Addressing Academic Integrity in Engineering (Fall 2020)

     Alan Zehnder, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs, College of Engineering
     Andy Ruina, Member, Academic Integrity Hearing Board, College of Engineering
    (This version: July 31, 2020)

Experience this past Spring shows that Academic Integrity is more of an issue now than ever. For example, using websites like students can upload exam questions and get answers during an exam.  No matter how strict your policies, some students will, if it is possible for them to do so, cheat.

Below are two kinds of guidance: I. How to avoid academic integrity issues; and II. What to do about them when they arise.  

I.    How to reduce academic integrity issues in your course.

Strongly stating that your clear policies will be strictly enforced might help.  The safest, however, is to have systems and policies which make it difficult for students to cheat even if they try.  

  1. Set clear expectations.  At the start of the semester, make clear, in writing, what is and is not permitted. Precisely what online resources, off line resources or collaboration are allowed for exams, reports and homework?  
  2. Use the in-person exam period before the Thanksgiving break.  You can also give in-person prelims or quizzes earlier in the semester. 
  3. If you must give remote, or take-home exams:
    • Watermark exams to make it easier for you to identify questions that have been uploaded to the web.
    • Give exams in a limited time window.  You may need two windows spaced 12 hours apart to accommodate remote students.  
    • Allow the exam to be open book, open notes.
    • Give a series of shorter exams or quizzes to reduce the time available for cheating.
    • Use the Canvas quiz tool to give exams with the order or questions and answers randomized, use the question bank feature to give a unique quiz to each student, do not allow backtracking in Canvas.
    • Give oral exams.  You may want to record these in case the student later questions the grade or if you want to go back and look at work on borderline cases.  
  4. Place a copyright notice on all course materials -– this will help you get material taken down from sites such as Course Hero and Chegg. Here is some suggested wording: 
    • It is a violation of the Cornell Code of Academic Integrity to utilize a study site such as or in order to upload, download or receive help on exams or assignments that do not permit consultation. Please note that Cornell has resources that enable instructors to trace posts (both the original poster and those who read the posts) from study sites, and that in this course we maintain an ongoing review of such sites during all exams.

II.    What to do if you suspect cheating
The University has clear and, we think, reasonable policies.   One part of these policies concerns student responsibilities and one part, faculty responsibilities. That is, you also have to follow the policies for academic integrity.  

  1. If you catch cheating you have to follow the policies. 

Some faculty are intimidated by this process and choose one of these two options: 1) They assign punishment without going through the procedure above, or 2) They don’t follow through on enforcing those academic integrity rules that they established for their courses.  We strongly advise against both of these.   The procedures are reasonable. If you follow them calmly they need not take much time nor effort.  The students who follow the rules, which is the majority of students, count on us to do this enforcing.

Supporting documents and further details:

Sample syllabus statements:
Version 1: Traditional

“Each student is expected to abide by the Cornell University Code of Integrity,  You may discuss homework with each other, but you must solve the problems yourself and everything you turn in must be your own work.  In addition, you must list at the top of the HW assignment the names of anyone you discussed the HW problems with.  Copying from solution manuals or each other is strictly forbidden. To be ready for the exams you'll need to be able to do all the problems on your own.  Violations will be dealt with through the Academic Integrity Hearing process,   Course materials posted on Canvas are intellectual property belonging to the author.  Students are not permitted to buy, sell, trade or share any course materials without the express permission of the instructor. Such unauthorized behavior constitutes academic misconduct.”

Version 2: This version is somewhat the opposite extreme, focusing on rules more easily enforced.

Each student is expected to abide by the Cornell University Code of Integrity,  For homework you are allowed to use help of any kind from any source.  This includes faculty, TAs, friends, Google, solution manuals, etc.  The only guideline, which we will not enforce, but that you should practice as a matter of personal integrity, is this:  You should note your sources (e.g., "Sally Wang showed me how to do problem 2"). In contrast, for in-person or remote exams you are not allowed to use any sources. No help from other people, notes, the web, course documents, etc.   For exams taken remotely (add any additional requirements or policies …).  Violations of these policies will be dealt with through the Academic Integrity Hearing process,

Additional syllabus statements can be found at and