Academic Honesty and Online Courses

Article excerpt

Academic dishonesty is an issue of concern for teachers, students, and institutions of higher education. Because students and faculty do not interact directly in web-based classes, it is often perceived that cheating will be more abundant in these classes. Using data from a survey administered to students who had an online course during the 2001 fall semester, we find evidence that academic dishonesty in online classes is no more pervasive than in traditional classrooms.

Introduction

Academic dishonesty is issue of concern for teachers, students, and institutions of higher education. Studies consistently show that a significant number of students cheat in college (Michaels & Miethe 1989; Whitley, 1998; Brown & Emmett, 2001), and that cheating impacts the attitudes and opinions of both students and teachers. Cheating appears to be endemic across cultures and pedagogies (Magnus at al., 2002). Academic research on the extent of and motivation for cheating has helped illuminate practitioners on the degree of cheating in different disciplines and by students of different demographic profiles.

The focus of this paper is on academic dishonesty in online courses. To make comparisons with prior studies, online academic dishonesty includes cheating on exams or assignments, including plagiarism. Currently, evidence on academic dishonesty in online courses is nonexistent, but some claim that because students and faculty do not interact directly in such classes, online classes will invite more cheating than traditional classes. For example, Kennedy et al. (2000, p. 311) state, "Because both students and faculty believe it is easier to cheat in a distance learning class, ... as the number of distance learning class increases so will academic dishonesty." Conversely, Smith, Ferguson and Caris (2003, p. 2) claim that enhanced communication and the breaking down of social barriers leads to less cheating, stating, "This emergence of online identity may make the whole worry of online cheating a moot point. Often stronger one-to-one relationships ... are formed in online courses than in face-to-face classes."

Because of the growth in online education at the university level and because of the untested presumption that academic dishonesty will be greater in these classes than in the traditional classroom this study fills an important void in the literature of academic dishonesty.

A Model of Cheating.

Most researchers view the decision to cheat as the result of a cognitive process which involves substantial planning (Bunn, Caudill, & Gropper, 1992; Alschuler & Blimling, 1995; Mixon, 1996), but survey evidence suggests that students break down actual cheating behavior into two categories: planned cheating and panic cheating (Bunn, Caudill, & Gropper, 1992). Although both types of cheating involve weighing costs and benefits, if social norms differ for planned and panic cheating, the subjective costs and benefits may be different for planned and panic cheating. Planned cheating may involve making crib sheets for tests, copying homework, or plagiarizing a paper; it occurs with full knowledge that it is wrong. Panic cheating, on the other hand, occurs during a test when the student finds herself at a loss for an answer. Although she did not plan to cheat, she looks at another student's paper and copies the answer. Being premeditated, planned cheating may be viewed as more dishonest than panic cheating and perceived as having a greater social cost. Bunn, Caudill and Gropper (1992) report that the majority of students believe the most common type of cheating is panic cheating with 358 of 476 students at Auburn University stating that they primarily observe panic cheating.

Some type of pedagogies may be more susceptible to one type of cheating. In online classes, planned cheating may be a much greater threat than panic cheating simply because circumstances engendering panic cheating may be relatively rare compared to a traditional classroom. …