The Impact of COVID-19 on Academic Integrity

March 10, 2020
woman wearing face mask

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on

This past week I attended the annual conference of the International Center for Academic Integrity in Portland, OR. Participants shared news stories and websites such as Worldometer Coronavirus, which gives daily updates on COVID-19. During our stay last week, both California and Washington states, which flank Oregon to the south and north respectively, declared states of emergency. And on the last day of the conference, Oregon followed suit, as many of us headed to the airport for our already scheduled flights home.

We followed news stories with interest about large schools such as Washington State University closed to undertake “deep cleaning”. Within days it became clear that the university would not be re-opening for on campus classes, but instead would be moving all spring classes online, effective immediately.

An abrupt shift to online learning at this scale is unheard of in the history of education. No doubt educational historians of the future will look back on this as a pivotal and challenging time in terms of a rapid re-think of education, with online learning being seen as a viable alternative at a time of this global health crisis. Resources such as this one from the Chronicle of Higher education are quickly popping up about how schools and educators can move to online learning quickly.  As one news report points out, there are implications for academic integrity when teaching and learning approaches shift dramatically in a short time.

Proctoring services are available for online exams, but they are not free. Instructors who lack skills and experience with online teaching may find themselves at a loss with how to re-design assessments such as quizzes and tests that they have only ever given in a face-to-face classroom. Students may find themselves confused and frustrated as their learning environments and assignments change quickly and without sufficient communication about what is expected of them.

There is no doubt that institutions that choose to move away from traditional classroom-based learning to online learning quickly will experience growing pains, but hope is not lost. As this article from a group of researchers at the University of Maryland University College reminds us, academic misconduct is not necessarily more prevalent in online courses. It is important to keep the focus on teaching and learning, rather than on cheating, as Tricia Bertram Gallant points out.

In this paper I wrote with some graduate students a few years ago, we offer practical tips to take pro-active approaches to upholding academic integrity. Many of the ideas can be used in online courses.

The key thing to remember is that as educators, our focus should always be on  students’ learning. If you find yourself in a situation where you are moving to an online environment very quickly, it is OK to tell students that you are learning as you go, too. Remind them that you are all part of a learning community together and you are there to support them.

Even if the world is shifting rapidly around us, teachers are in a unique position to encourage students and help them focus on the positive. Convey through your words and actions a sense of calm to reassure learners that you are still focussed on helping them learn in ways that are productive and future-focused. The world may be changing quickly, but the fundamental values that underpin academic integrity can continue to guide us in times of uncertainty:


Have the courage to talk about COVID-19 and how it is impacting teaching and learning at your school. Share facts, and have courageous conversations. COVID-19 presents learning opportunities not only about the virus itself, but also about prevention, and impact. If students are feeling anxious or scared, that is normal. Have the courage to acknowledge the mental health impacts and reassure students that it is OK to feel unsure or overwhelmed. Also, have the courage to share facts. Now is also a great time to talk about fake news and how to look for accuracy in news reports.


In times of crisis may be fairer to incorporate some flexibility into how you assess your students, as well as how you handle the impact of trauma on students’ lives. If learners find themselves quarantined or personally know people who have been affected by the virus, they may be experiencing trauma. Take this into account when you interact with them.


Be honest with your learners if you find yourself in a position of having to teach online for the very first time with no preparation. Sometimes being vulnerable with your students can help them to understand that you are human, too.


As institutions and educational bodies make decisions quickly in a rapidly changing environment, it is important to respect those decisions. Avoid openly criticizing decision-makers who are also trying to do their best in a situation they have never faced before. Instead, honour their decisions by adapting as quickly as you can, as best as you can. Remind students that they also show respect by adapting. Be patient with questions and remind students that you still expect them to conduct themselves respectfully even if learning happens in a virtual classroom.


As an educators, we have a responsibility to lead by example. Remind students of what their learning responsibilities are. Take the time to explain your expectations of them, even if classes are quickly moving to an online environment. Let them know you still expect them to be responsible for their learning, but also show compassion if they are experiencing trauma or anxiety.


It is important to trust that your students are doing the best they can; and so are their parents, school administrators and everyone else. Trust that things will get better. Trust in yourself as an educator.

As an educator, you’ve got what it takes to see your students through this!

Related post:

COVID-19, Contract Cheating and Academic Integrity in Online Courses: What you need to know


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.

Using video posts to promote engagement in online graduate learning

July 16, 2018

The first time I engaged with a group via e-learning was in 2005. I have been teaching graduate courses online since 2011. We often follow a standard learning design of having students read material and then write an online discussion post summarizing and/or reflecting on their readings. They repeat this format in just about every course they take. Students have anecdotally reported that they find this process tiresome, static and not very productive in terms of learning.

As a course instructor, I also find it somewhat unproductive. Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that written tasks have their place. At the same time, I also believe that we can provide students with challenging and engaging ways of learning that go beyond the traditional text post on a discussion board.

With that in mind, I have been playing around with using video to make online learning more engaging for my students. Since the course I am teaching right now is as Master’s level course called Language Learning and Technology, we are learning about how to incorporate technology into learning meaningful ways. I figured that if continue to engage through traditional text-posts, we are not really learning how to incorporate technology in new ways! So, I  have challenged the students to do video posts about their course readings, instead of their usual weekly write ups. Students are creating and sharing videos of 3 minutes or less that classmates and I can read and respond to. Students post their videos within our learning management system (D2L) that is associated with the course.

To lead by example, I have also been posting weekly videos welcoming students to each week of the course. In this week’s video post, I offer my own reflections on a recent article that I read, showing them how they can do their own reflections on a reading in their video posts.

Reflections on what I have learned from an instructional perspective

I realized after I posted my video that I could have conducted a more in-depth reflection in my post. This was good learning for me, because I had a lot more thoughts swirling around in my head about the reading I did, but I didn’t express them all in the video. In a written post, I would have taken the time to write, edit, revise and then maybe edit and revise some more. In the video post, I shared my reflections, but didn’t fuss over whether it was perfect. I will be mindful of this when I engage in my assessment of students’ learning using this format.

You can see that I start off with the date, and mentioning the weather for today in Calgary, where I live. I wanted to show students that I was not recycling material and that what I was creating for them was new and fresh.

I think showing that the material is new not only enhances learning and promotes principles of academic integrity, it shows we are not being lazy as instructors. I think that traditional text posts can be problematic in terms of academic integrity because students may be tempted, from time to time, to have someone else write posts on their behalf. This is a form of contract cheating (where a third party completes work on behalf of a student). Curtis and Clare (2017) reported that about 3.5% of students admitted to contract cheating. Even though that percentage is small, it is still important for instructors to offer students ways of demonstrating learning in ways that go beyond traditional writing tasks. It is important for instructors to changes the circumstances that might make it easier or more tempting for students to have someone else complete work on their behalf.

I mention this only because I research and write about topics related to academic integrity, so it’s always on my mind. By and large, I think our students are committed to their learning and act with integrity as professionals and as learners.

My intention with these activities is to offer students an opportunity to engage in ways other than text that is authentic and interesting. The process of reflecting on readings is different when we engage verbally than in writing. We are still using text-based elements of the course such as replies to weekly posts, but so far, video seems to providing a fun-yet-rigorous way for students to showcase their learning.


Curtis, G. J., & Clare, J. (2017). How prevalent is contract cheating and to what extent are students repeat offenders? Journal of Academic Ethics, 15(2), 115-124. doi:10.1007/s10805-017-9278-x

Kumar Basak, S., Wotto, M., & Bélanger, P. (2018). E-learning, M-learning and D-learning: Conceptual definition and comparative analysis. E-Learning and Digital Media, 15(4), 191-216. doi:10.1177/204275301878518


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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

Signature pedagogies for e-learning in higher education and beyond

March 6, 2017

This report explores the notion of signature pedagogies within the field of e-learning for higher education. We build on previous work that examined signature pedagogies in education, linking the concepts of signature pedagogies, the profession of education and e-learning as a means to help educators develop their practice and understanding of the profession.


In November 2016, approximately thirty scholars, practitioners, industry leaders and government officials assembled at The White House for the “Technology in English” event, which was a collaborative effort between The White House Office of Global Engagement and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of English Language Programs. The event was part of the inter-agency English for All initiative, announced by President Obama earlier in 2016 (United States Department of State, 2016). The purpose of the event was to gather together individuals with combined expertise in educational technology and English language learning and teaching. Sarah Elaine Eaton, one of the authors of this report, was among those invited to take part in The White House event.

One outcome of the meeting was a commitment to develop a prototype or resource that would serve as an Open Educational Resource (OER), not only for participants of programs sponsored by the U.S Department of State, and educators generally. The project is to be presented at the TESOL 2017 International Convention and English Language Expo in Seattle, Washington State.

In addition, experts were invited to develop and contribute additional resources that would benefit educators in their professional development. This report was prepared as an additional Open Educational Resource for use by those interested in developing their knowledge of signature pedagogies for e-learning in education.

Here is a citation for the report, which you can download for free online:

Eaton, S. E., Brown, B., Schroeder, M., Lock, J. & Jacobsen, M. (2017). Signature pedagogies for e-learning in higher education and beyond. Calgary: University of Calgary. Retrieved from


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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.



10 Tips for Succeeding in Virtual Teams

March 27, 2014

Almost all of the online courses I teach involve group work of some kind. Some groups thrive in their virtual teams and others fail miserably. After observing what works and what does not, here are ten tips to those who are new to online collaborative projects:

  1. Give one another the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Be kind to each other. Point out one another’s strengths.
  3. Refrain from commenting on each other’s weaknesses.
  4. When in doubt, assume good intentions. Tone is very difficult to “hear” in online communications. If you find yourself miffed or offended, take a step back. Are you sure that you are not making an assumption about the other person’s intention? Then ask yourself, “Is this really the hill I want to die on?” Forgiveness is important in virtual teams.
  5. Focus on supporting each other through the process.  No one gets left behind and if there’s an assigned leader, that person doesn’t forge too far ahead. Instead, keep the group together and moving forward.It’s a journey and your job is to make it up the mountain together.
  6. Be flexible with one another. Scheduling can be especially challenging in an online context. Change up the meeting times to accommodate people from different time zones. Don’t expect the same person to always get up at 2:00 a.m. for a meeting.
  7. Ask what you can do to help or what others need most from you. Don’t assume that your virtual team mates know your strengths.
  8. Avoid writing frustrations down and sharing them. If you need to work out issues, find a way to talk about it (e.g. Skype or phone).
  9. Sometimes you are right and sometimes you are wrong. It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about working together.
  10. Everyone is responsible for making back-ups of the work along the way. If one person’s system crashes, they get a virus or their laptop is stolen, the other members of the team all have copies of the back-ups. Using online storage such as Dropbox or Google drive is a great idea, but it’s not the only idea. Back everything up.

Working in virtual teams can be challenging, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. With a bit of patience, common sense and a good sense of humour, you’ll be surprised how much you can achieve in a virtual team.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Resources for learning and teaching Arabic

January 7, 2014 semester I am involved in a Calgary Board of Education (CBE) pilot project to teach Arabic in a blended learning course at the high school level. I’ve been working with a fantastic team of educators comprised of an instructional designer, a curriculum development specialist and a native speaker of Arabic who will take on the challenge of helping the students learn. Here are some resources for others who are interested in teaching or learning Arabic online.

20 Free online resources for teaching and learning Arabic

Professional Resources for K-12 Arabic Educators (Harvard University) –

Arabic K-12 Teachers Network –

American Association of Teachers of Arabic (Resources page) –

Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (Arabic) –

Becker’s Arabic page –

National Middle East Language Resource Center –

E-Arabic Learning –

Arabic Voices (Listening comprehension) – University of Texas at Austin –

Arabic Online –

University of London Language Centre – Arabic Resources –

UCLA Language Materials Project (Various entries for Arabic Resources) –

National Capital Language Resource Center (Arabic) –

Comprehensive list of resources from Mohamed Esa, McDaniel College –

National Foreign Language Center – Online Reading Skills Lessons in Arabic –

Arabic Language Resource website –

Institute for Innovation in Second Language Education (IISLE) – Arabic resources –

Language Acquisition Resource Center – Arabic –

Teachers of Critical Languages (Arabic) –

Arabic Without Walls (UC Davis) –

We Love Arabic (blog) –

Bonus resources (books)

Ryding, K. C. (2013). Teaching and learning Arabic as a foreign language. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. Find out more at:

Wahba, K. M., Taha, Z. A., & England, L. (2006). Handbook for Arabic language teaching professionals in the 21st century. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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