New Research: Exploring academic integrity and mental health during COVID-19: Rapid review

Topics: Blog, Spotlight

Eaton, S. E., & Turner, K. L. (in press). Exploring academic integrity and mental health during COVID-19: Rapid review. Journal of Contemporary Education Theory & Research.


The goal of this study was to understand the relationship between academic integrity and students’ mental health during the COVID-19 crisis. Our purpose was to explore the literature that emerged during the pandemic that highlights any connections between stress, academic integrity, and teaching and learning. To our knowledge, no previous research has examined this topic specifically. Researchers have begun to pay more explicit attention to the links between academic misconduct and mental health (Tindall & Curtis, 2020), though this remains an underdeveloped area of academic integrity research.

The research question that guided our rapid review was: What does the available evidence indicate about the relationship, if any, that exists between academic integrity and mental health during the Coronavirus pandemic?


We employed a rapid review method to identify relevant data sources using our university library search tool, which offers access to 1026 individual databases. We searched for sources relating to the concepts of (a) COVID-19 crisis; (b) academic integrity; and (c) mental health. We delimited our search to sources published between 01 January and 15 May 2020. This method is considered to be a modified version of the systematic review method, which uses “explicit and systematic methods to search for and identify multiple systematic reviews on related research questions in the same topic area for the purpose of extracting and analysing their results across important outcomes” (Pollock et al., 2020, n.p.). We understood that “available evidence”, for the purposes of our study, would include media reports and other information found in the public domain. This is due, in part, to the lag in publishing scholarly research.

We used the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) Critical appraisal tool for text and opinion papers as the instrument to evaluate our sources (Joanna Briggs Institute, 2019). Because the JBI tools are intended for systematic, rather than rapid reviews, and are designed principally for use in health-related fields, we used a modified version of the JBI tool for our rapid review, which had an educational focus.


Our search resulted in a preliminary data set of sources (N=60). Further screening resulted in a total nine (n=9) sources, which were reviewed in detail.

Data showed an amplification of students’ anxiety and stress during the pandemic, especially for matters relating to academic integrity. E-proctoring of examinations emerged as point of particular concern, as there were early indications in the literature that such services have proliferated rapidly during the crisis, with little known about the possible impact of electronic remote proctoring on students’ well-being.

Students’ reactions while being e-proctored included being uncomfortable with the practice; anger; anxiety, crying, nausea, stress, and vomiting into wastepaper bins on camera during the exam because they were not permitted to leave the room during the exam. The financial stress of having to buy computers or web cams in order for e-proctoring to take place emerged as a secondary issue that might possibly be related to elevated levels of anxiety, though the link between mental health and financial stress due to e-proctoring services was not strongly established in this rapid review. Issues related to privacy infringement, and how data collected by e-proctoring companies are used and stored were additional topics of note.

We acknowledge that stress during examinations is normal, but it seems there may be emerging evidence that e-proctoring exacerbates stress levels far beyond what might be normally experienced during a face-to-face exam. It is not known to what extent the stress from e-proctoring or taking exams during the coronavirus crisis might differ from stress under normal examination conditions, though available evidence points to the need for deeper investigation to better understand the impacts of e-proctoring on students’ mental health.


Recommendations are made for further research to better understand the impact of e-proctoring of remote examinations on students’ mental health, as well as the connections between academic integrity and student well-being in general.

Issues relating to equity, and in particular, students with disabilities requiring academic accommodations was noted. The link between mental health and increased stress for students with disabilities was noted as a possible issue for future study, though it was noted that students with underlying health conditions might be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.


There is an urgent need to better understand the connections between students’ well-being and academic integrity, particularly in relation to commercial academic integrity products and services that are being licensed for use with tens of millions of students worldwide. We ought to be particularly concerned about the use of surveillance technology in educational contexts.

Selected References

Joanna Briggs Institute. (2019). JBI Reviewer’s Manual.

Pollock, M., Fernandes, R. M., Becker, L. A., Pieper, D., & Hartling, L. (2020). Chapter V: Overviews of Reviews. In J. P. Higgins, J. Thomas, J. Chandler, M. Cumpston, T. Li, M. Page, & V. Welch (Eds.), Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions (v. 6): Cochrane.Org.

Tindall, I. K., & Curtis, G. J. (2020). Negative emotionality predicts attitudes toward plagiarism. Journal of Academic Ethics, 18(1), 89-102. doi:10.1007/s10805-019-09343-3

This study is forthcoming from the Journal of Contemporary Education Theory & Research.

Authors: Sarah Elaine Eaton and Kristal Turner

About the Author
Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. Her research interests and expertise focus on academic integrity. All views presented are those of the author.