on demand and opportunity for self-directed learning. Facing shrinking traditional enrollment figures, higher education is looking toward Web-based instruction (WBI) and in so doing is being forced to re-think the fundamentals of teaching, learning, and assessment.

The unique promise of the Web—hypertextual, concept structuring in an asynchronous virtual environment—poses a unique set of challenges.

Among the most common concerns expressed is whether Web-based courses can maintain standards of academic integrity similar to standards for traditional courses. WBI, to its detractors, echoes of matchbook cover diploma mills.

James Laffey and Jon Singer put it this way:

"Traditional models of schooling view education (teaching, learning, and assessment) as a closed or fixed system…[A]ssessment is simply matching how well the students’ representation matches that of the teachers. Often the student is tested on recall or recognition. New educational standards challenge this old model and call for problem solving, inquiry, and learning by doing meaningful and authentic tasks…This view of learning as an open and constructive process requires new methods of assessment to provide valid measures of learning outcomes" (Singer and Laffey, 1997.)

The corporate training world has long promoted outcomes-based learning. An employee is presented with learning opportunities and either learns the information or does not. Learning results in satisfactory job performance; not learning results in unsatisfactory job performance, which in turn often results in loss of employment. Mastery is crucial. The amount of time spent mastering the material is secondary. Contrast that with higher education’s concern with "seat time," Carnegie units, and often arbitrary measures of "success" (an "A" in economics does not necessarily make a good economist.)

In traditional higher education classes, face-to-face has provided the semblance of assurance that individual students were who they said they were. While the opportunity for misrepresentation certainly exists, higher education has come to terms with the odds. With the advent of correspondence courses came a reassessment of the means of measuring student performance. Driven by market demand and with an army of proctors, legitimate correspondence courses attempted to meet the needs (and schedules) of remote learners. But not all in higher education were convinced of the academic integrity of correspondence courses. The perceived lack of insurance against cheating and misrepresentation contributed to the pervasive (although not necessarily correct) notion that correspondence courses were somehow of lower caliber than traditional courses.

In WBI, as in correspondence courses, lack of face-to-face contact leaves open the possibility that someone other than the student may be contributing ideas to the discussion or answers to the test.

As DeLayne Hudspeth points out, the incentives for cheating may be reduced by carefully designing Web-based instruction to convey "clearly stated outcomes perceived by the learner as useful and desirable." Further, clear flagging of enabling knowledge and points upon which students will be assessed can reduce the students’ perceived need for cheating (Hudspeth, 1997.)

But in many cases, trust and enticement to honesty and integrity are not enough.

So, Web-based course instructors are devising other practical ways of building accountability into Web-based courses and of reducing the opportunity for unethical behavior. The list below represents some of the ways Web-based course instructors are integrating security measures into their courses. For further discussion of the topic, visit the Asynchronous Learning Network (ALN) Forum on Ethics and Privacy Issues, particularly the section entitled "The Criminal Mind / Cheating" (

Secure Testing:

While not necessarily the most important measure of mastery, tests and insuring students don’t cheat on them are often the first concerns voiced by newcomers to the concept of WBI. Depending upon the course, a variety of measures can be employed to strengthen security in testing.

Proctored Exams

Non-Proctored Exams

Other Security Measures

Creating a Virtual Community:

Many Web-based course instructors will cite the fact that, through a Web-based course, they get to know their students very well as being their main assurance of academic integrity among their students. Some faculty have likened Web-based courses to independent study courses given the often one-on-one communication which takes place.

Managing the Virtual Classroom:

One real threat to maintaining course rigor is an instructor’s feeling overloaded by information. There is a concomitant reduction in vigilance which results from such information overload. Following are some tips for managing the increased workload of a Web-based course:

Finally, always clearly spell out your institution’s policies regarding cheating and plagiarism. Such explanations can provide much needed clarification for students of just what does constitute plagiarism. Surprisingly, some students are surprised to find that copying and pasting entire sections of someone else’s work and not giving credit is considered wrong.



Hudspeth, D. (1997). Testing Learner Outcomes in Web-Based Instruction. Web-Based Instruction. Educational Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Laffey, J., and Singer, J. (1997). Testing Learner Outcomes in Web-Based Instruction. Web-Based Instruction. Educational Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Laffey, J., and Singer, J. (1997). Using Internet based video conferencing tools to support assessment. Web-Based Instruction. Educational Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.


Sharon Gray, Director of Instructional Technology at Briar Cliff College, received her Masters of Selected Studies in Instructional Technology from the University of South Dakota in 1994. Gray has been instrumental in Briar Cliff’s development of Web-based instruction, through a faculty development program for the more than 60 faculty of this private, 4-year, Franciscan college. Her course, "Information Age and Society" is available for viewing at .


Sharon Gray, Instructional Technologist
Augustana College, 2001 Summit Ave., Sioux Falls, SD  57101
Work phone: 605-336-4907
Home phone: 605-624-8833
E-mail address:
Web site: and