Demonstrating Knowledge

Designing assessments that cultivate integrity.

How we ask students to demonstrate their learning plays a major role in building a practice and culture of integrity.

Many of the ways we have traditionally evaluated students’ knowledge, unfortunately, lend themselves to academic misconduct, or may not set students up for success in meeting the expectations of academic integrity. As academic integrity experts argue,1 assessments that cultivate integrity require a shift from getting students to show us what they know, to showing us how they know it.

Such a shift can present pragmatic challenges for instructors, including the time required to evaluate, dealing with multi-section courses using common exams, or requirements from external bodies such as professional colleges. In addition to adapting some of the suggestions below, collaborating with colleagues to address these challenges should help share the significant work to support this shift.

While in-person invigilated assessments strive to enforce integrity, assessments that reward integrity strive to build upon a culture of academic integrity.

To what extent do your assessment practices ask students to show what they know versus show us how they know it?

Have you considered open book or collaborative exams, or authentic assessments? Why or why not?

What ways other than traditional exam formats could students use to demonstrate their learning in your courses?

Design Considerations

Scaffold assignments

Break assignments into linked, multi-stage components (“scaffold” them). For example, a final project or paper could have a proposal, draft, presentation, and final product. Scaffolding helps students manage their workload by completing the overall project in smaller chunks so that they do not start the night before and panic. It requires students to demonstrate their understanding of their work in different ways, and, ideally, get feedback on their work-in-progress.

Peer review can be a way to shift this feedback from you to the students. Finally, it dissuades contract cheating because it creates a document trail that must be consistent throughout all components.

Adjust your examinations

Construct open-book exams, or try two-stage exams, and emphasize having students articulate the process they follow to get to answers, rather than just the answer itself.

For online exams that must follow a more traditional format, use technology to introduce randomness into the questions through Canvas. At a basic level, multiple-choice alternatives can be delivered in random order. Consider dividing up a longer assessment into multiple smaller ones, which reduces the temptation for students to engage in contract cheating.

More sophisticated approaches include random numbers in quantitative questions, multiple versions of the same question with slight differences, question banks, and random ordering of questions. For assistance with the technical aspects of this within Canvas, reach out to the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (UBC Vancouver) or the Centre for Teaching and Learning (UBC Okanagan).

Consider alternative assessments

Traditional exams are not the only option. Consider alternatives to exams, such as projects and assignments, that are similar to the authentic work practitioners do in a discipline. 

As feasible, include oral assessments – such as individual or group quizzes, panel presentations, and paper “defenses” (showing thinking and process). Think about how to support students for whom English is an additional language, who may have one or more disabilities, or for whom public speaking produces considerable anxiety. Share resources for students on academic presentations, such as the Precedents Archive for Scholarly Speaking, which includes guides to making arguments in oral contexts and citing sources in a presentation.

Previous course materials may be available online

Tailor topics or frameworks for projects and papers to be specific to your course rather than generic topics likely covered by online sources, such as Sparknotes or from textbook providers. This strategy also improves student buy-in by allowing them to design a project that reflects their particular interests in the course material.

Consider adding narrative questions that ask students to explain the process they used to solve a problem.

Collaborative group work needs special consideration

Give particular consideration (ideally with student input) to the design and evaluation of academic integrity expectations for group projects, which are particularly challenging.3 If there is a violation by one group member, does the entire group suffer the consequences? How will degrees of contribution and shared workload be assessed? Are there group and individual components to the grade?

Including clear, explicit policy or instructions about academic integrity expectations for collaborative work, and recommendations or resources in case of internal issues in a group, will support students in this kind of assessment.

Encouraging learning from assessments

Include required self-reflection or self-assessment components, such as exam wrappers or reflections. Such elements support academic integrity, requiring students to demonstrate that they did the work, especially when completed in-class, and can also foster meta-cognitive processes in which students think about their learning. Individual reflections can be an effective addition to group projects, as a way to learn more about how each group member contributed.

Tools for Assessments

Students are more likely to engage in academic misconduct when they are under pressure, when there is an opportunity, and when they are able to rationalize it. To reduce pressure, consider how your course assessment design may lead to undue pressure, which reduces student wellbeing and may lead students to make poor decisions. Consider implementing course policies that include taking the best “X out of Y assessments” and reducing reliance on very high stakes assessments. See the teaching academic integrity page for information about how to reduce rationalization by being explicit about your expectations of academic integrity and directly teaching what academic integrity means in your disciplinary context. Use technology to support assessment integrity when appropriate. Consider different ways of assessing learning that reward integrity.


Remote Assessment Guidebook

Quick tips: Structuring academic integrity into assessments

Integrity Pledge: Some instructors may want to append an integrity pledge to their assessments. See an example from the School of Engineering, Faculty of Applied Science at UBC Okanagan. 


  • 1 Eaton, S. E., Edion, R. I. “Strengthening the research agenda of educational integrity in Canada: A review of the research and call to action.” International Journal of Educational Integrity, (2018) 14(5), 1-21.
  • 2 Korn, L., Davidovitch, N. “The profile of academic offenders: Features of students who admit to academic dishonesty.” Medical Science Monitor: International Medical Journal of Experimental and Clinical Research (2016).
  • 3 Löfström, E. et al. “Who teaches academic integrity and how do they do it?” Higher Education (2015) 69(3), 435-448.
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