The University of Michigan is required to have processes in place through which it can establish that a student who registers in a distance education or correspondence education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the course or program and receives the academic credit.1 Moreover, academic integrity and misconduct policies established by U-M schools and colleges generally apply regardless of instructional modality and may contain additional, unique provisions for misconduct in online learning environments.

In Practice

There are a number of ways in which faculty can support the University’s compliance efforts with student identification requirements and assure the integrity of our online programs. For instance, faculty often play an important role in creating awareness and ultimately deterring identity fraud and cheating by discussing academic integrity issues directly with students when setting classroom expectations or linking to code-of-conduct policies on course materials such as syllabi.

Some faculty may also be considering online proctoring services2 for their examinations as a way to further verify identity. This option may be available and faculty should consult with their departments to learn more. However, faculty are also encouraged to consider costs and the potential impact on students before pursuing online proctoring, particularly if alternative assessment and verification methods may be appropriate.

Additionally, faculty can support these efforts through a variety of other methods:

  • Incorporating engaged learning strategies and authentic assessment where effective
  • Employing lockdown browser tools for exams and Turnitin or similar plagiarism-detection software for paper submissions
  • Splitting written assignments up into multiple drafts with more feedback opportunities
  • Having students sign an honor pledge when beginning exams, which can also serve as a reminder for the consequences of academic misconduct
  • Hosting assignments and engagement opportunities within the learning management system itself to reduce the risk of third-party contributions

Note that sole reliance on secure logins is increasingly being viewed as inadequate3 and out-of-step with the approaches now commonly taken by peer institutions.


How big of a deal is cheating in online programs anyways?

Online cheating may actually be no more or less common than cheating in traditional classrooms.4 However, it can ultimately be more egregious and easier to get away with (as this personal account from a former student-impersonator-for-hire alludes to). Without the opportunity for continuous visual identity confirmation as exists in face-to-face settings, curbing instances of academic dishonesty requires a strategic approach.

Won’t students who want to cheat ultimately find a way no matter what I do?

While it is true that students who really desire to cheat will often find a way, making it more difficult to do so—as well as reminding students of the consequences—can nevertheless cut down on incidents of cheating and fraud. Moreover, services and technologies aimed at reducing cheating are improving (ProctorU’s founder shared a few examples of some highly creative cheaters caught in the act during proctored online exams). As a reminder, our efforts to reduce fraud are also required under Title IV.

Where can I find additional resources on this topic?

The Center for Academic Innovation maintains this Collection of Additional Resources.

134 CFR 602.17.See also HLC Practices for Verification of Student Identity Policy. Identification methods must also have reasonable safeguards for protecting student data.
2The Center for Academic Innovation and other university units have existing partnerships with certain online exam proctoring companies. Academic units should contact [email protected] for more information. Note that any additional costs that would be passed on to students would need to first be disclosed to students during registration or enrollment. Such fees may also need to be justified through University review and oversight processes.
3See U.S. Dep’t of Education Office of the Inspector General Report from 2014, noting:

A secure login and passcode ensure only that someone logging in to a course is using the same login and passcode assigned to the person who enrolled. A secure login and passcode do not ensure that the person is enrolling under a valid name and intends to obtain an education. The regulations should be clarified and strengthened so that schools are required to use current best practices in identity verification methods to better mitigate the risk of student identity fraud.

4This 2009 study actually found there to be less cheating in online environments.