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Survey: Cheating Concerns in Online Courses Have Eased

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College instructors have changed their attitudes toward academic integrity in online courses, according to a new report from Wiley. Just 27% of faculty surveyed by the education publisher this past fall said they felt students were significantly more likely to cheat in an online course than an in-person course — a precipitous drop from 62% who said the same in 2020.

"Many college instructors worried about problems with academic integrity when courses shifted to online instruction early in the pandemic," explained Jason Jordan, senior vice president of digital education at Wiley, in a statement. "Our findings, however, suggest those concerns were greatly allayed as instructors gained more experience with remote coursework."

Instructors reported employing a number of strategies to ease academic integrity worries in their online courses:

  • 55% used online proctoring software;
  • 37% lowered grades as a consequence of cheating;
  • 36% used more open-ended questions;
  • 34% created question pools;
  • 33% spoke to students about consequences more often;
  • 28% gave more project-based assignments;
  • 28% added a section in the syllabus to raise awareness of cheating;
  • 24% instituted a mandatory signing of the honor code;
  • 17% eliminated or reduced multiple-choice questions; and
  • 15% assigned more essays.

Notably, while the majority of students surveyed (59%) agreed that cheating was easier online compared to in-person, only 28% said they were more likely to cheat online. For most students (52%), course modality had no impact on their likelihood of cheating. And 73% said they are simply less likely to cheat if they think they're likely to get caught.

Students gave a variety of reasons why they might cheat:

  • 71% cited pressure to get good grades;
  • 44% said they had too much coursework;
  • 43% felt pressure because of the cost of a degree;
  • 42% found it hard to balance school with other responsibilities;
  • 40% said they were more likely to cheat if course content/material wasn't relevant to them personally;
  • 37% were more likely to cheat if course content/material wasn't relevant to their major;
  • 34% perceived assignments as busy work; and
  • 26% cheated because others were cheating.

To further illuminate students' motivations around academic integrity, the report quoted Tricia Bertram Gallant, director of the Academic Integrity Office at the University of California San Diego and board member of the International Center for Academic Integrity: "The research tells us that people are more likely to engage in dishonesty when they're under stress and pressure and when they're in a situation where the norms are unclear and there are temptations and opportunities."

"The actual belief that their peers are cheating is one of the most important predictors of academic dishonesty," added David Rettinger, director of academic programs at the University of Mary Washington and president emeritus of the International Center for Academic Integrity. "Being surrounded by cheaters has an almost contagious effect."

Wiley's "New Insights into Academic Integrity" report is based on a survey of 2,868 college instructors and 682 students in the United States and Canada, conducted in September 2021 as a follow-up to its Spring 2020 report on academic integrity. The full report is available on the Wiley site.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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