Students' Ethical Decision-Making in an Information Technology Context: A Theory of Planned Behavior Approach

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

College faculty continuously struggle to promote ethical behavior among students. Recent evidence from the Josephson Institute Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth shows that current high school students confess to cheating in school at alarming rates. In the survey of more than 40,000 students, fifty-nine percent of them report cheating on a test in the past year. Further, one-third of the respondents own up to plagiarizing through use of the Internet (Josephson Institute, 2010). Universities are also struggling with cheating on assignments, quizzes, and online exams, as evidenced in the scandal at the University of Central Florida (Nies and Russo, 2010). Business colleges have responded to this and recent corporate scandals by offering designated courses in ethics. In fact, some disciplines require an ethics course for students to be eligible to sit for a standardized exam (e.g. in accounting the Certified Public Accountants examination). The same holds true for information technology (IT). While there may not be a dedicated course in IT regarding ethics, ethical behavior is essential in such a dynamic and vastly changing discipline.

College students admit to plagiarizing from the Internet to complete assignments. More specifically, undergraduate students find intellectual property violations to be more acceptable when IT is involved than when it is not (Molnar, Kletke and Chongwatpol, 2008). Additionally, undergraduate students make more of a justification for cheating when IT is involved for them personally (Molnar, Kletke and Chongwatpol, 2008). Why would the use of IT make a difference? Why would an intellectual property violation be judged differently due to the means used for the action? There seems to be a "disconnect" for the students when IT facilitates the action. The use of IT makes completing such an action very simple. For example, copying another's work from the Internet is completed with a mere copy and paste. Completing the same action without IT requires that the student physically type the material word-for-word. The action of typing makes it more likely that the student will revise the material because effort is exerted to complete the task anyway. Another common ethical concern online is the fabrication of information. Prior research finds that consumer falsifications online are affected by one's attitude, perceived behavioral control, and perceived moral obligation (Lwin and Williams, 2003). The Internet provides lack of personalization which allows individuals to be whomever they wish online; and in many cases, there is simply no way to verify the validity of the information.

Given that IT presents a new challenge for ethical behavior, this study examines students' behavioral intentions when using IT to determine ways to promote ethical behavior when using technology. The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) is utilized to study the influences on a student's behavioral intentions when IT is involved in an academic setting. More specifically, this study examines the influence of attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control and extends the TPB by including moral judgment and perceived importance as potential influences.

The paper begins with background literature regarding TPB and each factor proposed to be an influence, along with a hypothesis for each factor. This is followed by the research method and the study results. Finally, a discussion, limitations and conclusion are presented.

2. THEORY OF PLANNED BEHAVIOR

The Theory of Planned Behavior is used in this study to assess a student's behavioral intention when using IT. TPB is an extension of the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975). The TRA indicates that one's attitude toward an act and one's subjective norm can be used to explain behavior and intentions. Ajzen (1985, 1989, 1991) extended the TRA to the TPB by adding perceived behavioral control. …