Opportunities for Enhancing Ethical Climates in Online Courses: Best Practices for Reducing Student Cheating

Opportunities for Enhancing Ethical Climates in Online Courses: Best Practices for Reducing Student Cheating

Robyn Hulsart (Austin Peay State University, USA) and Vikkie McCarthy (Austin Peay State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6433-3.ch106
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This case study outlines issues with student academic integrity in an online undergraduate program and explains how faculty can play an important role in reducing the likelihood that students will decide to cheat. The study describes possible motivations for student misconduct, student acceptance of academic dishonesty, and administrative/faculty responses to violations of published academic integrity policies. It also presents a model of online course climate in which both faculty and students have responsibilities to the classroom and ethical facilitation of course content. This case looks at one institution's effort to integrate integrity into a curriculum by instilling a culture of trust from which lessons beyond the classroom can be learned.
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Setting The Stage

It is a sure bet that at any given time in a suite of faculty offices someone is going to be engaged in a discussion of student cheating regardless of whether such acts are labeled as plagiarism, academic dishonesty, or lack of academic integrity. As faculty, and particularly online faculty, we are acutely aware of the more obvious signs of plagiarism: unnecessary shifts in font; professional-level research; changes in formatting (MLA instead of APA); title page with student’s name and someone else’s name on subsequent pages; website address (e.g. www.iamacheater.com) in body of paper; and/or anachronistic references (e.g. ‘In his speech this week, President Clinton’). Not as obvious, but almost as easy to detect, are such student cheating strategies as: a paper is only tangentially related to the assigned topic; odd sentences have been inserted into an otherwise well-written paper; the age of the references are all older than three years; the student cannot summarize the research in an oral presentation; or, the work is cut and pasted from several sources to create one (results in variations in tone, diction, and citation style).

Cheating in higher education has been a concern of educators since the early twentieth century when academic dishonesty was looked upon as an honorable transgression. The problem continues to grow as students place more emphasis on competition for grades rather than academic integrity (Nuss, 1984; McCabe, 1992; McCabe, 2001; Center For Academic Integrity, 2002). Adding to the erosion of integrity is the much written about decline in ethical standards among leaders in both the public and private sectors. While the Enron debacle (2001) is heralded as the epitome of ethical malfeasance, the deterioration of an ethical society continues. Recent high profile cases such as the thirty year investment fraud perpetrated by Bernard Madoff, support the position of Robbins et al. (2005) that “In the United States, many believe we are currently suffering from an ethics crisis. Behaviors that were once thought unacceptable—lying, cheating, misrepresenting, and covering up mistakes—have become in many people’s eyes acceptable or necessary practices. Managers profit from illegal use of insider stock information and members of Congress write hundreds of bad checks” (p. 23). College students cheating more often include business students that are future business leaders (Hulsart & McCarthy, 2009).

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