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Strengthening Academic Integrity through Assessment Design

Assessment design plays a crucial role in promoting and upholding academic integrityRobust assessment design ensures fair evaluation, discourages cheating, promotes learning and individual accountability, fosters transparency, ensures consistency, and contributes to a positive academic culture based on academic integrity principles. 

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Assessment integrity is a term used to refer to the upholding of “principles of honest and trustworthy assessment….so that the learner undergoes a fair assessment of their learning to determine whether programme / module learning outcomes have been achieved.
(NAIN 2021)

While there is no single solution to assuring assessment integrity, a multi-layered approach is recommended whereby educative/proactive and reactive/punitive approaches are combined (Dawson 2021). Note that emerging challenges to academic integrity mean that assessments are likely to need iterative review if they are to respond adequately.

This section will support you to:

  • Refine your understanding of assessment in Trinity’s context;
  • Identify and implement strategies for assessment design that promote academic integrity;
  • Identify strategies for assuring assessment security.
  • Strengthen academic integrity through proactive and reactive approaches.

The Trinity Assessment Framework

Assessment is a core feature of Trinity Education and should be designed to support, enhance and evidence learning. The Trinity Assessment Framework (TAF) - approved by the University Council in 2016 - advocates for a programmatic approach to assessment with the aim of encouraging fewer, more meaningful assessments across the academic curriculum. The TAF recommends that Trinity programmes are designed to include a range of appropriate assessment strategies and tasks that support effective learning, provide students with opportunities to practise new forms of assessment, and enable achievement of the full spectrum of graduate attributes. The TAF is evidence-based and emerges from the need to consider ongoing evolutions in assessment as designed by academics and experienced by learners. The TAF emphasises that:

  • Assessment integrity underpins shared values of academic integrity across the institution.  
  • Supporting assessment integrity is a key challenge for academics and other professionals at Trinity.  
  • Assessment integrity is essential to support the quality and rigour of a Trinity award.  
  • Assessment at Trinity should align with the Trinity Assessment Framework.  

Trinity Education Project - Assessment Framework

Principles of Assessment Design

When designing any assessments, the following key principles should be considered:

  • Validity: the assessment measures what it is supposed to measure, at the appropriate level, in the appropriate domains.
  • Reliability: the assessment is accurate, consistent and repeatable.
  • Fairness: the assessmentis non-discriminatory, inclusive, equitable and matches expectations. 
  • Feasibility: the assessment is practicable in terms of time, resources and student numbers. (See also TEP Guidelines on Student Workload and Assessment.)
  • Transparency: processes and documentation, including assessment briefing and marking criteria, are clear.
  • Educationally impactful: assessment results in learning that is important and is authentic and worthwhile.

Linking assessment methods with learning outcomes

When designing any assessment, the principle of constructive alignment should always be applied whereby your assessment approach aligns with the desired learning outcome (Biggs 1996). Essentially this means that the method of assessment should enable students to effectively demonstrate their achievement of the learning outcomes. (Note that in many cases, one assessment type may not satisfy all learning outcomes and it may be necessary to choose a number of different assessment types.)

Click on the links below for further information.

Re-designing existing assessments to support academic integrity

Well-developed research suggests that critical knowledge/expertise should be assessed multiple times in multiple modes (Wiggins & McTighe, 2012). Assessment integrity is most at risk where 100% of marks are allocated to a single assessment output which focuses on the ‘product’ of learning rather than evidencing the process of an output’s development.

Click on the button below to play a short video that shows how some assessment ‘tweaks’ can be implemented to support academic integrity.

Download the content of the video here

Iterative re-design of the assessment process

Emerging challenges to academic integrity – in particular rapid technological advances - mean that assessments are likely to need iterative review if they are to respond adequately and assure the integrity of the assessment process.

Step and stage assignments throughout the term. Ask students to create assessment components throughout year, building towards a final submission that brings these components together.  Such iterative  development and evidencing of learning foregrounds the importance of the learning ‘process’. Stepped assignments also mitigate the risk of students feeling  overwhelmed coming up to final deadlines (or last minute-itis!)
Consider how evidence of thought development processes might be acquired. For example via timestamped drafts, journalblog / wiki entries etc.
Connect assessment to learning explored during teaching events. Where assessment tasks are highly localised/focused, they are harder to game.  
Use forms of assessment that evidence thought ownership. Examples include oral assessments (e.g. interviews/vivas) and presentations.
Move towards more ‘personalised’ assessment activity.

Examples include annotated bibliographies, and personal reflections (e.g. via journalblog). See also:

Consider introducing ‘showcase’ events that align to assignment deadlines. For example oral presentations on text-based work to a peer/expert audience. 
Use programmatic approaches to assessment design. Map out key assessments across a programme, and determine which will be used to certify student’s acquisition of learning outcomes. Assessment security for these assessments should be prioritised across a programme. Using a programmatic approach will also involve considering the types of assessments that a student is asked to complete throughout a programme. Overreliance on a narrow range of tasks presents an assessment security risk and current and emerging research suggests that critical knowledge/expertise should be assessed multiple times in multiple modes.

Balancing academic integrity and assessment security

While assessment design plays a key role in promoting and upholding academic integrity, unfortunately it does not completely solve the problem of cheating. When students cheat, academics are unable to determine if the student has achieved the learning outcomes required of them. As a result, the validity of the assessment process is undermined.

Click here to learn more about why students might cheat.

Addressing cheating requires a balance of academic integrity and assessment security. It is important to remember however that there is no perfectly secure assessment that cannot be breached in some shape or form. Even in proctored/invigilated in-person exam contexts, assessment integrity can still be breached. With this in mind, a multi-layered approach is recommended. Rundle et al. (2020) propose the “Swiss cheese” metaphor whereby multiple ways of addressing cheating (each with their holes) are combined in such a way that cheating is less likely to make it through all of them.  

Strategies for optimising assessment security through such a multi-layered approach include the following:

Talk with, and listen to, students.

A student’s decision to engage in academic misconduct can be accidental or intentional.

  • Accidental cheating occurs because students don’t understand or recognise that their behaviour/action contravenes moral and ethical conduct in the university setting. To counteract this, talk to students about academic integrity, clarify ethical behaviours and explain why they matter.

  • Intentional cheating is more likely to occur when students feel under pressure. This may be due to a fear of not performing to a high enough standard or due to feeling overwhelmed by current pressures. Highlight the risks of cheating  - for example, using contract cheating services can put students at risk of penalty/expulsion or blackmail at a future stage.

Monitor and respond to academic integrity breaches consistently.

This is a shared responsibility between colleagues within programme teams and within Departments or Schools. When students are aware that minor academic integrity breaches are monitored and addressed, this may limit the likelihood of more significant breaches to academic integrity occurring.

 Questions to consider:

  • Does your School have a local policy or reporting structure around academic integrity breaches?
  • How easy is it for you to navigate and implement?
  • Is procedure consistent with College guidelines?

Consider how you control the circumstances under which assessments undertaken, in order to make cheating more difficult.

Keep in mind that:

  • Invigilated/proctored exams can play a role in assessment security, but they do not eliminate cheating.  (While one large-scale Australian study found that students reported engaging in cheating more frequently in exams than in assignments, educators reported catching less cheating in exams than in assignments (Harper et al., 2021).

  • The use of remote proctoring tools, for example, surfaces all kind of issues relating to equality/diversity (neurodiverse and non-Caucasian blink patterns can trigger cheating alarms) and GDPR (around data storage and personal identification). Similarly, tools that claim to evidence AI-generated text cannot (yet) be relied upon. Programmatic and iterative approaches to integrating tools and technologies into teaching and assessment are crucial looking ahead.

  • Plagiariam-detection tools (e.g. TurnItIn) are not fool proof. As they are essentially text-matching tools, high similarity reports do not always indicate plagiarism. Therefore reports should always be treated with caution and always trust your own judgement. Follow existing College and School guidelines on gathering evidence to investigate further. Consider whether reviewing assignment submission metadata is likely to be of use for you when gathering evidence in instances of suspected breaches of assessment integrity.

  • At present, there is currently no technology/platform which can conclusively identify AI-generated material. While some providers (e.g. TurnItIn) have developed functionality which claims to do this, it cannot be relied upon. Use your own judgement – if it doesn’t feel ‘quite right’, it probably isn’t.

See also:

Academic integrity in the age of ChatGPT

Key Takeaways

    • The Trinity Assessment Framework (TAF) advocates for a programmatic approach to assessment with the aim of encouraging fewer, more meaningful assessments across the academic curriculum.
    • When designing any assessments, the following key principles should be considered: validity, reliability, feasibility, fairness, transparency and impact.
    • The principle of constructive alignment should always be applied whereby your assessment approach aligns with the desired learning outcome.
    • Critical knowledge/expertise should be assessed multiple times in multiple modes.
    • Emerging challenges to academic integrity – in particular rapid technological advances - mean that assessments are likely to need iterative review if they are to respond adequately and assure the integrity of the assessment process.
    • There is no perfectly secure assessment that cannot be breached in some shape or form. As a result, a multi-layered “swiss cheese” approach is recommended (Rundle et al. 2020) whereby multiple ways of addressing cheating (each with their holes) are combined.

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