William and Mary

Creating a Climate of Honor in the Classroom

Preventing Honor Code violations in the classroom is a two-fold project, involving both discussing honor (education) and deterrence.


You can do more with the Honor Code than simply watching out for violations. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to teach your students about the proper standards of academic behavior. Many of them are genuinely confused about what constitutes plagiarism or unauthorized assistance on an assignment. Some of them don't understand why it is so important to cite their sources. Many students do not make the connection between the Honor Code and the professional codes of ethics they will adopt in the "real world" upon graduation. By making the Honor Code an integral part of your curriculum, you will be helping your students learn crucial skills and develop an internal set of ethics and principles that will help them succeed as professionals.


Merely talking about honor, of course, does not always work. You will want to put some measures in place that will deter students from cheating if they are so inclined. Still, keep in mind that the final responsibility for their behavior is in their hands, not yours.

What You Need To Do

When writing a syllabus- Your syllabus should contain a section about the Honor Code. More specifically, it should tell students exactly what is permissible with regard to exams, papers, lab assignments, etc. Are they allowed to work together? If so, to what extent may they collaborate? How should they go about citing ideas they receive from classmates? These are all things that your students need to know. Including such a discussion in your syllabus will not only give students a written guide, but will also help prevent any misunderstandings about what constitutes permissible behavior. You will find a sample Honor Code section from a syllabus at the end of this handout.

The first (or second or third) day of class- When you review your syllabus with your students, you should discuss the Honor Code section. It is especially helpful to make them aware of the importance of academic integrity to the profession of teaching. If you let them know that you value these standards and that you take the Honor Code seriously, they will take it more seriously as well. You might consider saving some of this discussion for a later session (perhaps in conjunction with the first assignment), especially if you have many other things to do on the first day of class.

During an exam- It is up to you to decide what steps you will take to deter cheating during the course of an exam.
We recommend you consider the following steps to discourage students from making unethical choices:

  • Proctor the exam.
  • Use alternate versions of the exam and distribute them so that students seated next to each other do not have the same version of the test.
  • Ban the use or possession of electronic devices during the exam. Files (ex: text files or photos of notes) can be stored on the hard drives of PDA's, ipods, cell phones and other similar devices. If students bring such items to the exam, require that they place them in their backpacks in a zipped enclosure. If possible, have the students move their backpacks to the end of the row.
  • Have students place all books and papers in their backpacks and/or under their desks.
  • If you allow the use of computers, prohibit students from connecting to the Internet during the exam.
  • Put essay questions at the top of the page and multiple choice/short answer questions on the bottom, as it is more difficult for someone seated behind another student to see the bottom of the page.
  • Monitor students taking frequent or prolonged restroom breaks.

Throughout the course- Continue to stress the importance of the Honor Code in your classroom and make sure to explain fully how it applies to each aspect of the course. It may help to focus on a communitarian model, so that students will understand that violating the Honor Code isn't just about breaking abstract rules, but about abusing the trust of their instructor and their classmates.

Sample Honor Code Section for Syllabus

(The following is a sample Honor Code section in a syllabus for a philosophy course. It would, of course, need to be modified for other disciplines.)

The Honor Code is, as always, in effect in this course. The College places great value on honor and integrity, and the following sections explain what I expect from you in terms of meeting these standards. If you have any questions at all about these matters, please do not hesitate to ask me.

Exams and quizzes: All in-class exams and quizzes in this class are to be taken without the assistance of books, notes or other people. You, may, however, study with your classmates. In fact, forming study groups is an excellent way to prepare for exams.

Papers: As with exams and quizzes, I encourage you to discuss your papers with your classmates and anyone else, for that matter. The crucial thing to remember is that you must give citations for ideas that are not your own, whether or not those ideas have been written down somewhere. If your roommate comes up with a brilliant example and you use it in your paper, then you must cite him or her in a footnote. You may not receive help in the form of allowing another person to write or edit your paper. At all times, the written work you hand in must be your own.

Again, if you aren't clear about any of this, ask questions.

For more specific tips to prevent cheating, please consult "Tips to Prevent Academic Dishonesty" available from the Dean of Students Office (221-2510).