Improving Academic Integrity through Assessment Design and Diversity

Improving Academic Integrity through Assessment Design and Diversity

Dr Peter Henderson, School of Natural & Computing Sciences outlines a range of assessment practices in Chemistry to engage students and promote academic integrity through assessment diversity.


Assessment amendments were made to two Chemistry courses. CM4538 Integrated Chemistry had a ‘general paper’ and oral exam, which often troubled students and resulted in low average marks. In contrast, CM3032 General Chemistry had a high continuous assessment element, but often resulted in disengaged students.

Changes to the two courses can be aligned with the 12 academic integrity principles for assessment design from Dublin City University. The changes were made to improve student engagement with course material and feedback (principles 1, 3 & 7), introduce some authentic assessment (principles 3, 5, 6, 8-11), and improve engagement with the aims of the assessment (principles 1, 2 & 4). These cover the principles of standards, assessment design, and student ownership, which together should reduce the likelihood of student misconduct being attempted. These alternative assessments were also considered due to the non-exam route during the COVID-19 global health pandemic and staff workloads.


The different types of assessments used include:

  1. Using the peer marking option in MyAberdeen. This allows students to see a range of answers – good and poorer quality – and directly engage with feedback. An enhanced understanding of assessment helps future academic performance and reduce the ‘need to cheat’.
  2. Postcards from the lab. Students select any experiment that they have done and describe it to a non-expert.
  3. Videos of concepts and exam answers. Students pick a ‘key concept’ in chemistry and make a video describing it using Johnstone’s triangle. For an online version of a past paper students can pick one (or more) questions to submit as a video explanation.
  4. Mind map to bring together concepts from multiple courses.

Most assignments also had a reflective journal entry to go along with it. Students are encouraged to analyse and think about their performance, and also engage with their test and feedback. Some question prompts for more general course reflection can be found here, and here.

To further improve engagement with assessments and course material, videos were made to explain the assessment requirements, and also the broader aims of the assessments and course – something a student focussing simply on grades can miss. This also reveals parts of the hidden curriculum that some groups may not be aware of.


The performance in the honours ‘general paper’ and oral exam improved overall, and student anxiety appeared reduced this year.

External Examiners commented favourably on the support given to students and range of assessments used.

It was interesting to try new types of assessment, and it was particularly nice to see students being really engaging in videos and writing very honestly in journals.

Course evaluations have positive comments about the types of assessments, students also noted that it had been helpful thinking about how to describe things in a variety of ways, and also put together their thoughts in a more holistic programme-wide way.

The quote below is from a student journal:

“…This may be considered a small feat in the grand scheme of things but for me this really shows I have worked on my maths skills and I am SUPER stoked about my mark + feedback for this question… this was very interesting for me. ”

Allowing students to appreciate and share success and pride in their work, as well as producing assessments which they enjoy doing, can help to improve ownership and standards; supporting attainment for minoritised groups, who may not do as well in more traditional assessments.