7 Strategies for Minimizing Cheating in Online Assessments with Canvas

Published on: Author: Becky Parton

Written by Dr. John Solis …


Maintaining academic integrity is a continuous challenge for faculty teaching fully online, blended, and traditional face-to-face courses.  Since Baylor University’s first inception of teaching in the online space with the Hankamer School of Business’ online MBA (Master of Business Administration) program and undergraduate courses from the College of Arts & Sciences in 2015, there has been an increased concern among faculty over minimizing cheating on high-stakes exams and assessments effectively.  It is a common misconception that cheating might be more likely to occur in an online environment simply because the faculty and students are physically separated from each other.  In fact, studies comparing cheating in online vs. face-to-face learning environments have yielded mixed results (Grijalva, Nowell, and Kerkvliet, 2006; Lanier, 2006; LoSchiavo and Shatz, 2011; Stuber-McEwen, Weseley, and Hoggatt, 2009).  This “remoteness” of online learning environments does make it challenging to monitor different types of assessment activities, especially high-stakes tests and exams.


Although several expensive technology solutions, such as live and automated online proctoring services and lockdown browsers are continuously being developed to deter cheating from occurring to begin with, the practical suggestions offered in this article can be effective in reducing the impact of cheating on student performance while maintaining academic integrity.


  1. Use Question Banks – Instead of using a fixed number of test items that remain unchanged for each administered exam, consider using a question bank. Question banks can organize test items by any number of criteria including by topic, chapter, unit, question type, or difficulty level.  Faculty can then create an assessment with randomly selected questions from the bank.  Question banks can be created from new questions, existing questions, and possibly imported from text publisher companion resources.  The most effective use of question banks is when there is a large number of questions in a single group.  For example, one bank of questions may have a mixture of true/false questions, multiple choice, matching, and fill-in-the blank for a Chapter 1 text reading.  Another bank may have a mixture of similar test item types for Chapter 2 and so on.  Using the Question Group feature in Canvas, faculty can create an assessment that randomly selects questions from each text chapter as illustrated below.  Faculty can also add new questions to banks each time the course is taught to expand the variability of questions.  Older questions, conversely, can be removed.

  1. Mix Objective and Subjective Questions – Although tests can include traditional objective measures (true/false, multiple choice, multi-answer, fill-in-the-blank, etc.), short answer or essay may also be included. These subjective-based question types typically demand a deeper understanding of the content from students.  Mixing objective and subjective questions may not prevent students from sharing answers/information, but it may limit the effect on a student’s final grade (Watson and Sottile, 2010).


  1. Set a Timer – Knowing that students taking a non-proctored test are free to use open book, notes, Google and/or other resources, faculty may consider using the Time Limit feature in Canvas. Students who are adequately prepared to take a test to begin with are less likely to rely on open books or notes compared with unprepared students.  By enabling a completion time in Canvas, unprepared students could have the most to lose as they spend time going over their notes/textbook and risk not having sufficient time to respond to all test questions.


  1. Display One Question at a Time – If a test or quiz is more than 5 questions, consider enabling the show one question at a time setting in Canvas. With multiple questions displayed at once on a computer screen, it is easy for students to take screen captures or pictures with their mobile devices and share them with other students.  While students can still technically create images of single questions, or even copy/paste them into a document, it is more time consuming and unwieldly.  Combining this setting with a timer enabled could further deter students from creating images of test questions.


  1. Limit the Number of Attempts – When the Allow Multiple Attempts is disabled, students only have one attempt to take an exam in Canvas. This can minimize student attempts at answering potentially incorrect test questions.  Consider allowing multiple attempts for low-stakes assessments (short quizzes) while allowing one attempt for high-stakes assessments (mid-terms and final exams).  Although timing between multiple attempts cannot be controlled, faculty would be providing students with multiple opportunities to practice with each attempt.


  1. Limit Feedback Displayed to Students – Faculty can limit what types of feedback are displayed upon completion of a test in Canvas. The image below shows the various setting combinations faculty can enable to limit the type of feedback to students.

Providing test scores is important feedback that indicates how well students have performed and should be made available. Through a process of elimination, however, students may be able to determine the correct answer for each test question if their submitted answers are identified as incorrect, or if the correct answer is provided. Students could lose the incentive to both prepare for testing or to seek out correct answers by reviewing lecture notes or assigned readings after completing tests. Thus, faculty might reconsider whether to include Let Students See The Correct Answers as an option to be displayed or not to students. This is especially relevant if faculty have allowed students to repeat tests. Each time a test was taken, students could attempt a different answer for a test question that was previously graded as incorrect. Correct answers to all test questions could eventually be accumulated and passed on to other students, or to students of future classes.  Combining this option with limiting the number of attempts a test can be taken could minimize this process of elimination.


  1. Be Purposefully Selective in Assessment Methods – Consider using an online test, particularly a traditional objective-based test (i.e., multiple choice, multiple answer, true/false) for lower stakes assessment of student learning. In assessing student mastery of course outcomes, objective tests should be only one option considered among a spectrum of methods (e.g. portfolios, performance tasks, presentations, reports, multi-part course projects, etc).  Each type of assessment method may be designed to measure different indicators of student learning based on course outcomes. While an objective test can measure a student’s ability to recall or organize information, other methods can be used to assess higher order/critical thinking skills including understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating (Krathwohl, 2001).


To learn more about how to encourage academic integrity in any learning environment or to become familiar with the reporting process should a faculty member suspect cheating, plagiarism, or other forms of academic misconduct, visit Baylor University’s Office of Academic Integrity website.


Suggested Readings

  • Grijalva, T., Nowell, C., & Kerkvliet, J. (2006). Academic honesty and online courses. College Student Journal, 40(1), 180-185.
  • Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview. In L.W. Anderson & D.R. Krathwohl (Eds.), A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.
  • Lanier, M. (2006). Academic integrity and distance learning. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 17(2), 244-261.
  • LoSchiavo, F. M., & Shatz, M. A. (2011). The impact of an honor code on cheating in online courses. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(2).
  • Stuber-McEwen, D., Wiseley, P., & Hoggatt, S. (2009). Point, click, and cheat: Frequency and type of academic dishonesty in the virtual classroom. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(3), 1-10.
  • Watson, G., & Sottile, J. (2010). Cheating in the digital age: Do students cheat more in online courses? Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. Retrieved from https://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring131/watson131.html?goback=%2Egde_52119_member_208797940