The Scaffolded Final Project: Decrease Cheating and Provide Purpose

Feb. 14, 2023

There’s no need to wait until the last week of class to assign your final project. Breaking up your final project into smaller chunks due throughout the semester is a hedge against academic dishonesty because it alleviates the undue pressure of high-stakes exams and short turnaround times.

Students working on an assignment in D2L in class.

Example Final Project: LAR 565

The final project from LAR 565 Cultural Landscapes, developed by Nancy Pollock-Ellwand, Dean of CAPLA and Professor of Landscape Architecture, is a prime example of how to break up a final project into manageable chunks due at intervals during the term. Additionally, her scaffolded final project illustrates the importance of appropriate weighting in the grade book and utilizing problem-based and reflective questions to drive home learning.

Deadlines: Scaffolded Final Project

Per the LAR 565 Syllabus (PDF)  (“Final Project”), “During the final week of this course, students will complete a five-part project through which they will integrate the findings from the separate unit course readings, lectures, interviews, webinars, assignments, and reflections. The final product will be developing a plan that outlines the conservation actions for a selected cultural landscape and its future risks.” 

There are 5 parts to this project (Word Doc) due throughout the semester (7.5-week online course):

  • Part A - Description of selected cultural landscapes case study (due week  2)
  • Part B - Reflections on course content in relation to the selected course study (due weeks 3-6)
  • Part C - Perceived risks and risk mitigation strategies for selected cultural landscape case study (due week 7)
  • Part D - Summary of cultural landscape case study and the hope of your proposed actions and treatments for this landscape (due week 7)
  • Part E - “Tell Your Story” - a concluding narrative video for the selected cultural landscape and its future risks (due week 7)

Students chip away at the project by selecting a cultural landscape as their case study and reflecting on how each week’s unique topics impact their chosen landscape. Part B - Reflections prompts students to synthesize knowledge weekly, making it easier for them to complete Parts C-E. 

The final project was evaluated holistically, with each part represented as criteria in the Final Project Rubric (Word Doc). Students did not submit Part B - Reflections to assignment folders each week; they were directed to write the reflections independently and compile weeks 3-6 to be submitted together for that portion of the final project. Essentially, this was a way to pace the students, so they didn’t write three weeks’ reflections during the last week of the semester.

Grade: Appropriate Weighting

Here is the final grade breakdown per the LAR 565 Syllabus (“Assessments”):

  • Worksheets (six): 20%
  • Discussions (four: 20%
  • Presentations (six): 30%
  • Final Project: 30%
  • Total: 100%

The final project is not over-represented in the final grade. A high-stakes exam or project (where a significant percentage of the final grade is on the line) can compel students to cheat because they want to avoid a bad grade and the inability to pass the class.

Purpose: Problem-Based and Reflective

The final project has no “right” or “wrong” answers. Students are less inclined to cheat when they don’t have to ascertain an acceptable answer. Professor Pollock-Ellwand poses problem-based questions, challenging the students to apply acquired knowledge and facts in new ways, propose solutions, defend the validity of their ideas, and (perhaps most importantly) reflect on how their learning will shape their thinking and actions in the future. The student’s connection to the course is more prosperous when they apply it to their life, experiences, career, etc.


  • Review Transforming High-Stakes Exams for ideas on how to enhance your assessments.
  • Break down more significant projects into smaller deliverables due throughout the course. Culminating pieces of the project are fine to leave at the end. 
  • Assign a reasonable point or weight for the project in the grade book.
  • Ask problem-based questions with no single correct answer. The only “right” answer is the one that is well-reasoned, researched, and cited with evidence.
  • Make it personal. Build opportunities for reflection and ask students how they can apply what they have learned going forward. 

Notes from the Expert

Other things to note

Refer to Writing Effective Questions for inspiration to re-word assessment questions/prompts. 

Read the article: Contract Cheating and Assessment Design: Exploring the Relationship

Potential Limitations

There is more time investment in creating and evaluating scaffolded projects.