Setting expectations for academic integrity

concept image of a compass pointing to the word 'integrity'

Academic integrity ensures that students approach their learning and complete assessments with transparency, honesty, and responsibility. When students engage in academic misconduct, they obtain an unfair advantage over their classmates and, even more importantly, deny themselves the opportunity to engage in learning more fully and meaningfully.

Since the emergence of online education, it has been commonly assumed that students are more likely to cheat these courses than they do in face-to-face courses. Although the research has been inconclusive so far whether this is the case, there is "a consistent concern that online education is more cheatable than learning in real life" (Harrison et al., 2022, 169).

Regardless, instructors must establish expectations for academic honesty and should cultivate a culture of academic integrity and ethics. By doing so, we can encourage students to remain accountable and responsible in their learning. It is especially important for online instructors to communicate, emphasize, and reinforce university standards of conduct in their courses to set clear norms that students can respect and follow.


Missouri Online recommends that online instructors include or link to academic policies in the syllabus or elsewhere in the course (#9 in the 5 Pillars Review form).

Campus academic policies

University of Missouri System

The Standard of Conduct (200.100) discusses the various forms of academic dishonesty forbidden across the system (§C.1) and states, “The instructor shall, consistent with other policies, report the alleged academic dishonesty to the Primary Administrative Officer.”

Individual campuses

Below you will find resources with further information on the academic policies for your institution. In addition, you will find links to your campus’s academic integrity office or reporting processes.

MST logo

Missouri University of Science & Technology:

UMSL logo

University of Missouri St. Louis:

Additional matters to consider

Each course or discipline may involve different types of assessments, genres, and methods. In other words, academic integrity in an undergraduate history course might call for different practices than it would in a graduate creative writing course and so on. As you present your expectations for academic integrity, please take time to explain and model what it specifically looks like for your discipline. After all, students are still building fluency in the discourse of your discipline and might not be  familiar with the practices generally used to maintain integrity within it.

You have already shared your expectations for academic integrity in your syllabus, but students might benefit from the clarification and reinforcement of these policies with the various assessments they may complete. The practice of academic integrity can vary across the genres students may use for assessments in a class. For example, if you ask students to prepare and give video presentations in your class, you might like to provide some guidance on how to cite public domain or Creative Commons images they could include in their slides.

Cultural differences exist in terms of how we should treat and respect experts. American culture tends to value individualism and individual property. This informs how we perceive academic integrity, but this attitude is not necessarily universal: Some international students in our courses may have approached and learned about academic integrity differently in their previous studies.

Students’ diverse experiences may inform and affect how they view and practice quoting and using sources (Song-Turner, 2008). International students may need more support and guidance as they learn not only how to write in a second or foreign language, but also how to practice academic integrity in it. The University of Missouri library has provided for students a tutorial on how to avoid plagiarism.

One of the primary concerns involving academic integrity nowadays is the use of generative AI by students. Just as it is not necessarily true that students cheat more in online classes, it is also perhaps not necessarily true that generative AI will cause an increase in academic dishonesty. Victor Lee, a professor of education at Stanford University, notes that, “This idea that students who’ve never cheated before are going to suddenly run amok and have AI write all of their papers appears unfounded” (Spector, 2023).

Still, please note that as per the Standard of Conduct, students are forbidden from using generative AI unless allowed to do so by the instructor. See Missouri Online’s AI & Student Code Of Conduct Syllabus Information for a discussion of updates to the Standard of Conduct that involve generative AI.

You could develop your own policy on generative AI, incorporate it into your syllabus, and reiterate it throughout the semester. If you plan to allow students to use generative AI to any extent, please  on when, where, and how students can use this technology and what your expectations are in terms of documenting their use.

The value of being proactive

The University of Missouri System requires you to report any suspected or known academic dishonesty. This reporting process will likely lead to disciplinary proceedings and measures that may imperil a student’s academic progress or career.

Often students cheat due to pressure, stress, time demands, and other life circumstances. We can make efforts in our teaching practice to prevent these conditions and better support students in navigating their learning. It is perhaps wiser and even more effective to take additional steps to minimize the temptation to engage in academic dishonesty in the first place. Taking this route can enhance learning and empower students.

Some strategies to potentially mitigate the possibility of cheating include:

  • Frequently communicating with students to foster a sense of community and engagement.
  • Providing your contact information and office hours to make yourself available to help and support students.
  • Humanizing your interactions with students to build trusting, empathetic relationships with them; there is a correlation between “perceptions that the instructor does not care about students and rationalization of cheating” (Harrison et al, 2022, 181).
  • Transitioning to authentic or alternative assessments.
  • Lowering the stakes of an assessment by scaffolding it across formative assessments.
  • Being more flexible with the timeframes and other conditions for online assessments; consider moving to open book exams and quizzes (Amrane-Cooper, Hatzipanagos, & Tait, 2021).
  • Offering students a limited number of “late passes” for assignments, no questions asked, each semester (example).

The importance of academic integrity

Even more than a decade ago, researchers were noting that “there may be unnecessary alarm concerning the prevalence of academic dishonesty in online courses as opposed to face-to-face courses” (Spaulding, 2009). Nevertheless, as we develop and teach our online classes, we should emphasize the value of academic honesty and integrity. Students also benefit from the use of proactive strategies, such as scaffolded assessments, that would supplement institutional policies on academic integrity and reduce pressure and stress. By clearly communicating our expectations for academic integrity and supporting students, we can ensure that students participate in our courses with transparency, integrity, and responsibility.

Students working at a desk with open books, laptops, and a tablet

Communicating citation format expectations

Providing students with clear guidelines for appropriately citing sources can help minimize student confusion and also contribute to a more inclusive learning experience. Students should be informed about what citation style to use and when.

Young student taking notes from laptop and books for her study in library.

Student engagement

A number of studies have examined factors and characteristics that help online students’ entry, persistence, success and satisfaction in online courses. 

University student studying at library

Active and alternative assessments

Assessments are tools to enhance and examine learning. Offering a variety of assessments will help you create meaningful opportunities for student learning in your online courses.

Generative AI

This resource explores what generative AI means for our teaching and students’ learning.

Assessments in the Age of AI

How can we ensure our students have achieved the course learning outcomes in the era of generative AI? 

Discussing AI with your students

We encourage transparency, discussion, and clarity of expectations when discussing generative AI with your students.

Check out the following sprints to learn more about setting expectations for assessments.


Amrane-Cooper, L., Hatzipanagos, S., & Tait, A. (2021). Developing student behaviours that support academic integrity in distance learning.>Open Praxis13(4), 378-384.

Harrison, H., and Spencer S. (2022). Beyonddoing integrity online: A research agenda for authentic online education. In D. A. Rettinger & T. Bertram Gallant (Eds.), Cheating academic integrity: Lessons from 30 years of research (pp. 169-200). Wiley, 2022.

Peterson, J. (2019). An analysis of academic dishonesty in online classes.Mid-Western Educational Researcher, 31(1), 24-36.

Song-Turner, H. (2008). Plagiarism: academic dishonesty or 'blind spot' of multicultural education? The Australian Universities' Review, 50(2), 39-50.

Spaulding, M. (2009). Perceptions of academic honesty in online vs. face-to-face classrooms. Journal of Interactive Online Learning 8(3), 183-198.

Spector, C. (2023, October 31). What do AI chatbots really mean for students and cheating? Stanford Graduate School of Education Research Stories.

Created on: April 10, 2024