Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

An Academic Dishonesty Dilemma: A Case Study

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

An Academic Dishonesty Dilemma: A Case Study

Article excerpt


One problem all instructors face is that at some point they will discover a student who plagiarizes. Occasionally, one student will take another student's work. In this case study, one student stole the work of another on the capstone project required to receive the Master of Science degree. While the faculty recognized the writing style of the actual author, proving which student wrote the material was impossible. As a result the faculty came up with a unique way to handle the incident.


Within the broader society students see that few individuals involved in dishonest practices pay a price for that dishonesty. Indeed, over the past few years dishonesty among politicians and prominent business people has been widely reported in the media. From presidents and congressmen lying to businesses like Enron playing shell games with their accounting practices, students see how most of the individuals have profited and not paid for their dishonesty. So from the broader society, students get the message that the consequence of such behavior is minimal. Within the academy, students who are caught often experience a sense of shock when there are consequences for acts of plagiarism. Several studies indicate that large numbers of students in higher education engage in cheating (Simon, et. al., 2003; Davis & Ludvigson, 1995; Moore, 2002). In addition to the students' behavior, some teachers state that there could be legal problems if they charge a student with cheating. Another reason instructors avoid accusations of dishonesty is that it takes up too much time to research and defend the accusations (Petress, 2003). This has consequences for our society as a whole.

Sims (1993) indicated that students who engaged in acts of academic dishonesty were more likely to practice unethical behavior in their business practices. Other researchers have also found a positive relationship between academic dishonesty and dishonest behavior in the workplace (Nonis & Swift, 2001). While there are indications that professors do not always address incidents of academic dishonesty (Petress, 2003), one can also assume that professors do not always catch students who commit acts of academic dishonesty. Indeed one of the authors had the experience as a new professor of having a copy of a test stolen and not learning of the incident until after the test had been administered. If a student had not come forward, the professor would not have known about the cheating. How many students buy, copy, or otherwise find ways around the assessments that are carefully prepared? We will probably never know the numbers but we must deal with those we encounter because there is a societal price to pay if we as professors do not enforce consequences for academic dishonesty that we discover. The incident described in this article describes what two faculty members did when encountering an incident where one student stole another student's work and included it in the culminating special project for graduation.


Students who will graduate from the Master of Science in Instructional Technology Master's Program at an urban southeastern university must complete a thesis or special project as part of their graduation requirements. The special project is expected to be equivalent to the thesis in effort. The special project could be anything from the development of training for a business or web-based educational materials for K-12 students. As often occurs in graduate school, individuals team up in pairs or small groups to study and discuss what they are learning. Indeed, this is an aspect of graduate school that we encourage as the discussion and sharing help students refine their thinking and help them develop as professionals within their field of study. In the case we are describing here two students followed this pattern. For the sake of the article we will call one student Barbara and the other Wendy (both students were female). …

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